Syria ex-defense minister defects: opposition
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Amena Bakr ,ReutersAMMAN/DOHA -- Former Syrian Defense Minister General Ali Habib, a prominent member of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite sect, has defected and is now in Turkey, a senior member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition told Reuters on Wednesday.
September 5, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
If his defection is confirmed, Habib would be the highest ranking figure from the Alawite minority to break with Assad since the uprising against his rule began in 2011.
“Ali Habib has managed to escape from the grip of the regime and he is now in Turkey, but this does not mean that he has joined the opposition. I was told this by a Western diplomatic official,” Kamal al-Labwani said from Paris.
A Gulf source told Reuters that Habib had defected on Tuesday evening, arriving at the Turkish frontier before midnight with two or three other people. He was then taken across the border in a convoy of vehicles.
His companions were fellow military officers who supported his defection, the source said.
Labwani said Habib was smuggled out of Syria with the help of a Western country.
“He will be a top source of information. Habib has had a long military career. He has been effectively under house arrest since he defied Assad and opposed killing protesters,” Labwani said.
An officer in the opposition Free Syrian Army, who did not want to be identified, said the Habib appeared to have coordinated his defection with the United States.
Born in 1939, Habib was Defence Minister from 2009 to August 2011, when he was replaced for what official media said were health reasons.