Syria denies Assad’s deputy tried to defect
BEIRUT - Syria denied reports on Saturday that President Bashar al-Assad's deputy had defected and his forces pursued an offensive against rebels, bombarding parts of Aleppo in the north and attacking an insurgent-held town in the oil-producing east.
Vice-President Farouq al-Shara "never thought for a moment about leaving the country", said a statement from his office broadcast on state television issued in response to reports that the veteran Party loyalist had tried to defect to Jordan.
Assad, battling a 17-month-old rebellion led by Syria's Sunni Muslim majority that has escalated into civil war, has suffered a string of defections including his prime minister Riyadh Hijab two weeks ago.
Shara, whose cousin - an intelligence officer - announced his own defection on Thursday, is a Sunni Muslim from Deraa province where the revolt began against Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect that is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
The 73-year-old former foreign minister kept a low profile as the rebellion mushroomed but appeared in public last month at a state funeral for three of Assad's top security officials killed in a bomb attack in Damascus.
The statement said he had worked since the start of the uprising to find a peaceful, political solution and welcomed the appointment of Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi as a new international mediator for Syria.
Brahimi, who hesitated for days to accept a job that France's U.N. envoy Gerard Araud called an "impossible mission," will replace former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is leaving at month's end in frustration over geo-political jostling among world powers that undermined his peace mandate. — Reuters
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