PARIS, July 6 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed reports Friday that a high-level general had defected from Syria.
News reports from Syria and neighboring countries said that Maj. Gen. Manaf Tlass, a general in the Republican Guard and longtime close associate of President Bashar Assad and his father, had gone to Turkey,
"We know that the Assad regime will fall. The question is how many more people have to die before that happens," Clinton said after a meeting in Paris with the opposition group Friends of the Syrian People. "And we want to see those who are on the inside hasten the day when a true transition can begin and the Syrian people have a chance to chart their own democratic future. So these defections send a message to Assad, but perhaps more importantly, they send a message to the people who are still left, which I hope they hear and heed."
In Washington, a Defense Department spokesman said that Tlass's departure from Syria is a step up from previous defections because of his long friendship with the Assad family.
In Syria, the pro-regime Steps Web site and Tartous Today newspaper reported that Tlass had gone to Turkey.
Syrian Steps cited a "high-level security source" and Tartus Today cited the pro-opposition Shams News Network, which said Tlass disappeared in Damascus Tuesday.
Shams said it did not initially publish the information due to the "sensitivity of the situation."
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted a Syrian defense establishment source as alleging Tlass fled after he discovered Syrian intelligence services found out he was a member of the opposition and rebel forces.
Free Syrian Army spokesman Col. Aref Hammoud and two other rebel officers inside Syria told The Washington Post the armed opposition group operating in Syria and based in southern Turkey helped Tlass cross into Turkey early Thursday.
Hammoud declined to say where Tlass was but said he was not at the camp for military defectors outside the southern Turkish town of Antakya.
"Manaf is one of the regime's main figures," Bashar al-Heraki, a member of the Syrian National Council, the main political group in exile, told The New York Times.
Heraki said Tlass would soon publicly declare his defection.
Tartous Today accused Tlass of collaborating with now-departed U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, and said Syria was better off without him.
"Syrian intelligence would have captured him if they wanted to," the Web site said.
"His decision to defect will not affect us at all, but he will instead become a new burden on the hands of the garbage and traitors nesting in Turkey," it said.
Tlass is the son of former Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass, a confidant of Assad's father, Hafez Assad, who ruled Syria from 1971 until his death in 2000.