Report: Former Syria FM spokesman in U.S., cooperating with intelligence
The Guardian reports that Jihad Makdissi, who was the public face of the Assad regime's 20-month-old battle with rebels, fled to Washington with the aid of U.S. officials.
The former Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman has fled to Washington and is cooperating with U.S. intelligence, the Guardian reported on Tuesday.
Jihad Makdissi, who reportedly defected from Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime last month, was the public face to the outside world of Assad's government as it battled the 20-month-old uprising.
According to the report, it has been confirmed that Makdissi, aided by U.S. officials, had fled to Washington in return for asylum.
The U.S. State Department did not respond to requests for comments by the Guardian, and the CIA refused to discuss the story.
Upon his defection, a diplomat in the Middle East said Makdissi had left the country and defected, while the British-based Observatory said it had information that he flew from Beirut on Monday afternoon heading for London.
In Beirut, a diplomat said Lebanese officials had confirmed that Makdissi spent several days in Beirut before leaving on Monday, but could not confirm his destination.
"We're aware of reports that he has defected and may be coming to the UK. We're seeking clarification," a Foreign Office spokeswoman in London said.
Despite being a senior figure in Assad's regime, Makdissi had little influence in a system largely run by the security apparatus and the military.
On Monday, Arab media and opposition activists reported Monday that Bashar Assad's regime has used chemical weapons for the first time since fighting began in Syria.
According to an Al-Jazeera report, activists in the Al-Bayada neighborhood in Homs, which is under rebel control, claimed they have been targeted with gas by government forces. The opposition said in a separate statement that jet fighters dropped bombs containing 'poisonous material' on Homs.
Also on Monday, the international envoy tasked with pushing to end Syria's civil war said after talks with President Bashar Assad that the situation in Syria is still "worrying" and gave no indication of progress toward a negotiated solution to the conflict.
In brief comments to reporters after meeting the Syrian leader at the presidential palace in Damascus, Lakhdar Brahimi said he and Assad exchanged views on the crisis and discussed possible steps forward, which he did not disclose.
"The situation in Syria is still worrying and we hope that all the parties will go toward the solution that the Syrian people are hoping for and look forward to," Brahimi said.
Syria's state news agency quoted Assad as saying his government supports "any effort in the interest of the Syrian people which preserves the homeland's sovereignty and independence."