The formation of a higher military council made up of Syrian army defectors has been announced to “liberate” the country from President Bashar al-Assad.
It was not clear whether the council, announced on Monday, will oversee operations carried out by the self-proclaimed Free Syrian Army (FSA), which claims to group some 40,000 dissident soldiers and sympathisers.
“After consultations with dissident officers, an accord was reached to form the Higher Revolutionary Council in order to liberate Syria from this gang,” the council said in a statement, referring to Assad’s government.
The statement was signed by the council’s leader, General Mostafa Ahmad al-Sheikh, the most senior commander to have defected from the Syrian army to date. Sheikh is currently based in Turkey.
Sheikh, 54, defected from the army in early January along with his son and a brother, who were also in the military. Another brother, who was a member of Syria’s ruling Baath party, also fled.
Sheikh was in charge of security affairs in northern Syria before defecting, according to Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News.
However, Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad, the leader of FSA, disassociated his group from the new council, saying “the timing for its creation serves the regime”.
In a statement Asaad said: “General Sheikh is not part of the FSA. There has been no discussion with him on the creation of the so-called higher military council, and this general represents nobody but himself.”