SYRIA STEPS (Syria), AL ARABIYA (Saudi Arabia), BBC (UK), AP (US), LE MONDE (France)
PARIS - Over 100 countries gathered for the Friends of Syria conference in Paris on Friday, hoping to broker a diplomatic solution to the on-going violent conflict and to bring an end to Bashar al-Assad's regime. The conference opened after reports that a senior Syrian general who fled to Turkey on Thursday has defected and is headed to France.
"Bashar al-Assad must go," French President François Hollande said, according to Al Arabiya. "Its in the interest of Syria, of its neighbors and everybody who wants peace in the region."
French Foreign minister Laurent Fabius confirmed that Brig General Manaf Tlas, a senior Syrian regime member, has defected and is headed to France. The BBC reports that similar rumors spread earlier in March proved to be false. The defection would be the most significant since the Syrian uprising started last year, as Tlas was in Bashar al-Assad's inner circle and is from a powerful Sunni Muslim family, but it remains to be seen if this will weaken the regime.
The website Syria Steps, considered close to the government, reported that Tlas "was pursued by Syrian intelligence." What the site quoted as a "high-ranking intelligence source" added that: "Syrian intelligence has a complete file about his contacts with foreigners, and his supervision of terrorist operations inside Syria."
The Friends of Syria are a group of Western and Arab countries that support the uprising against the current regime. Senior representatives and diplomats are meeting with the Syrian National Council (SNC) in order to facilitate a political transition in Syria, but previous conferences in Tunis and Istanbul yielded little results.
SNC head Abdulbaset Seyda is asking for increased humanitarian aid under chapter 7 of the United Nations charters, which was used in Libya last year and allows the use of military force. But Le Monde reports that Russia and China, the two main supporters of Damascus who also hold Security Council vetoes, are absent from the conference. United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had strong words for the two absentees.
US Secretary of State Clinton tells Syria conference that Russia and China must pay a price for supporting the Assad regime - @Reuters Breaking News (@BreakingNews) July 6, 2012
Earlier this week Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari also told the Associated Press that he had "solid information" about al-Qaeda fighters flowing from Iraq to Syria, but he did not elaborate further.