Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime continues to crumble amidst a wave of defections.
Reuters is reporting that four high-ranking officers have quit the Syrian army and joined the insurgency, quoting rebel sources, following this morning’s apparent defection of the former deputy oil minister.
Lt. Khaled al-Hamoud, a spokesman for the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA), told the news service that the four officials have fled to a camp in neighboring Turkey -- bringing the total number of brigadier generals who have abandoned Assad to seven.
We have six brigadier generals who are now in Turkey and another, who has stayed to lead some battalions inside Syria, Hamoud said.
We plan to form an advisory council to absorb these and any other high-ranking defections and this group will plan operations for the FSA.
The first general to defect was Mustafa Sheikh.
Fahad al-Masri, a spokesman for Sheikh's Supreme Syrian Military Council in Paris, said the four recent defectors are currently being interviewed by Turkish authorities and their identities could not be released yet.
Also, there are concerns about what will happen to the defectors’ families, who remain trapped in Syria. According to unconfirmed reports, family members of other defectors have been killed or arrested.
Separately, a growing schism appears to be developing between rival Syrian opposition military factions.
Hamoud said the four new defectors would serve as advisers to the FSA, which is led by Colonel Riad al-Asaad. However, al-Masri said the four would join Sheikh's Military Council.
Reuters noted that rebel forces number some 20,000, versus a Syrian military that boasts some 300,000 personnel and far superior weaponry.
The prominent rebel officer staying behind in Syria is Brigadier General Adnan Farzat who broadcast his defection on YouTube on Tuesday, over objections to Assad’s shelling of his hometown of Homs.
Earlier on Thursday former deputy oil minister, Abdo Hussameldin defected -- also through an online video announcement.
“I recommend for all my friends who are still working for the regime to follow myself and leave the broken ship of the regime,” Hussameldin said in the video.
However it is unclear where or when the video was made; and his whereabouts are also a mystery.