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Its a busy morning for the Syria desk. The Guardian just posted this to their blog:

4.17pm: Syria: There are unconfirmed reports of a potentially big defection from Assad's inner circle.

Al-Arabiya claims that Manaf Tlas a brigadier general in the Republican guard and son of the former defence minister Mustafa Tlas, has fled to Turkey.

4.42pm: Syria: A note on the reported – but unconfirmed – defection of Manaf Tlass. Last March, his father Mustapha (the former defence minister) and his businessman brother Firas travelled to Paris, sparking false rumours that they had defected.

Syria watcher Joshua Landis commented at the time:

The Tlass family has long been one of the highest placed Sunni families of the Assad regime ... Firas Tlass has been flirting with the opposition since the uprising began. He frequently writes on the Facebook sites of "friends" who are opposition members, congratulating them on their stands. Most people laughed at this sort of thing because the Tlasses are considered to be pillars of the regime and always trying to play all sides.
5.01pm: Syria: Joshua Landis, a veteran Syria-watcher appears to believe the reports that Manaf Tlass has defected to Turkey. He notes that the Syria Steps website (in Arabic) is claiming to have confirmation from "a highly placed source in intelligence".

Landis's blog post leaves no doubt about Manaf's importance: "If he has indeed fled the country, the regime will be thrown back on its heels." Landis continues:

Manaf Tlass was a close confidant of Bashar from his earliest days and part of his inner circle or "shille", which included people, such as his cousins Rami and Hafiz Makhlouf, Mudar al-Assad (son of Rifaat), Nader Qala'i (ex-CEO of Syriatel and business partner to Rami) Yazan Aslan (son of Ali Aslan, Chief of Staff).
He also offers a possible reason for the defection (if eventually confirmed):
The word is that Manaf had been told to solve the Harasta and Duma problems (the growing uprising on the outskirts of Damascus). He did a good job by negotiating with the opposition leaders in both suburbs, agreeing that both government forces and opposition would pull back.

The Alawi leadership said "no, that is not how we are going to do this." They pushed him aside and came down like a ton of bricks on the opposition in both neighborhoods, in an effort to assert state authority and crush the uprising through military means.

Manaf supported a policy of negotiation, flexibility and compromise. He was overruled by the military leadership and has since looked for a way out.

It these rumors pan out, this will be a huge defection from Bashar al-Assad's inner circle.

Also see the latest report from the Guardian as to the possible motive for this defection. It may be a direct fallout from the massacre in Douma I have been reporting on here. It would seem that not everyone in the Assad regime has his tolerance for the blood of his countrymen.

See the picture up above? It's an old one but I'm hoping it will save me at least a thousand words. The old man is President Hafez al-Assad, father of Bashar, the current president. The young man is Manaf Tlass, the son of Mustapha Tlass, long time regime insider. You get the picture?

Haaretz is carrying this report with a lot of background:

Manaf Tlass, the son of former Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass and once a close friend of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has defected from the army and fled to Turkey, Al-Arabiya reported on Thursday.

Manaf Tlass is a commander of an elite unit in the Syrian army. Mustafa Tlass, his father, was a close friend of Bashar Assad's father, Hafez Assad, and served as his minister of defense and right-hand man for decades, despite being a member of a Sunni family. Despite this, Tlass was the subject of derision over the years due to his inability to make significant decision in the security field – these decisions were entrusted to Alawite officers.

According to reports in Arab media outlets, Tlass defected from the Syrian army two days ago.

A source in the Syrian defense establishment confirmed the report, and claimed that Tlass fled after he discovered that the Syrian intelligence services found out that he is a member of the opposition and rebel forces.

According to the source, Syrian intelligence was tracking him for an extended period of time and had gathered intelligence on his activities. The source said that Tlass fled after he understood that he would probably be arrested by Assad's security forces. The Syrian source underplayed the importance of the incident, saying that it looked like Tlass understood that the Assad regime had the upper hand.

Thu Jul 5, 2012 1:19pm edt we have this from Reuters (after me at the DKos :-)
Newsmaker: Syrian general breaks from Assad's inner circle
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

He is a Republican Guard brigadier and son of Syria's longest-serving defense minister. But most of all Manaf Tlas is a friend of President Bashar al-Assad, a member of his inner circle and a prominent figure in the Damascus "young guard".

Or he was. Rebels and a news website with links to the Syrian security apparatus said on Thursday that Tlas had fled to Turkey. If confirmed, he would be the first real insider to defect from the embattled elite fighting off a revolt against the Assad clan.

Tlas has long been a rare Sunni name within a ruling clique dominated by Assad's fellow Alawites; the flight of the family scion may reflect a growing sectarian divide and eroding support for the dynasty among richer Sunnis, who have been slow to join a revolt launched by poorer sections of the majority population.

We have his from today's EAWorldView report [Thursday, July 5, 2012 at 7:08 | James Miller]:
A woman yells at Syrian pro-regime militia whom she claims killed her son

1555 GMT: Syria. One of the Youtube channels that posted the pictures of the destroyed trucks in Izaz (map, see update 1524 GMT) has also posted this video, which matches reports posted by several pro-FSA accounts on Twitter. It reportedly shows the national hospital in the city having been captured by the Free Syrian Army.

