PARIS -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday hailed an accelerating wave of defections in President Bashar Assad's inner circle as the United States and its international allies pleaded once again for global sanctions against the Syrian regime.

Frustrated by the slow pace of diplomacy, Clinton lambasted Russia and China for standing in the way.

Speaking after a 100-nation conference in Paris, Clinton said Syria's "regime insiders and the military establishment are starting to vote with their feet" by abandoning the four-decade Assad dynasty. She spoke after Western officials reported top Assad aide Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass had left the country.

"Those with the closest knowledge of Assad's actions and crimes are moving away," Clinton told reporters. "We think that is a very promising development. It also raises questions for those remaining in Damascus, who are still supporting this regime."

Tlass' departure from Syria provided welcome news for the United States and its European and Arab partners after another gathering of the "Friends of Syria" group that demonstrated the international community's continued inability to end 16 months of bloodshed that activists say has killed some 14,000 people.

The defection of Tlass, a member of the elite Republican Guard and a son of a former defense minister, is the first major crack in the upper reaches of Assad's regime, which has remained largely cohesive throughout the uprising.

Tlass has not spoken publicly since his defection, and his whereabouts remain unknown, though French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced that the general was en route to France, where Tlass' sister lives. Fabius later backtracked, saying he was not sure of Tlass' final destination.

Even those closest to him "are starting to realize that you cannot support a butcher like Mr. Bashar Assad," Fabius said.

Hassem Hashimi, a member of Syria's opposition National Council, said the development could open more cracks in Assad's power base. "The defection of Tlass will encourage a lot of similar people to defect, as well," he told The Associated Press in Paris.

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