June 7, 2011 / 10:21 AM / 9 years ago

Al Jazeera airs call by defecting Syrian officer

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Al Jazeera aired footage on Tuesday of what it said was a defecting Syrian lieutenant calling on other soldiers to stand up against President Bashar al-Assad and stop repressing protests against his rule.

The man, who identified himself as First Lieutenant AbdulRazzaq Mohammed Tlas from the town of Rastan in Homs province, said he joined the army “with the aim of protecting the people ... from the Israeli enemy.”

“After what we’ve seen from crimes in Deraa and all over Syria, I am unable to continue with the Syrian Arab army,” he said in the footage aired on Al Jazeera television.

Deraa is the southern Syrian city where the uprising against Assad began 11 weeks ago before spreading to other parts of the country. Tlas said he witnessed “violations” in Deraa, including a security officer killing a civilian in the nearby village of Inkhil.

Tlas, dressed in army fatigues with two stars on his badge of rank, also said he witnessed “massacres” in the town of Sanamein, where he lived in army barracks.

“I urge the army, and I say ‘Is the army for stealing and protecting the Assad family’?” Tlas said. “I call on all the honorable officers to inform your soldiers about the real picture, use your conscience.”

“You joined the army, not to protect the Assad machine. You are an honorable officer. Stay honorable. And if you are not honorable, stay with Assad,” he said.

It was not clear where and when Tlas was speaking, and the footage did not show an interviewer asking questions.

Some activists have reported cases of soldiers defecting but it is impossible to verify either these reports or official accounts of the unrest in Syria because authorities have banned most international media from operating in the country.

Rights groups say security forces have killed more than 1,100 civilians since the uprising against Assad began. Authorities have blamed the violence on armed groups who they say have fired on civilians and security forces.

Editing by Tim Pearce

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