Possible defection of ex-Assad frontman


Former Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi is on his way to the US after apparently defecting.

Mr Makdissi, the most senior Christian official yet to abandon Syrian president 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 yesterday that he was en route for – or already in – the US after managing to leave the capital, Damascus, for Beirut, Lebanon. He was not in the UK, British officials insisted. In Washington, a US state department spokesman said: “We are not in a position to confirm his actions or whereabouts.”

Amid continuing violence inside Syria, state media reported that 28 children were killed when a school was hit by mortar fire at the Wafideen camp north of Damascus.

In Brussels, Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that any use of chemical arms by Syria would meet an “immediate” international response. Alliance foreign ministers later approved the deployment of Patriot anti-missile batteries to the Turkish-Syrian border.

Mr Makdissi himself has not made any statements but his brother Sami Makdissi said on his Facebook page that an announcement would be made “shortly”. Confusingly, he was later quoted by Lebanese news website al-Nashra as denying that his brother had defected and claimed that his Facebook page had been hacked. – (Guardian service)