The head of Syria’s military police has defected from President Bashar al-Assad's government and accused the army of having turned into "murderous gangs", according to a security source in an online video.
In the video circulated by opposition activists on Wednesday, the military-clad officer said: "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."
"The army has deviated from its essential mission, which is to protect the country, and it has morphed into murderous, destructive gangs," Shallal charged in the video published on the internet video-sharing website YouTube.
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"The destruction of cities and villages, and the commission of massacres against our people, defenceless civilians, who took to the streets calling for freedom" prompted Shallal to defect, he said.
His defection comes as military pressure builds on the regime, with government bases falling to rebel assault near the capital Damascus and elsewhere across the country.
A Syrian security source confirmed the defection but played down its significance, saying that Shallal was due to retire and had defected to "play hero".
Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall reporting from Beirut said: “Since the defection of the Syrian Prime Minister in August this could be one of the most important.
“There is a pattern of Syrian officials trying to play down this kind of defection. They have said he was on the verge of retiring and his defection is not significant.
“Defections of this kind usually happen when the regime and its defences are crumbling,” he added.