Dubai, Asharq Al-Awsat – The eldest son of former Syrian Defense Minister General Mustafa Tlass, Firas Tlass, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that a total of 45 members of the Tlass family have defected from the al-Assad regime, including his younger brother and boyhood friend of Bashar al-Assad, Brigadier General Manaf Tlass. The Tlass family is a prominent Syrian Sunni family with long-standing ties to the al-Assad regime. Mustafa Tlass previously served as Syrian Defense Minister under president Hafez al-Assad, as well as his son and successor Bashar al-Assad, whilst his son, Manaf Tlass, was a childhood friend of Bashar al-Assad whose defection earlier this month served as a shock to the al-Assad regime. The Tlass family reportedly has strong ties to the Free Syrian Army [FSA], with Abdul Razzaq Tlass – nephew of Mustafa Tlass and cousin to Manaf Tlass – serving as the commander of the FSA al-Farouq Brigade, which has fought running battles with regime forces in Rastan and the outlying areas.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat during a telephone interview from Paris, Syrian business tycoon Firas Tlass strongly denied reports that the al-Farouq Brigade commander had been killed. He also revealed that he is personally providing humanitarian relief and assistance to the brigade, but stressed that he is not arming the FSA. The Syrian businessman also refused to discuss his younger brother’s defection from the al-Assad regime, saying that he is waiting for the dust to settle following this shocking news.
Tlass stressed that he supports the Syrian revolution, adding “I support the people, not chaos, and I hope that the country reaches a state of safety, for we are currently experiencing a state of chaos” adding “we require a strong current to place Syria on the right path and move it towards safety.”
He also asserted that the Syrian revolutionary movement on the ground is capable of “resolving” the Syrian crisis, far more than those giving their opinions and views on Arab satellite television.
Tlass also revealed that he is in constant contact with Abdul Razzaq Tlass, commander of the FSA’s al-Farouq brigade. He said “I have been in contact with Abdul Razzaq over the past 6 weeks” adding “I love him, for he is my cousin.”
He also called for mass civil disobedience to break out across Syria, adding that the regional situation is very complex and there is significant foreign intervention in Syrian affairs. Firas Tlass told Asharq Al-Awsat that the situation on the ground is not a result of the strength of the al-Assad regime forces but rather due to “regional conflict” adding “many countries are seeking to gain influence and power over Syria.” He stressed that “this is a chess-game… the international community wants Syria to be a failed state.”
The Syrian businessman also confirmed that he is aware of the nature of the support that the Syrian revolution is receiving, particularly the FSA, stressing that all the support that reaches FSA brigades is “conditional support”. He stressed that “all this conditional support is linked to future political dictates and agendas.”
As for the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Tlass said that al-Assad remains part of the solution, despite the fact that he is the major reason behind the crisis. He said that the best solution for Syria would be for Bashar al-Assad to hand over power to a national council, adding this can be viewed as a mixture of the Yemeni and Egyptian solutions.
However the Syrian tycoon told Asharq Al-Awsat this the most likely solution would see the “rise of a strong internal current that unites an important part of the revolutionary trend, and which possess a strong and clear political program to govern the next stage” adding “this current would impose itself on the scene and would be capable of negotiating with the regime.” He nominated his cousin Abdul Razzaq Tlass as a figure who can represent the Syrian revolution.
Firas Tlass also confirmed that his father, former Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass, is “saddened” by the current situation in Syria. Mustafa Tlass, the former Syrian Defense Minister, is 80-years old and lives abroad in Paris.
Tlass also revealed that he has not liquidated all his business interests in Syria, adding that the regime only began targeting some of his business interests after it became aware of his position towards the revolution. He added that not all of his businesses have been targeted.
The Syrian businessman also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “I was being monitored [by the regime] since September last year, whilst a warrant for my arrest was issued in May…but I had already left Syria by this time.”
In an open discussion with the “Syrian Youth dialogue” Facebook group earlier this week, Firas Tlass put forward his view for the transitional phase in Syria. He stressed this should include a “government with a specific formation (perhaps Manaf [Tlass] would be one of its members) however the power in this government would be shared, in other words there would be no president” adding “decisions would be made by vote, and this government’s task would be to protect the transitional phase and allow the country to reach a national constituent assembly elected under international supervision.”
Tlass also asserted that he would not speak on behalf of anybody else, and did not want to answer questions about Manaf Tlass’s future plans, saying “I said that I would speak for myself and not cite anyone, and whatever results come from the ballot box I accept” adding “this country deserves what is good, and not a return to the reproduction of power.”
He stressed “if Manaf Tlass came to power by internationally observed elections, then that is his right. Whilst if a religious figure or a former solider or an economist or even a Syrian Buddhist convert were elected…then I would respect this.”
Firas Tlass is the founder and owner of the prominent Min Ajl Suriyya [MAS] company. His company is involved in a variety of fields, including agriculture and manufacturing.