We have not been able to verify the video.

In the last few seconds, what sounds like an airplane or helicopter can be heard, and then a loud sound that could be a gunshot:

1531 GMT: Syria. This video reportedly shows smoke rising from Baba Amr, an area of Homs that was reportedly heavily shelled today:

However, there are rumors, posted on an opposition Facebook page, that at least one helicopter was shot down by insurgents. Videos appear to show a damaged building near a railway station on fire. The insurgents claim that the videos are proof that they shot down a helicopter, however the videos are inconclusive:
Could this be the helicopter in the video that TarantinoDork posted to my other diary this morning?

1524 GMT: Syria. Since this morning there have been rumors that a convoy of commercial vehicles from Turkey were fired on in northern Syria, specifically in the embattled town of Azzaz (or Izaz, Zaman News, perhaps one of Turkey's most respected papers, reports that 4 vehicles, reportedly simultaneously attacked by helicopters and gunfire from troops and armored vehicles.

According to the report, the vehicles were carrying textiles from Jordan, through Aleppo, and were on their way to Killis, Turkey, and points beyond when the vehicles were attacked.

An activist on Twitter, who also helped with the translation, shares this video which has been making the rounds through the Syrian opposition today:">map). Now, Zaman News, perhaps one of Turkey's most respected papers, reports that 4 vehicles, reportedly simultaneously attacked by helicopters and gunfire from troops and armored vehicles.

According to the report, the vehicles were carrying textiles from Jordan, through Aleppo, and were on their way to Killis, Turkey, and points beyond when the vehicles were attacked.

An activist on Twitter, who also helped with the translation, shares this video which has been making the rounds through the Syrian opposition today:

Fri Jul 06, 2012 at  7:21 AM PT: The French Foreign Minister has confirmed the defection of Manaf Tlass and said that he is on his way to France. here is the Al Jazeera story and this pro-Assad website is also said to be reporting it.

Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 11:46 AM PT: Brown Moses has an interesting report on The Tlass Family And Their Historical Links To The French Far Right out today:

The French language contresubversion blog has been keeping an eye on the Tlass family over the past year and has come across some very interesting links between the Tlass family and members of the far right in France.  Frédéric Chatillon, who I've previously mentioned as recently founding the InfoSyrie site, leader and long term associate of the far right Groupe Union Défense, and close friends with Jean-Marie Le Pen, has a communication agency called Riwal.

Riwal was created in March 1995 and it is primarily engaged in communication consulting, direct marketing, book publishing and magazines and mail order, mostly of the far right variety.

After a raid on the GUD pro-Hamas posters were discovered that were linked to Riwal's Damascus branch, and allegedly paid for by the Syrian Ministry of Defence, which as the time was led by Manaf Tlass's father, General Moustafa Tlass.  The Tlass family themselves have links to publishing, as they own the publishing house Dar Tlass, which published anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial literature.  In addition to the previously mentioned posters produced by Riwal Damascus also funded the production of anti-Semitic revisionist texts that were translated into Arabic.

Here are my related diaries on Syria:
BREAKING: WikiLeaks releases 2.4 million #Syria emails
When did "Never Again" become "Whenever?" | #Douma
BREAKING: Incredible mass rally in Aleppo, Syria today!
BREAKING: HRW releases torture report on Syria
BREAKING: Syrian General defects with 293 to Turkey
BREAKING: Items not in the MSM on Syria
My response to Phyllis Bennis: Where is the non-violent opposition in Syria?
BREAKING: Syrian Air Force attacks Douma, 10m from Damascus, thousands flee
BREAKING: As Syria Burns, UN Blows More Smoke
BREAKING: Kofi Annan to propose Syrian unity gov't sans Assad!
BREAKING: Douma, Syria under massive attack, another massacre feared
BREAKING: Another mass defection from Syrian army
BREAKING: #NATO says No War in #Syria shoot down of #Turkey jet
NATO meetup tomorrow as more defect from Syria
BREAKING: Turkey calls for NATO consult on downing of jet by Syria
BREAKING: Senior Syrian Officers Defect
UPDATED: Russia reported to be preparing to evacuate from Syria
BREAKING: Syria fighter pilot defects
BREAKING: Britain stops Russian ship carrying attack helicopters for Syria
BREAKING: Russian troops headed to Syria
Qaddafi forces Strike Back in Libya
BREAKING: UN suspends mission in Syria
Libya & Syria - two videos - no comment
BREAKING: Russia denies supplying Syria with NEW attack helicopters
Syrian people rise up against the massacre
Another "Houla style" massacre in Syria
Fake Houla Massacre Photo: Was the BBC set up?
Idlib, Syria protest today on anniversary of Kent State killings
BREAKING: Massive protests in Syria following Friday pray
Syria is bleeding
Syria: Ceasefire faltering as mass protests breakout
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