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Until yesterday, General Ali Habib was Syria’s defense minister, helping orchestrate and implement the regime’s brutal crackdown on dissent that has left more than 2,000 civilians dead across the country, Ynetnews.com reports.

Today, General Habib was found dead in his home, reportedly with gunshot wounds from automatic weapons, according to Debkafile, an Israeli security tabloid.

A Syrian newspaper in London reported that Habib had been pushed out in retaliation for his opposition to sending troops into Hama, which has faced a week-long assault from the army that alone has left hundreds dead.

If the regime of President Bashar Al Assad, a member of the minority Alawite Muslim sect, is behind the general’s death, as seems highly likely, that could indicate that the ruling elite is fracturing, possibly opening an opportunity for the protestors to break the stalemate that has gripped the country for months. Such divisions in the ruling class pushed the protests in Egypt and Libya over the edge into full-fledged rebellion.

SANA reported that Habib “has been ill for some time, and his health condition deteriorated recently.”

“Habib was advancing in age and was experiencing health problems but there are reasons to suspect that he may have been assassinated by elements within the Assad regime,” an analysis from Texas intelligence company Stratfor reads.

The analysis notes that Habib had disagreed with Assad’s regime over the use of force against protesters.

Assad has faced mounting international condemnation over the use of military force against people demonstrating against his regime.

UPI, Business insider

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