Syria conflict: General 'defects to rebels'

A tank burns in Daraa, Syria, 9 March Fighting continued to rage in Syria this week

A Syrian army general has reportedly defected to the opposition, saying that morale in the army had collapsed.

A man identified by opposition activists as General Mohammed Ezz al-Din Khalouf announced his defection in a video shown on al-Arabiya TV.

He is said to have reached safety in neighbouring Jordan. There was no comment from the Syrian government.

New York-based group Human Rights Watch has again accused the government of using cluster bombs against civilians.

An estimated 70,000 people have been killed and one million have fled Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began two years ago.

Video appearance

Gen Khalouf, identified variously as a brigadier-general and a major-general, was shown sitting beside his son, said to be an army captain.

"It is not possible for anyone to accept any of the ideas of this regime unless they have achieved special interests," he said.

Seif al-Hourani, an activist from a rebel group which reportedly helped the man and his family out of the country, told AP news agency via Skype that the escape had been planned for months.

Six days ago, rebels smuggled the general, his wife, and three of their children out of Damascus and they crossed into Jordan on Friday, he said.

Correspondents say that, if confirmed, it would be one of the most senior defections since the start of the conflict.

Cluster bombs open in flight, scattering smaller bomblets. They pose a threat to civilians long after they are dropped as many do not explode immediately. Most countries have banned their use.

"Syria is expanding its relentless use of cluster munitions, a banned weapon, and civilians are paying the price with their lives and limbs," Human Rights Watch said in a report, which documented 150 attacks over six months.

In October, the Syrian army denied it was using cluster bombs in its battle with rebels.

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