A former top general in Syria and cabinet minister to the President Bashar Assad regime has defected, according to multiple foreign news agencies and confirmed by sources to U.S. News.
Turkish newspaper Turkiye reports Syrian Gen. Ali Habib, who served as defense minister from 2009 to 2011, has defected to Turkey in what Syria watchers are calling a "very significant" shift in the country's ongoing civil war. The general chose to defect following continued disagreements with Assad prior to the Arab Spring revolution in March 2011, reports Lebanon-based ya Libnan news service, adding the move could precede a coup against the embattled president.
Habib's defection follows testimony from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday, who told Congress that the potential for a U.S. response to use of chemical weapons has prompted a rise in Syrian officials jumping ship.
Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday afternoon, alongside Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, urging Congress to authorize the use of military force.
Defections have gone up with the threat of a U.S. response, he told the committee, adding that Assad may be able to crawl out of a hole following a U.S. strike, "but there's no way he's going to be able to say he's better off."
Kerry was met with doubt from some senators, including Rand Paul, R-Ky., over whether a strike would be able to deter and disable the Assad regime from conducting chemical weapons attacks. The secretary said the U.S. government had undisputed evidence that the Assad regime and only the Assad had employed chemical weapons, and U.S. inaction would guarantee further attacks on Syrian rebel fighters and civilians.
Habib, sometimes referred to as Ali Habib Mahmoud or Ali Muhammad Habib, was a key player in the Assad regime. He, Assad and five other officials were subject to sweeping sanctions from the U.S. Treasury Department in 2011 for reported human rights abuses.