Syria

Assad Defense Minister Defects, Reaches Istanbul With Help From West

Defection of fellow Alawite significant

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Bashar al-Assad's former defense minister has reached Istanbul after a defection that betrays cracks in the president's support among his own Alawite sect, opposition and diplomatic sources said on Thursday.

Dismissing a cursory Syrian state television denial of the first Reuters report that General Ali Habib had been spirited across the Turkish frontier this week, opposition figures said Habib was likely to keep a low profile after evading house arrest and reaching Turkey with the aid of Western agents.