A former senior general in the Syrian army said Wednesday that President Bashar Assad is oblivious to the violence and level of destruction in his country.

In an interview with German press agency DPA in Paris, Manaf Tlass, a former brigadier general who was a close adviser and childhood friend to the Syrian president, also said that Assad lives in complete isolation.

“Assad has no ability to appreciate what’s going on and understand the extent of the destruction caused during the civil war in his country,” said the general. “He has surrounded himself with a circle of people who tell him exactly what he wants to see and hear.”

Tlass defected from Syria after the civil war broke out. He now resides in France.

Tlass suggested that a transfer of power in Syria is inevitable and claimed that Deputy President Farouk a-Sharaa may play a key role in such a transfer. He said that a-Sharaa has “no blood on his hands” and is highly respected by both the Syrian government and the opposition, making him a leading candidate to manage the transition period.

Tlass is the son of the Assad regime’s former long-serving defense minister, Mustafa Tlass. Manaf’s defection in the summer was the first from the president’s inner circle; he and Bashar Assad had been friends since childhood, and the Tlass family, who are Sunni Muslims, played a critical role in maintaining support for the Alawite Muslim Assads within the Syrian Sunni community. Tlass was a battalion commander in Assad’s elite Republican Guard.

The UN says some 70,000 people have been killed in Syria’s civil war since the revolt against Assad began in March 2011.