AP News

Syrian defector says opposition can win


BEIRUT (AP) — Syria's most prominent defector said in an interview that aired Monday that he opposes any foreign military intervention in the country's civil war and that he is confident the opposition can topple President Bashar Assad's regime.

But Manaf Tlass, a Syrian general who was the first member of Assad's inner circle to join the opposition, said the rebels need weapons.

"The Syrian people must not be robbed of their victory, they must be given support, aid, arms," Tlass said in a recorded interview that aired Monday on French television station BFM.

He called on outside powers to give the opposition "all the aid and support" needed to topple Assad.

Foreign military intervention, however, "could not provide a solution" to the conflict, he said. The uprising against Assad's regime began in March 2011 with mostly peaceful protests against the family dynasty that has ruled Syria for four decades. But the battle has transformed into a civil war, and activists estimate that at least 23,000 people have been killed.

Tlass' defection in July was hailed as a resounding triumph by many Syrian opposition activists. But many in the opposition are deeply suspicious of Tlass, saying he is just trying to vault to power. In the weeks after he abandoned the regime, Tlass began touring regional powers to garner support for the uprising.

"My role is to unify, bring together my people, that is my role," he said in Monday's interview.

Tlass, who is in his forties, is the son of former defense minister Mustafa Tlass, who was the most trusted lieutenant of the late Hafez Assad, the president's father and predecessor.

Although the Assad regime has been hit by a string of defections, the inner circle has remained remarkably ironclad over the course of the conflict. Still, the government has not been able to crush the rebellion, leading to a murderous grind.

The new U.N.-Arab League envoy to the country, meanwhile, said the Syrian people are desperate for peace and stability.

Lakhdar Brahimi said he will travel to Syria this week to meet with regime officials as well as civic groups in a new bid to broker a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

"I answer to no one except the Syrian people," Brahimi told reporters in Cairo, where he was meeting with Arab League officials and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. "Syrians aspire to peace, stability and to realizing their goals of freedom and political progress."

Brahimi replaced former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who stepped down in August in frustration after his six-point peace plan that included a cease-fire collapsed.

The fight for Aleppo, a city of 3 million that was once a bastion of support for Assad, has emerged as one of the main battlegrounds of the civil war. Its fall would give the opposition a major strategic victory with a stronghold in the north near the Turkish border. A rebel defeat, at the very least, would buy Assad more time.

Syria's state run news agency, SANA, said Monday the death toll from a car bomb in the city the night before had risen to 30 civilians — including women and children — with 64 people wounded.

The blast happened near two hospitals. According to Aleppo-based activist Mohammed al-Hassan, one of the hospitals, Al-Hayat, was turned into a site for the treatment of government troops shortly after the fighting in Aleppo began in July.

SANA also reported that the blast was caused by a small truck rigged with more than 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of explosives, which left a crater 6 meters (20 feet) deep.

SANA blamed terrorists, the term the regime uses for rebels, for the attack. But there was no immediate claim of responsibility from the rebels or any other group.

Some opposition activists disputed the SANA claim that the dead were all civilians. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, citing hospital sources that it did not name, said members of the military were among the dead.

It was impossible to confirm the claims. Syria heavily restricts media access to the country, making official media and activist reports crucial sources of information.

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Keller reporter from Paris. Associated Press writer Maggie Michael contributed to this report from Cairo.


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