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Last Updated: Monday, 22 September, 2003, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Profile: Mustafa Tlas
Mustafa Tlas stays on in reshuffle
Tlas' retirement has been delayed
Major General Mustafa Abd-al-Qadir Tlas was replaced as Syria's defence minister in May 2004 after serving in the post for over 30 years.

He had been among 11 ministers to be kept on when the country's new prime minister reshuffled the 30-strong cabinet in September 2003.

Born in Al-Rastan near Homs in 1932, he has also been deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces since 1971. In 1984 he was made a deputy prime minister.

Mr Tlas enrolled at the Homs Military Academy in 1952. There he met the future president, Hafez al-Assad, who became his life-long comrade-in-arms.

After the Baath Party seized power in 1963, Mr Tlas's close ties with Al-Assad helped him gain a place on the Baath Military Committee.

His influence grew after a coup led by Al-Assad and another army officer, Salah Jadid, in February 1966. Following disagreements between Al-Assad and Jadid, Mr Tlas replaced a Jadid loyalist as army chief of staff and deputy defence minister in February 1968.

After his successful coup in November 1970, Hafez al-Assad made Tlas, a Sunni, deputy commander-in-chief and defence minister.

The move was seen as aimed at establishing the armed forces at the centre of the state. It was also viewed as a way of appeasing Syria's Sunni majority, after Al-Assad appointed supporters from his own Alawi community to key positions in the military and the party.

In 1971 Mr Tlas chaired negotiations between King Hussein of Jordan and PLO leader Yasser Arafat after "Black September", when the king moved against Palestinians in Jordan.

Tlas also served as Al-Assad's special envoy in Cairo, when Egypt and Syria were planning the 1973 war with Israel.

With Soviet help, he oversaw the expansion of the Syrian army. By 1986 it numbered over 400,000 men. After Al-Assad suffered a heart attack in 1984, Mr Tlas helped quell an attempted coup by the president's brother, Rifaat.

He maintained his influence and power throughout the 1990s. When al-Assad died in 2000, Mr Tlas helped the president's son and successor Bashar consolidate his position and became his closest aide.

In May 2002, Bashar al-Assad issued a decree delaying Mr Tlas' retirement by two years to the age of 72. Analysts saw the decree as a sign that the "old guard" continued to exert power in the Syrian government.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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