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The defection of a Syrian general who is a personal friend of President Bashar al-Assad gave a huge boost to anti-government rebels as Western and Arab states met them in Paris on Friday to help prise Assad from power.
Manaf Tlas, a brigade commander in the Republican Guard who attended military college with Assad and fled to Turkey this week, was on his way to Paris, where his father, Assad's father's defense minister, has also taken up residence, a close family friend told Reuters.
There was no immediate sign that Tlas would throw in his lot with the rebels and an opposition source said he had no plans to attend Friday's meeting.
While the lightly armed rebels are no match for Syria's large and well-equipped army, their hope lies in eroding loyalty and conviction within Assad's establishment to the point where it loses its hold on power.
Government forces pushed into the rebel-held northern town of Khan Sheikhoun on Thursday, activists said, adding 11 victims to a death toll dissidents and Western powers put at over 15,000.
French President Francois Hollande urged stiffer sanctions against Assad and more support for the rebels at the start of a meeting of Western and Arab states who back the uprising.
"Bashar al-Assad must go," Hollande told a meeting of foreign ministers and senior diplomats from the "Friends of Syria" group. "It's in the interest of Syria, of its neighbors and everybody who wants peace in the region."
Clinton renewed Washington's call for a UN sanctions resolution, something that was twice blocked last year by the veto power held by Russia and China in the Security Council.
More concrete plans
The meeting of the "Friends of Syria", the third one following those in Tunisia and Turkey, will focus on more concrete plans to support the Syrian opposition, including equipping them with communications tools, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in an interview published on Thursday.