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Syria

Syrian military police head defects as death toll climbs

Syria's military police chief has announced his defection from President Bashar Assad's regime in an opposition video. The death toll in Syria's civil war has reached 45,000, according to a Britain-based observatory.

Syrian opposition activists have posted an internet video in which a military-clad figure identified as General Abdel-Aziz Jassem al-Shallal announces his defection.

Syrian general defects

"The army has deviated from its essential mission, which is to protect the country, and it has morphed into murderous destructive gangs;" said al-Shallal.

A Syrian government security source quoted by Reuters said al-Shallal was near retirement and had only switched to the opposition to "play hero."

Farming village shelled

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the latest to die were at least 20 villagers, including eight children, struck by regime tank shells in a farming settlement in Syria's northern Raqqaprovince on Wednesday.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told the news agency AFP that the toll of documented deaths since March 2011 had reached 45,048.  Over the past week alone, more than 1,000 had died.

The observatory listed 31,544 civilians and rebel fighters, 1,511 army defectors, and 11,217 government soldiers. An additional 776 bodies were unidentified.

Assad loyalist visits Moscow

In the wake of talks in Damascus between Assad and visiting international peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, Syrian and Lebanese sources said Wednesday that Assad had sent his deputy foreign minister Faisal Makdad to Moscow to seek Russian advice.

Russia's foreign ministry said Brahimi himself had requested the Syrian encounter with Russia, Syria's main backer.

Syrian opposition activists have rejected a proposal aired during Brahimi's Damascus talks that Assad would stay in power until 2014 but be prevented from further renewing his presidency.

The head of the new internationally recognized Syrian National Coalition opposition, Moaz Alkhatib, has also criticized any notion of a transitional government in which Assad stayed on.

A UN Security Council source quoted by AFP said "Assad appears to have stonewalled Brahimi again."

"The UN Security Council is not even close to showing the envoy the kind of support he needs and the rebels will not now compromise," said the unnamed diplomat.

A Russian Foreign Ministry source said Makdad would meet Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Mikhail Bogdanov, the Kremlin's special envoy for Middle East affairs, on Thursday.

Past peace efforts have come to naught, with world powers divided over what has become an increasingly sectarian struggle between mostly Sunni Muslim rebels and Assad's forces, drawn primarily from his Shiite-linked Alawite minority.

ipj/mz (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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