In the wake of Syria's continued defiance of an Arab League requirement to admit observers to oversee the removal of army troops from the streets of the country's largest cities, a group of secret police has defected, taking knowledge of the government's inner workings with them.
The defectors fled an air force intelligence compound in Idlib, a city less than 200 miles from Damascus, the capital. The ensuing gunfight, between government forces and a group of army defectors, resulted in 10 deaths. It was the first known defection of any intelligence forces from the government of Bashar al-Assad, who has repeatedly refused to comply with sanctions set by the European Union, the United States, and the Arab League.
Syrian troops and tanks remain in the country's largest cities, including Homs, hotbed of an increasingly opposition to Assad's rule. The civilian death toll continues to mount, with the latest estimates quoting a figure higher than 3,500. The government says that more than 1,100 soldiers have died since March. A top United Nations human rights group has estimated that the government has imprisoned and/or executed nearly 14,000 people since the uprising began.
The fighting has become increasingly violent in recent weeks, as government troops have responded more forcefully to armed attacks by protesters, some of them army defectors, mainly Sunni Muslim, in opposition to the ruling Alawite Muslim, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
The sanctions set by the Arab League are scheduled to begin soon, with the latest penalties being travel bans and an assets freeze for 19 top Syrian officials.