News / Middle East

Syrian Defections Begin to Mount

Nawaf Fares, Syria's Ambassador to Iraq, in a picture taken December 7, 2006.
Nawaf Fares, Syria's Ambassador to Iraq, in a picture taken December 7, 2006.
In the last week, Syria's ambassador to neighboring Iraq and the commander of an elite Syrian Republican Guard unit have defected from President Bashar al-Assad's government.

The two join a growing number of high-ranking members of Syria's Sunni minority who have left the country recently, highlighting the increasingly sectarian nature of the 16-month-old conflict.

Here's a look at some recent deserters from Syria's political and military establishment:

Ambassador Nawaf Fares - July 11

Fares became the first Syrian envoy to defect from Mr. Assad's government since the uprising broke out in March 2011.

In a statement broadcast on the Arab-language satellite channel Al-Jazeera, the diplomat announced he had joined the opposition and resigned from Syria's ruling Ba'ath party. He urged "all honest members" of the party to follow his path "because the regime has turned it into an instrument to kill people and their aspirations to freedom and dignity." Fares also called on the Syrian military to "turn your guns on the criminals" of the government.

The Syrian foreign ministry said Thursday that Fares, who has close ties to the security services, has been relieved of his duties and should face "legal and disciplinary accountability." Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Fares is now in Qatar, one of the Gulf states overtly supporting the rebels and calling for Mr. Assad's ouster.

Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass - July 6
Like Fares, Tlass was part of Syria's privileged Sunni elite in a government dominated by President Assad's minority Alawite sect. He is the son of an even more prominent general, former Syrian defense minister Mustafa Tlass, a confidant of President Hafez al-Assad, Mr. Assad's late father.

The highest-ranking military officer to have abandoned the Syrian government, Tlass was a member of the inner circle of power in Syria, and a childhood friend of Mr. Assad. He is reportedly headed for Paris, where his family and much of the Syrian political opposition is based, or is already there. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Thursday Tlass has been in contact with the Syrian opposition but members of the exile Syrian National Council say it is not yet clear whether he will join the rebels.

Col. Hassan Hammadeh - June 21
The Syrian fighter pilot flew his MiG-21 warplane to neighboring Jordan, where he was given asylum in a defection from what is known to be Syria's fiercely loyal air force. Hammadeh had been on a training mission.

Imad Ghalioun - January 2012
Ghalioun, a member of Syria’s parliament, left the country to join the opposition, saying the Syrian people are suffering sweeping human rights violations.

Adnan Bakkour - August 2011
Bakkour, the former attorney general of the central city of Hama, appeared in a video in late August 2011 announcing he had defected.

These five join a wave of Sunni Muslim soldiers who have abandoned the Syrian army, many fleeing for neighboring Turkey or joining rebel fighters on the front lines. Thousands of soldiers have been killed or imprisoned because they attempted to escape and failed, or were suspected of planning to do so.

Mark Snowiss

Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Alister from: UK
July 12, 2012 4:27 PM
with all the jubilation... let us not forget that all of these guys are war criminals... these are the refuse of that legitimized the corruption and decay of Assad...

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs