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The head of Syria’s military police has defected from the army and declared allegiance to the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, according to a video and a Syrian security source.The high-level defection, while not a strategically significant development in the 21-month-old conflict, will be a blow to morale for Assad’s forces, which are hitting back at a string of rebel advances across the country.
“I am General Abdelaziz Jassim al-Shalal, 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 officer said in a video published on YouTube.
A Syrian security source confirmed the defection but played down its significance.
“Shalal did defect but he was due to retire in a month and he only defected to play hero,” the source said.
Wearing a camouflage uniform with red officer insignia on the shoulder, Shalal spoke from a desk in a room in an undisclosed location. Some rebel sources said he had fled to Turkey. It was not clear when Shalal had changed sides.
“The army has destroyed cities and villages and has committed massacres against an unarmed population that took to the streets to demand freedom,” he said. “Long live free Syria.”
Meanwhile, more than 45,000 people have been killed in Syria since the outbreak in March 2011 of an anti-regime revolt that became a bloody insurgency after a brutal crackdown on dissent, a watchdog said Wednesday.
“In all we have documented the deaths of 45,048 people,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP, adding that more than 1,000 people were killed in the past week alone.
Giving a breakdown, he said those killed included “31,544 civilians, 1,511 defectors, 11,217 soldiers and 776 unidentified bodies.”
The Observatory, which relies on a network of medics and activists on the ground, counts non-military combatants who have taken up arms against the regime as civilians.
The actual number of people killed in Syria’s spiralling conflict is likely much higher.
“We believe the real number could be as high as 100,000,” Abdel Rahman said.
“Many of the thousands missing in jails are feared dead. Both the army and rebel fighters are concealing many of their casualties,” he added.
The Observatory does not include in its toll thousands of shabiha (pro-regime militiamen), people believed to be informants for the state, or foreign fighters who have joined the anti-regime insurgency.