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Syrian Defection Prompts Calls for Sanctions

  • VOA News

French President Francois Hollande addresses third meeting of the "Friends of Syria," Paris, July 6, 2012.

French President Francois Hollande addresses third meeting of the "Friends of Syria," Paris, July 6, 2012.

World leaders meeting in Paris have called for new global sanctions against Syria, as news emerged that a top Syrian general has defected.

Representatives of more than 100 nations called for "broader and tougher" penalties against Damascus as part an effort to pressure the Syrian government to end a deadly crackdown on dissent. The so-called "Friends of Syria" group also pledged to "massively increase" aid to Syrian rebels and provide them with communications equipment.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the group he wants all options to remain on the table because Syria's situation is getting worse.

"We don't rule out any options for the future because it is deteriorating," said Hague. "It is a very grave situation. It is a murdering regime and we want to see a peaceful transition. But we are not ruling anything out for the future."

While the session was underway, the French foreign ministry said Syrian Brigadier General Manaf Tlass had defected. News reports say the commander of an elite Republican Guards unit could be heading to France, where he has family.

After the meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the departure indicates Syria's situation is shifting.

"If people like him and like the generals and colonels and others who recently defected to Turkey are any indication, regime insiders and the military establishment are starting to vote with their feet," Clinton said.

Later, a U.S. defense spokesman (Captain John Kirby) in Washington called the defection of the brigadier general "significant."

Meanwhile, activists say anti-government protests took to the streets in several Syrian provinces on Friday.

The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least more than 50 people were killed in anti-government related unrest. The reports could not be independently verified.

Although reports from the ground say Syrian government forces have initiated most of the violence, authorities in Damascus contend they have been the victims of attacks by "terrorists" and "armed gunmen." On Friday, the state-run SANA news agency said security officials seized weapons and explosives from a "terrorist" hideout in the city of Latakia.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.