France is trying to help more leading opponents of President Bashar al-Assad leave Syria, having aided several defectors, including General Manaf Tlas, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Tuesday
“We have also – and I will not go into details – helped a certain number of defections,” Fabius told parliament’s foreign affairs committee.
“It’s our role. Our agencies are active,” he said, referring to ongoing defections.
Tlas, one of the most senior members of Assad’s rule to flee Syria, said on Monday he had defected in July with the help of French special forces.
Fabius publicly confirmed for the first time that France had helped Tlas escape Syria and said he had met the general to discuss the country’s future.
“Why? Because we think that when there is somebody senior who wants to fight against Bashar al-Assad and to leave Syria, we help them,” he said.
French newspaper Le Figaro reported last week that Paris was working on as many as 12 defections.
After Tlas, Prime Minister Riyad Hijab’s defection at the start of August was the latest sign of prominent members of Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority abandoning Assad.
There has been no sign yet that members of his mainly Alawite inner circle are losing their will to fight. Assad himself is a member of the offshoot sect of Shi’ite Islam.
A French diplomatic source said last week that a number of Alawite figures wanted to defect but it would take time given the difficulty of also getting their families out.