Manaf Tlass, Defected Syria General, Speaks Out

07/24/2012 05:55 pm ET

By PAUL SCHEMM, The Associated Press

BEIRUT — A top Syrian military commander, a close friend of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has confirmed his defection from the regime.

Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, son of a former defense minister, said in a video broadcast on Al-Arabiya TV that Syrians must work together to build a new, democratic country.

It was his first public appearance since he left Syria earlier this month. His long silence raised questions about whether he had joined the anti-Assad uprising or merely fled the civil war.

Tlass is the highest-level defector from the Syrian regime in 17 months of bloodshed that activists say has killed more than 19,000 people.

He was a member of the elite Republican Guard and son of former Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass.

The younger Tlass did not say where he is.

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