A senior military officer in the Syrian city of Hama has defected along with up to 50 of his soldiers, in protest against the government’s ten-month crackdown on peaceful demonstrations that has claimed thousands of lives across the country.
Colonel Afeef Mahmoud Suleiman, who is from the air force logistics division, announced his defection live on Al Jazeera’s Arabic news channel on Saturday.
Suleiman said he and his men had taken on a new mission to keep protesters in Hama safe during demonstrations.
“We are from the army and we have defected because the government is killing civilian protesters. The Syrian army attacked Hama with heavy weapons, air raids and heavy fire from tanks,” Suleiman said.
“We ask the Arab League observers to come visit areas affected by air raids and attacks so you can see the damage with your own eyes.
“And we ask you to send someone to uncover the three cemetaries in Hama filled with more than 460 corpses.”
The regional bloc’s monitors have been trying to assess whether Bashar al-Assad’s government is complying with a peace accord aimed at ending its crackdown on dissent.
The group’s defection from the army came four days after another senior official defected to the opposition movement in protest against the government’s actions.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Cairo, Mahmoud Souleiman Hajj Hamad, the head inspector of the country’s defence ministry, denied the government’s claims that the ongoing violence was caused by “terrorists” aided from abroad.
Meanwhile, President Assad held talks with the leader of Turkey’s Islamist-based Felicity Party, Mustafa Kamalak on
Syrian state television said Kamalak “voiced the Turkish peoples support for the Syrian people and confrontation of the conspiracy hatched against them.”
In November Ankara announced a set of economic sanctions it said would target the Syrian government in an
attempt to persuade it to stop a bloody crackdown on a popular uprising now into its tenth month.
Meanwhile, activists in Syria say that at least 32 people were killed by government security forces following protests on Friday.
On the same day, Syrian authorities said an explosion ripped through a busy intersection in the capital, hitting a police bus and killing at least 26 people.
The incident, in which state television showed pools of blood in the streets, marked the second deadly attack in the capital in as many weeks.
Opposition groups have accused the government of staging the bombings and have called for an independent investigation into the blast in the central al-Maidan neighbourhood.
In response to the explosion, the Syrian government vowed to strike back with an “iron fist” against what it called “terrorists”.
Colonel Riad al-Asaad, the head of the self-styled Free Syrian Army, has dismissed the government’s report of the attack, saying that Friday’s explosion was “the work of the regime, just like the previous one”.