Defected Syrian general Manaf Tlass said Monday that French secret agents helped him escape from Syria, where he had long been a member of President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle.
“The French (intelligence) services helped me get out of Syria and I thank them for that,” Tlass, whose July 6 defection was hailed in the West as a major setback for Assad, told France’s BFM television news channel.
France provides aid to rebels
France, meanwhile, has started providing direct aid and money to five rebel-held Syrian cities as it intensifies efforts to weaken President Assad, in the first such move by a western power, a diplomatic source said Wednesday.
The French aid comes as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized the Security Council on Wednesday for failing to take action to protect Syrians facing violence that has led to thousands of deaths.
Amid mounting calls for the international community to do more to prevent bloodshed, France – Syria’s onetime colonial ruler - has pushed to secure “liberated zones” in Syria.
France has increased its contacts with armed opposition groups, and started giving aid last Friday to local citizens’ councils in five cities outside the government’s control, the diplomatic source said. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius promised last week that such aid was in the pipeline.
The aid is notably helping restore water supplies, bakeries and schools affected by Syria’s civil war, with the aim of helping rebel-held areas run themselves, the diplomatic official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the French actions amid Syria's violence.
France’s allies are interested in providing similar aid, the official said. He would not name the cities or explain how the aid is being provided, citing security reasons. He said the cities house a total of 700,000 residents and have been outside control of Assad’s regime for between one and five months.
French officials have acknowledged providing communications and other non-lethal equipment to Syrian rebel forces, but say they won't provide weapons without international agreement. France played a leading role in the international campaign against Libya’s dictator Muammar Qaddafi last year.
At the U.N. General Assembly, Ban demanded urgent action to protect Syrians now fleeing the country in record numbers. “We have seen the immense human cost of failing to protect,” he said.
Syrian rebels have summarily executed at least 20 soldiers in the embattled northern city of Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday.
Captured at a military compound during a rebel attack in the eastern district of Hanano, the soldiers had their eyes blindfolded and hands tied behind their backs before they were lined up and shot, sometime over the weekend, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Amateur video posted on YouTube and distributed by the Observatory shows some 20 bodies laid out next to each other on a pavement. Many of the men's heads are covered in blood, and some are wearing jeans rather than full military attire.
One of the rebels standing next to the bodies holds up his hand to make a victory sign. “Allahu akbar!” (God is greatest), cries another, as a third shouts out at the bodies: “You dogs! You low lifes!”
A U.N. enquiry has accused the army, pro-government militia and the rebels of committing war crimes but has said that violations by the rebels are on a much lower scale.
In January, the death toll from the Syrian conflict - which began in March 2011 as a peaceful protest against Assad’s regime - was approaching 6,000. Activists now put the death toll at between 23,000 and 26,000.