Senior Syrian government officials are quietly preparing plans to defect to the country's opposition in the event that a 15-month uprising in the country manages to destabilize the regime of President Bashar Assad, the British newspaper Daily Telegraph reported on Thursday.
“We are seeing members of Bashar Assad’s inner circle make plans to leave,” an unnamed senior U.S. official told the newspaper.
According to the report, members of the regime have also established contact with representatives of Western governments and begun moving large sums of money into foreign bank accounts in Lebanon and China.
The report also quoted a senior member of the Syrian opposition, also unnamed, who confirmed that opposition groups were seeking American assistance in encouraging the defection of members of the regime.
“I know for sure there are some high-ranking officers who are waiting for the right chance to defect," said the opposition member. “We have names of people in the presidential palace. There are rumors that there is one who is really close to the president and we are expecting to see him out of the country soon.”
On Thursday, a colonel in the Syrian air force, Hassan Merei al-Hamade, defected to Jordan. The colonel, a pilot, was sent on a mission to attack the southern Syrian city of Daraa, but instead landed his MiG 21 fighter jet in Jordan, where he was granted political asylum.
According to the Telegraph, three other pilots on the mission also considered defecting, but ultimately decided against it, fearing that they would be turned away by Jordanian authorities.
The Syrian air force is considered particularly loyal to the Assad regime, and defections from within its ranks could indicate that cracks are emerging within the military.
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