Report: Assad's Former Defense Minister Defects and Flees
Former Syrian Defense Minister General Ali Habib has fled the country and is now in Turkey, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) told Fox News on Wednesday.
Reuters reported that the former minister, Ali Habib, crossed the border from Syria on Tuesday night. Syrian state television, however, denied Habib had left Syria and said he was still at his home.
Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said he could not at the moment confirm Habib had defected.
FSA spokesman Fahd Al-Masri told Fox News that Ali Habib is with Turkish officials and is in the process of making contact with Syrian opposition figures within Turkey.
Secretary of State John Kerry made mention of the defection during a House committee hearing on Wednesday as the U.S. mulls a possible military strike on Syria.
"Just today before coming in here, I read an e-mail to me about a general, the minister of defense, former minister or assistant minister, I forget which, who has just defected and is now in Turkey," Kerry said. "And there are other defections that we are hearing about... because of the potential that we might take action."
Habib is a prominent member of President Bashar Al-Assad's Alawite sect. If his defection is confirmed, he would be the highest ranking figure from the Alawite minority to break with Assad since the uprising against him began in 2011.
Habib left his defense minister post in 2011 after reportedly complaining about civilian attacks coordinated by Assad’s regime in the city of Hama. The Syrian government had claimed he was suffering from health problems but some reports suggested he was under house arrest.
Less than 24 hours after Habib left his post, the opposition claimed that he had been found dead and that Assad had him killed. Habib subsequently "appeared" on Syrian state television in a bid by the regime to prove that he wasn’t killed.
An officer in the opposition Free Syrian Army, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters Habib appeared to have coordinated his defection with the United States.
(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Rosh Hashanah in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)