A member of President Assad's inner circle has defected from the Syrian regime and is said to be in France, as the Friends of Syria met in Paris today.
The US Secretary of State used the conference to step up her criticism of China and Russia, saying it was time for the international community to demand that they "pay the price" for supporting the regime.
China, Russia and UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan were conspicuous in their absence today; Annan's deputies attended in his place.
International Correspondent John Irvine reports:
Brigadier General Manaf Tlass is said to be on his way to Paris, after flying to Turkey. He is a childhood friend of President Assad; his father served as defence minister in the regime of his father the late President Hafez al-Assad.
The defection of Gen Tlass, a member of the elite Republican Guards is the first major crack in the upper reaches of Assad's regime, which has remained largely cohesive throughout the uprising that has so far killed up to 16,000 people, according to the United Nations.
The defection of Gen Tlass, a member of the elite Republican Guards is the first major crack in the upper reaches of Assad's regime, which has remained largely cohesive throughout the uprising that has so far killed up to 16,000 people, according to the United Nations. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton welcomed the defection saying:
If people like him, and like the generals and colonels and others who have recently defected to Turkey are any indication, regime insiders and the military establishment are starting to vote with their feet.
Those with the closest knowledge of Assad's actions and crimes are moving away.
We think that is a very promising development. It also raises questions for those remaining in Damascus, who are still supporting this regime.
She hit out at China and Russia saying it was time they "paid the price" for supporting Assad and standing in the way of the diplomatic efforts to solve the crisis.
Russian deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov told Interfax news agency that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement went against the strategy for ending the bloodshed in Syria that was agreed by the world powers last Saturday in Geneva.
Today's conference in Paris ended with a new raft of agreements, including:
- Stronger UN Security Council action
- "Broader and tougher" (but as yet unspecified) sanctions
- A "massive increase" in aid to Syrian rebels, including communications equipment