Syria military police chief defects as UN slashes food aid
BEIRUT — The head of Syria’s military police has defected from the army and declared allegiance to the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, a Syrian security source confirmed on Wednesday, as the United Nations (UN) warned a diplomatic solution was further out of reach and it had to cut aid to millions of refugees.
The high-level defection, while not a strategically significant development in the 21-month-old conflict, will be a blow to morale for Mr Assad’s forces, which are hitting back at a string of rebel advances across the country.
Gen Abdelaziz Jassim al-Shalal, head of the military police, declared in an interview released on the internet he had defected "because of the deviation of the army from its primary duty of protecting the country and its transformation into gangs of killing and destruction".
A Syrian security source confirmed the defection but played down its significance. "Shalal did defect but he was due to retire in a month and he only defected to play hero," the source said.
"The army has destroyed cities and villages and has committed massacres against an unarmed population that took to the streets to demand freedom," Gen Shalal said.
The UN warned on Tuesday the war had worsened, with prospects of a diplomatic end now at rock bottom, and international aid had been cut. The UN has had to cut food rations it provides to 1.5-million Syrians due to cash shortages, John Ging, a top UN relief official, said.
Peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi’s talks with Mr Assad on Sunday produced no sign of a willingness to negotiate, diplomats said on Wednesday, and there are mounting warnings of a sectarian war taking over the uprising against Mr Assad. Mr Brahimi said on Tuesday he had not received a response from Mr Assad on the proposals he set out. He is in Syria for a week of talks with government officials and dissidents, but has so far said nothing about any new proposals or developments.
Syrian foreign ministry officials headed to Moscow on Wednesday to discuss Mr Brahimi’s proposals, Syrian and Lebanese sources said.
Mr Brahimi’s previous proposal centred on a transitional government which left open Mr Assad’s future role, which became a sticking point between the government, opposition and foreign powers backing different sides.
More than 44,000 Syrians have died in the revolt. Dozens of people were killed in an air strike while queuing for bread in the Hama province on Sunday, activists said.
Meanwhile, new clashes erupted in the Palestinian Yarmuk camp in southern Damascus, a watchdog said on Wednesday, a week after major fighting there sent about 100,000 refugees fleeing for safety. The latest violence came despite an agreement between rebels and pro-regime Palestinian fighters that they would withdraw from the camp.
Rebel fighters in Syria said they had taken control of the strategic town of Haram on the Turkish border on Tuesday.
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