The New York Times is reporting that Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Jassem al-Shallal — the head of Syria’s military police — has defected from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
“I, General Abdel Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, commander of Syrian military police, announce that I am defecting from the regime army, to join the people’s revolution,” he said in a publicly broadcast video recording. Shallal attributed his defection to his view that the Syrian military had abdicated its duty to protect the Syrian people and devolved into “gangs of killing and destruction.” There are also reports that the former general has taken shelter in Turkey, joining other military defectors who have sided with opposition forces.
Shallal is the highest-ranking military official to defect from the regime, joining a long line of military and civilian leaders — including the country’s prime minister — to break ties with Assad. In his statement, Shallal also asserted that, “there are other high-ranking officers who want to defect, but the situation is not suitable for them to declare defection.”
To date, thousands have died in the Assad regime’s crackdown and more than 500,000 Syrians have fled to neighboring countries. U.S. and other Western officials have repeatedly called on Assad to step down, and warned the embattled president against using chemical weapons against his people.