BEIRUT – One of the highest-ranking military officers yet to abandon Syrian President Bashar Assad defected to neighboring Jordan and said in an interview aired Saturday that morale among those still inside the regime had collapsed.
In another setback for the Assad regime, a leading human rights group accused Syria’s government of stepping up its use of widely banned cluster munitions, which often kill and wound civilians.
The twin blows illustrated the slowly spreading cracks appearing in Assad’s regime as well as its deepening international isolation. While few analysts expect the civil war between Assad’s forces and rebels seeking his ouster to end soon, most say it appears impossible for the 4-decade-old regime to continue to rule Syria.
Maj. Gen. Mohammed Ezz al-Din Khalouf announced his defection from Assad’s regime in a video aired Saturday on the Al-Arabiya satellite channel. It showed him sitting next to his son, Capt. Ezz al-Din Khalouf, who defected with him.
The elder Khalouf said that many of those with Assad’s regime have lost faith in it, yet continue to do their jobs, allowing Assad to demonstrate broad support.
“It’s not an issue of belief or practicing one’s role,” he said. “It’s for appearance’s sake, for the regime to present an image to the international community that it pulls together all parts of Syrian society under this regime.”
He also said fighters from the Lebanese military group Hezbollah were fighting in Syria in “more than one place,” but did not give further details.
Also Saturday, Human Rights Watch said Syria’s government is killing an increasing number of civilians with cluster bombs.
The New York-based rights group said Syrian forces have dropped at least 156 cluster bombs in 119 locations across the country in the past six months. The report said two strikes in the past two weeks killed 11 civilians, including two women and five children.