Syria denies vice president defection
Syria denied reports today that president Bashar al-Assad's deputy had defectedand his forces pressed an offensive against rebels, bombarding parts of Aleppo in the north and hitting 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 Baath Party loyalist had tried to defect to Jordan.
A cousin of Mr Shara's announced his defection on Thursday, calling on the army to join the "revolution" against Mr Assad.
But state media said the vice president had been working since the start of the uprising to reach a political solution to end the bloodshed. Mr Shara welcomed the appointment of veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi as a new international mediator for Syria, it added.
"Farouq al-Shara has never thought for a moment about leaving the country," Syrian television quoted a statement from Mr Shara's office as saying.
Mr Shara, appointed six years ago after the defection of Abdul-Halim Khaddam, is a Sunni Muslim from the southern Deraa province where the 17-month-old uprising against Mr Assad first erupted.
The 73-year-old former foreign minister kept a low profile as the rebellion against Mr Assad escalated, but appeared in public last month at a state funeral for three of Mr 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 political solution to end the bloodshed and welcomed the appointment of veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi as a new international mediator for Syria.
Mr Brahimi, who hesitated for days to accept a job that France's UN envoy Gerard Araud called an "impossible mission," will replace former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, who is stepping down at the end of the month.
Mr Annan's six-point plan to end the violence and move towards political negotiations was based on an April ceasefire agreement which never took hold. The conflict has deepened since then with both sides stepping up attacks.
Mr Assad's forces have turned increasingly to air power to hold back lightly armed rebels in the capital Damascus and Aleppo, a northern commercial hub. More than 18,000 people have died and some 170,000 have fled the country as a result of the fighting, according to the United Nations.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the army bombarded neighbourhoods in Aleppo, Syria's largest city. Rebels hold several districts in the country's northern commercial hub and have tried to push back an army counter-offensive.