The influential Syrian general who could bear Assad no more

The Guardian reports on events leading up to the recent escape of Brigadier General Manaf Tlass and his family from Syria: The Tlass family’s complicity in the regime, and that of other Sunni elites, helped to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood revolt in Hama in 1982, but they were not prepared to countenance a repeat of such brutal measures directed against fellow Sunni clansmen from their home town of Rastan in the current uprising. As the regime’s reaction to the Syrian spring became more and more ruthless, Manaf Tlass was cast out of the inner circle to brood in his Damascus home.

A turning point came last August when a delegation of senior Hezbollah officials came to Damascus and was due to eat an Iftar meal, to break the Ramadan fast.

The Hezbollah men asked Manaf what he thought about Assad’s handling of the situation, according to one Syrian source.

“The response came fast and dry – ‘a donkey’,” said the source. “In Arabic, the poor animal occupies a very low level in the hierarchy of the animal kingdom and the term is generally used to denote a clueless person with no intelligence whatsoever.

“Taking it as an insult, the Hezbollah team got up and apologised for not being able to have dinner there as they made up other excuses.

“As Firas and Manaf stood up to accompany their hosts out, which is customary in these events, their father asked to sit down and let the guests leave unaccompanied, a sign of derision in Arab customs.”

The breach had become public, displayed in front of foreigners, but Manaf’s wife, Thala Khair, nevertheless appears to have kept up an amiable email correspondence with Assad as least until January this year, perhaps as an insurance policy for the protection of her family.

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