Rebels Claim Syrian Vice-President Has Defected
Unconfirmed, but intriguing:
Conflicting reports emerged Saturday about whether Syria’s vice president has defected.
A spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army said Saturday that Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa has fled the regime.
Syrian state-run TV did not explicitly say whether al-Sharaa had defected, but it reported that the vice president’s office issued a statement saying al-Sharaa “has never at any moment thought of leaving the homeland to whatever direction.”
If al-Sharaa did defect, it would mark the highest-level departure from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime yet.
There has been a stream of resignations by Syrian officials in recent weeks, including Republican Guard Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas and Prime Minister Riyad Hijab. Like al-Sharaa, the men are Sunnis who held top posts in a government dominated by the country’s Alawite minority.
Observers view al-Sharaa’s power and influence as more significant than the prime minister, who only served in the post for weeks. That’s because he has long been a prominent and loyal member of the regime’s old guard and had more political clout.
He served as foreign minister under al-Assad and his late father, Hafez, for more than 20 years and had been the vice president since 2006.
During Arab League meetings, al-Sharaa had been mentioned in recent months as a possible successor to the president under a transition plan that would be similar to the one in Yemen, where the president left office and the vice president took over.
Recently, State TV showed him attending the funerals of the high-level government officials who were killed in the July blast in Damascus. Al-Sharaa headed meetings with the former U.N. and Arab League point man on Syria, Kofi Annan, and international officials visiting Syria during the latest crisis.
“Farouq al-Sharaa did defect, but we were trying to get him through to Jordan,” FSA spokesman Louai Miqdad told CNN Saturday.
If this is true, then the Assad regime will have suffered it’s worst loss yet.