Syria rebels suspicious over defector’s motives

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“I did not leave Syria to lead a transitional period,” he said in an interview with the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. “But I will try to help as much as I can to unite all the honorable people inside and outside Syria to put together a road map to get us out of this crisis.”

The United States, which has sought to unite the opposition, appears to be staying away from him. U.S. officials insist there has been no discussion with him.

“The opposition views him suspiciously. He has no credibility. For us, he is really a non-player. We are not trying to maneuver anything with him,” said one official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal administration thinking.

After the defection, French officials are believed to have debriefed Gen. Tlass, who now resides in Paris.

As Mr. Assad struggled to quash a rebellion that has reached former regime bastions of Damascus and Aleppo, the pace of defections picked up last month to include army generals, several ambassadors, senior diplomats and members of parliament.

Gen. Tlass, who is in his 40s, is the son of former defense minister Mustafa Tlass, who was the most trusted lieutenant of Hafez Assad, the Syrian president’s father and predecessor.

Gen. Tlass was a close, childhood friend of Bashar and his younger brother Maher, who commands the elite 4th Division and the Republican Guards in charge of protecting the capital.

Gen. Tlass eventually became a commander in the Republican Guards and was reportedly privy to some of the regime’s deepest secrets, one of only a small number of Sunnis to hold power in a regime dominated by the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

A handsome man with salt-and-pepper hair and usually with a cigar between his fingers, Gen. Tlass led an extravagant lifestyle. He and his wife, Tala, were fixtures on the social scene in Syria.

‘Vision’ for Syria

For critics, his defection is nothing more than a desperate attempt to abandon the crumbling Assad regime.

Some observers and former friends say he disagreed with Mr. Assad in the early days of the uprising after failing to persuade the president to reject the advice of his inner circle of security advisers, who supported a harsh crackdown.

Gen. Tlass said he defected when he realized the regime could not be deterred from its single-minded pursuit of crushing the opposition.

For that, he has earned the respect of some factions within the opposition.

“He is not an opportunist. Manaf has excellent credentials and a vision for a political solution for Syria. We view him very positively and think he should have a role in the transition,” Michel Kilo, a veteran opposition figure and former political prisoner, said in a telephone interview from Paris.

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