A top Syrian military official who headed the feared military police has told a pan-Arab TV station that he defected and joined Syria's opposition movement.
A video published on a social media website on Wednesday shows the general, Abdul-Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, saying that he left the government because the Syrian military police have strayed from their primary mission.
“In the name of God E., I am General Abdul-Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, head of the military police. I have defected because of the deviation of the army from its primary duty of protecting the country and its transformation into gangs of killing and destruction, the destruction of cities and villages and committing massacres against our unarmed people who went out to demand liberty. Long live Syria free and strong.”
The U.S. cautiously welcomed reports of al-Shallal's departure from the Syrian government. A State Department spokesman said if the reports of the general's defection are true, it would be “yet another sign” that the Syrian regime is “crumbling from within.”
Al-Shallal is one of dozens of generals who have defected since Syria's crisis began 22 months ago. He is one of the most senior to flee since Manaf Tlass, a Syrian general and a member of the ruling inner circle, defected in July.
The defection comes amid continued diplomacy to end the Syrian crisis.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly sent a senior diplomat to ally Moscow on Wednesday to discuss proposals made by peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi
Brahimi, who met with Mr. Assad on Monday, is expected to arrive in Moscow on Saturday for further talks with Russian leaders. Russian envoys are reportedly trying to broker a peaceful transition of power in Syria.
Opposition leaders and Western supporters are demanding Mr. Assad leave office without conditions.
Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says government shelling in a northern province near the Turkish border has left at least 20 people dead, including eight children.
The Britain-based group released a video, on Wednesday, showing what it said were victims of the assault. It was not immediately clear when the assault took place. The group said at least 130 people were killed in violence across Syria, on Wednesday, including 51 civilians.
Another opposition group, the Syrian Revolution General Commission, said heavy shelling continued several regions of the country, including southern neighborhoods of Damascus.
There was no immediate confirmation from the government, which has blamed much of the violence from almost two years of anti-government unrest on terrorists and armed gangs.