Assad TV presenter is latest defector after working as rebel spy
And the defections keep coming…
After news of Syrian pilots defecting to neighboring Jordan and military officers fleeing to Turkey, now comes the highest profile regime ‘traitor’: A long-standing TV presenter for a pro-Assad news station.
According to The Guardian newspaper, Ghatan Sleiba, who worked for Al Dunya TV, escaped to Turkey on Wednesday. The Syrian news anchor said he had made his way across the border via Eastern Syria, which according to him is almost entirely under rebel control.
He told The Guardian he had used his position as part of a state-run TV channel, to filter out information to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) for the last seven months:
"This is one of the things that they never wanted us to talk about. What we were doing was not reporting. It was simply acting as the tongue of the regime. I stayed as long as I could to help the revolutionaries, but I couldn't take it any more,” he said.
Sleiba is the latest in a long line of defections from the warn-torn country, with rebels claiming that numbers of defectors are set to double in the coming days. They have ranged from pilots flying in to Jordan to soldiers escaping to Turkey. Damascus has so far branded them all ‘traitors’.
But according to Sleiba, there is still substantial support for the regime within Syria:
"There are some others who also want to run, but there are more who love the regime from the depths of their hearts," he said.
The TV presenter also said he thought high profile defections such as his would be few and far between. He joins tens of thousands of refugees who have made it over the border to Turkey or Jordan. Both neighbors have struggled to cope with the influx of people.
Sleiba said the channel he worked for was highly biased towards the regime and he was often primed for both questions and answers in interviews by members of Assad’s Ba’ath party security division. By the end of last year, he felt he could no longer continue working there and so made contact with the FSA.
Although Sleiba asked them to help him flee the country, the rebels told him he was more use to them as a reporter filtering out information to them. He continued to do this from his post in the pro-Assad TV station, part owned by the president’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf, until making it to safety in Turkey last week. Reports suggest Sleiba is now residing in Dubai.
What do you think about the defections so far? Does it say anything about Assad's grip on power? Tell us below.