BEIRUT  - Syria’s military police chief has announced his defection from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, accusing the army of having turned into ‘murderous gangs,’ in a video posted online.“I, General Abdel Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, commander of Syrian military police, announce that I am defecting from the regime army, to join the people’s revolution,” the military-clad officer said.“The army has deviated from its essential mission, which is to protect the country, and it has morphed into murderous, destructive gangs,” Shallal charged in the video circulated by opposition activists on Wednesday.“The destruction of cities and villages, and the commission of massacres against our people, defenceless civilians, who took to the streets calling for freedom” prompted Shallal to defect, he said.Shallal, whose functions are limited to disciplining soldiers, is not a well-known figure.The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights cited sources close to Shallal as saying he was set to retire in January, and its head Rami Abdel Rahman said he has already left Syria, like many other senior military defectors. According to reports on online platforms, he left Syria for Turkey. “This man was pushed to the sidelines a long time ago,” one Syrian activist said online, adding that Shallal was “suspected of collaborating with insurgents.”Shallal “withdrew military police checkpoints from the roads, and he was good to people,” another activist wrote online. Meanwhile, the death toll in Syria’s civil war has topped 45,000, a watchdog said Wednesday, as peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi looked to Russia for help in his faltering new bid to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table.At least another 20 people including eight children were killed in tank shelling of a farming village in the north of the country, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.The grim statistics added gravity to a UN warning that the humanitarian situation across the country is rapidly deteriorating.“In all we have documented the deaths of 45,048 people,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, adding that more than 1,000 people were killed in the past week alone. The Observatory, which relies on a network of medics and activists on the ground, said the actual number of people killed since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime erupted in March last year could be as high as 100,000, with both sides concealing many of their casualties.The Britain-based watchdog reported fierce army shelling of a farming area in a village in the northern province of Raqa on Wednesday. “At least 20 people, among them eight children and three women, were killed in shelling by regime forces of farmlands in Kahtaniyeh village, west of the city of Raqa,” said the Observatory.Amateur video posted online by activists showed several bloodied bodies, including at least one of a child, laid out on blankets in a house.Raqa has seen an escalation of violence in recent months as rebels have launched an assault to seize several areas of the province, strategically located on the Turkish border.The Observatory also reported new clashes in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk in southern Damascus, the scene of fierce fighting last week.Brahimi arrived in Syria on Sunday to push a new initiative aimed at ending the bloodshed and getting the regime and opposition to the negotiating table.A UN Security Council diplomat, however, said the veteran Algerian diplomat had received no support from any of the warring parties.“Assad appears to have stonewalled Brahimi again, the UN Security Council is not even close to showing the envoy the kind of support he needs and the rebels will not now compromise,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.Opposition activists also blasted Brahimi.“Brahimi’s arrival in Damascus to discuss a new political initiative to solve the crisis caused by the regime... has not put a stop... to massacres,” said the Local Coordination Committees, a grassroots network of anti-regime activists.The envoy is to hold talks on Saturday with Damascus ally Moscow, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the ITAR-TASS news agency.The Russian foreign ministry said Brahimi himself had requested the meeting.Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was pushing Brahimi to ensure that the warring sides stick to a June peace plan that calls for a transition of power without making an explicit demand on Assad to step down.Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Muqdad was already in Moscow for talks on Wednesday.Russia has issued a series of statements in recent weeks distancing itself from the Damascus regime.A French daily has reported a supposed US-Russian initiative for a transition in Syria, causing rage among opponents who reject any compromise with the regime.Le Figaro said a solution in the offing would involve Assad staying in power until 2014 while preventing him from further renewing his mandate.