Defection or escape? Syria's foreign ministry spokesman 'on way to US'
Source: The Gaurdian
The former Syrian foreign ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, is on his way to the United States after apparently defecting, the Guardian has learned.
Makdissi, the most senior Christian official yet to abandon Bashar al-Assad's regime, was reported on Monday to have variously been sacked or defected and to have arrived back in London, where he used to serve in the Syrian embassy.
But usually reliable diplomatic sources revealed on Tuesday that he is en route for – or already in – the US after managing to leave the capital, Damascus, for Beirut. He was not in the UK, British officials insisted. In Washington, a state department spokesman said: "We are not in a position to confirm his actions or whereabouts."
Makdissi was spokesman for Syria's foreign ministry from shortly after the uprising against the Assad regime erupted in March 2011. Fluent in English and a communications professional, he presented the government's version of events during visits by Arab League and UN missions and mediators, and in the wake of several massacres. When government forces were blamed for killing 103 people, including 49 children, in Houleh near Homs last May, Makdissi dismissed what he called a "tsunami of lies".
Many opposition supporters described his departure as an escape rather than a defection, since he had served the regime loyally for so long – "a rat deserting a sinking ship," said one. But others praised his patriotism and decency. Reports from Damascus said that Makdissi's house in the Mezzeh area had been burned.