BEIRUT - Syrian Defector General Manaf Tlass called on Syrians Tuesday to unite and start building a post-President Bashar al-Assad Syria as he made his first public appearance since defecting from the regime.
Reading a prepared statement on the Saudi-based Al-Arabiya television channel , Tlass called on Syrians to "unite... to serve a Syria after Assad... and do the impossible, to ensure the unity of Syria, and to be sure to start building a new Syria."
Tlass, who defected on July 6, said he was "reaching out to (Syrians) in these difficult times for the country, as the blood of its innocents is being shed, and whose only crime has been to call for freedom."
The defector said the "new Syria ... should not be built on revenge, exclusion or monopoly."
He said he was speaking as "one of the sons of the Syrian Arab Army, who has rejected this regime's criminal and corrupt ways ... and who cannot accept its crimes to our country."
The defector said he did not blame those troops who have not defected, adding that "whatever mistakes made by some members of the Syrian Arab Army ... those honourable troops who have not partaken in the killing ... are the extension of the (rebel) Free Syrian Army."
It is "the duty of Syrians to unite, to build a free, democratic Syria," said Tlass.
A high-profile military figure and former member of Assad's inner circle, Tlass has been mentioned as someone who could play a leading role in a transition phase in Syria should Assad fall.
On July 6, sources close to the regime said that general Tlass had defected and left Syria, information later confirmed by French foreign minister Laurent Fabius.
Until Monday's televised address, Tlass had yet to make a public appearance.
A general in the elite Republican Guard charged with protecting the regime, Tlass is the son of former defence minister Mustafa Tlass, a close friend of Assad's late father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad.
His defection was hailed in Western capitals as a key setback for the regime while the opposition umbrella group the Syrian National Council called it an "enormous blow" to Assad.
However Tlass has faced criticism and suspicion among Syrian rebels, who say that he and his 80-year-old father, who lives in Paris, should have made their positions clear at the start of the uprising against the Assad regime last year.