Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa has defected to Jordan with two unnamed high-ranking Syrian officers, Al-Arabiya reported Saturday, quoting the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
If confirmed, Sharaa’s defection would make him the most senior Assad regime official to join the opposition to date. Sharaa has neither confirmed nor denied his desertion yet.
Responding to the reported defection, Syrian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Jamal Muqadassi said that Sharaa is in Damascus, and that the story is a lie aimed to discredit the Syrian regime. News of serious disagreements between Sharaa and Assad were leaked to the Arabic media over the past few days, Israel Radio added, but the official line emanating from Damascus was that Sharaa would never abandon his post.
The Syrian opposition did not confirm Sharaa’s defection until after he allegedly reached Jordan although news that he was missing had been circulating for two to 10 days.
Opposition figures said Assad was devising a plan to make it look as if the FSA had killed Sharaa, Al-Arabiya reported. Syrian forces used planes to fire on Daraa (Sharaa’s hometown) overnight Friday in an attempt to locate and kill the vice president, Israel Radio reported. The rebels also reported that Syrian forces shot at Sharaa as he entered Jordanian territory.
A report earlier this week that Sharaa had defected turned out to be about his nephew, Yaroob al-Sharaa, who had called on the military to join the revolution.
Sharaa, 74, has been a Syrian politician for some 40 years. He has been the vice president since 2006. He also previously served as Syria’s foreign minister and was closely involved in many of the unsuccessful efforts over the years to negotiate Israeli-Syrian diplomatic accords.