Controversial Syrian defence minister and pillar of the Ba’ath party who was unerringly loyal to Hafez al-Assad, the president for more than three decades

He called the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat “the son of 60,000 whores”, charged Jordan with “Judaising” its citizens, accused Turkey of collaborating with “the enemies of the Arabs” and blamed the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad for the 9/11 attacks on the US. Diplomacy was not, perhaps, the strongest suit of Mustafa Tlass, the Syrian defence minister from 1972 until 2004, who has died aged 85.

He professed his love for Madonna, Jennifer Lopez and Gina Lollobrigida, in 1983 he marvelled at how a Beirut bomber had “succeeded in sending 200 American Marines to hell”, and he openly demanded that Syria should absorb Lebanon.

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