Is Bashar al-Assad's regime starting to crumble? The Syrian leader's staying power has been credited to the resilience of his inner circle (in contrast to Moammar Gadhafi's), but one of the regime's main figures has reportedly defected to Turkey. Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass is a close friend of Assad's and a commander in the Republican Guards. If his defection is confirmed, it will be the regime's most significant loss yet, reports the New York Times.
"Manaf is one of the regime's main figures," says a member of the opposition Syrian National Council. The defection "is not only a strong strike against the regime, but the strongest message yet to Bashar that he is no longer safe, and a message to other officers thinking about defecting," he says. The chief of the United Nations observer mission in Syria, meanwhile, says violence has surged to an "unprecedented level" because the parties involved have decided their goals will not be served by the political process, reports the Los Angeles Times.