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Syria: Defection Rumors Rife; Annan Diplomacy Founders – OpEd


The big rumor today is that Mustapha and Firas Tlass fled Syria and are in Paris. Mustapha Tlass is ex-Defense Minister. His son is a major businessman and his second son, Manaf, is  a current top officer in the Syrian Army, born in 1964.

Both Tlass and opposition members in Paris reject these allegations, claiming, “Syrian regime stalwart and former defence minister Mustafa Tlass has arrived in Paris with one of his sons but they are not defecting, opposition representatives told AFP on Monday.”

The Tlass family has long been one of the highest placed Sunni families of the Assad regime. If there is any truth to the defection story, it would indeed be a blow to the 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.

It should be expected that Sunni defections from the regime will travel up the ranks as the civil war in Syria becomes ever more overtly sectarian in nature. It must be remembered that it took Iraq three years to launch its civil war in earnest. That was after the bombing 2006 of the Askari mosque in Samara’. It takes a long time for people who have lived together in relative harmony for decades to stop associating with each other and put hate in their hearts, but that is what we are seeing. It is what happened in Lebanon and Iraq.

Rumors are rife that Adeeb Mayaleh, the head of the Central Bank, is out or on his way out, and that he has been stripped of his authority. Rumors are also rife, of course, that he defected. I don’t know if any of this is true.

This is a note from a Syrian in Latakia:

Dear Joshua, I am a christian Syrian living abroad. Last month I went back to Syria and spent a week with my parents in Lattakia. Here are some observations.

“The son of my 2nd grade teacher is in prison. He was caught distributing pro opposition fliers. A few days ago, his flat burned down and his 3 kids died in the fire. His wife is in a critical condition.

A relative of my family lawyer, a university student was arrested couple weeks ago in Damascus. She was released the day I arrived.

Another guy from our neighborhood, though known to be pro regime, was picked up by the secret police at the university as he was leaving his mid term exam room. He disappeared for 2 weeks. He was just released…. Some name miss match they explained.

I was stopped at the airport. Was called to Damascus for questioning by an officer in one of the security branches. Without my father’s connections I am sure I would ve not been able to get the travel permission and to leave on time. I still don’t know what they wanted from me.

We hear stories about kidnappings taking place in the eastern part of the country near Deir Ezzor, in Homs and on the outskirts of Damascus in exchange of ransom.

Lattakia is one of the cities the least affected by the events. It’s kept under tight control by a strong pro regime presence. The government is doing all it can to show that it’s business as usual. They do amazing cleaning job after each Friday clashes. As I hang out with some friends at a coffee shop in the afternoon, life seems to go on as usual in the busy streets… but something weird is felt in the air… a thick layer of pessimism and anxiety is hanging over the city… everybody feels that it is boiling and it might explode at any moment. You can’t miss the signs:

My high school has become an army base. The main city square, less than 1000 yards from my parents flat and a center of protests in the early days, is now filled with soldiers and sand bags. “Al Assad soldiers” they proudly painted on the walls.

My friends drove me by the Ramel neighborhood. One of the hot areas in town. Army check points with sand bags control all streets entering the neighborhood. “POLICE” is painted on them. We all know it is the army who controls them and not the police.

Gunmen in civilian clothing are present at all hospital entrances. They are there to arrest wounded protesters seeking treatment.

4×4 trucks with armed men and mounted machine guns pass by every now and then.

Electricity is cut off 6 hours a day, 3 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon. It is setting the rhythm for business hours. – Today Electricity is off 12 hours a day. it’s on and off every 3 hours.

The price for heating fuel has sky rocketed. The price for cooking gas has doubled. It s cold in my parents and my friends flats. It’s been one of the coldest and rainiest winters in Syria. People wear many layers indoors and sleep with thick wool covers- these are still the privileged neighborhoods. I can’t imagine the living conditions in rebelled areas.

I have just come back from a week stay in Syria. I left as the bombing of Homs was about to begin.”

Syria Comment - Joshua Landis

Joshua Landis maintains Syria Comment and teaches modern Middle Eastern history and politics and writes on Syria and its surrounding countries. He writes “Syria Comment,” a daily newsletter on Syrian politics that attracts some 3,000 readers a day. It is widely read by officials in Washington, Europe and Syria. Dr. Landis regularly travels to Washington DC to consult with the State Department and other government agencies. He is a frequent analyst on TV and radio.

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