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Syria’s interior minister flees from Beirut hospital
BEIRUT — Syria's wounded interior minister rushed home from a Beirut hospital on Wednesday for fear he would be arrested after some Lebanese called for him to be prosecuted for his role in a 1986 crackdown by Syrian troops in Lebanon.
In another blow to Syrian President Bashar Assad, his commander of military police defected to the rebels trying to unseat him from power.
Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Jassem al-Shallal is one of the most senior members of Mr. Assad's inner circle to join the opposition in the 21-month-old uprising against authoritarian rule. He appeared in a video aired on Al-Arabiya TV late Tuesday saying the army has been turned into a gang to kill and destroy.
Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar, wounded in a bombing of his ministry in Damascus, left a Beirut hospital before his treatment was finished and flew home to Damascus on a private jet, officials at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport said.
Mr. al-Shaar was wounded on Dec. 12 when a suicide bomber blew up his vehicle outside the Interior Ministry, killing five and wounding many others. He was brought to the hospital in neighboring Lebanon a week ago.
A top Lebanese security official told The Associated Press that Mr. al-Shaar was rushed out of Lebanon after authorities there received information that international arrest warrants could be issued against him because of his role in attacks against protesters in Syria.
In the 1980s, Mr. al-Shaar was a top intelligence official in northern Lebanon when Syrian troops crushed the Islamic Unification Movement – a Sunni Muslim group that supported former Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat.
The Lebanese security official said Lebanese citizens also had begun taking steps to sue Mr. al-Shaar for his role during Syria's military domination of Lebanon for decades. Lebanese are deeply divided over the Syria crisis.
Mr. al-Shaar and other Syrian officials are also on a list of people subjected to European Union sanctions for violence against anti-regime protesters in Syria.
Lebanon and Syria have a long and bitter history.
Syrian forces moved into Lebanon in 1976 as peacekeepers after the country was swept into a civil war between Christian and Muslim militias. For nearly 30 years, Lebanon lived under Syrian military and political domination.
That grip began to slip in 2005, when former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in Beirut. Syria was widely accused of involvement, and Damascus was forced to withdraw its troops. However, Damascus has since maintained considerable power and influence in Lebanon.
Shortly after Mr. al-Shaar arrived in Beirut for treatment last week, anti-Syrian politicians, including legislators Jamal Jarrah and Mohammed Kabbara, called for his arrest. Another call came this week, when Lebanese lawyer Tarek Shandab filed a complaint to the country's prosecution accusing Mr. al-Shaar of "genocide and ethnic cleansing."
In another setback for the regime, the defection of the military police chief came as military pressure builds on the regime, with government bases falling to a rebel assault near the capital Damascus and elsewhere across the country.
Maj. Gen. al-Shallal appeared in a video aired on Al-Arabiya TV late Tuesday saying he is joining "the people's revolution."
Thousands of Syrian soldiers have defected over the past 21 months, and many of them are now fighting against government forces. Many have cited attacks on civilians as the reason they switched sides. Anti-regime activists estimate more than 40,000 have died in the past 21 months.
In Lebanon, airport officials in Beirut said Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and Assistant Foreign Minister Ahmad Arnous flew early Wednesday to Moscow.
Their visit to Moscow comes two days after Mr. Assad met in Damascus with Lakhdar Brahimi, the international envoy to Syria. Mr. Brahimi, who is scheduled to go to Moscow as well, gave no indication of progress toward a negotiated solution for the civil war.
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