Farouk al-Sharaa’s absence from the Monday meeting between Syrian President Bashar Assad and UN special envoy Kofi Annan is causing speculation about the whereabouts of Syria’s vice president.
Western diplomats in Damascus said the 74-year-old, who was appointed as Assad’s deputy in 2006, is believed to have been “removed,” or “vanished,” according to the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth.
The deputy president is one of very few senior officials who do not belong to Assad’s Alawite sect. Sharaa, a Sunni Muslim, has worked for the Syrian government since the 1970s, making his way upward in the ranks of the ruling Ba’ath party. He has been seen as a possible replacement for Assad during a transition period.
Syria’s foreign minister, Assad’s special adviser and the ambassador to the UN were all present on the Syrian side for Monday’s meeting. Sharaa’s absence was very obvious, Western diplomatic sources told the Israeli paper, saying, “He probably wasn’t invited.”
The opposition movements in Syria reportedly do not have solid information on the whereabouts of Sharaa. Some believe that he has been placed under house arrest, noting that Annan’s transition plan calls for Sharaa to serve as a replacement for Assad as president until elections can be held.
Opposition reports indicate that as many as 20 officials of Assad’s regime have been held under house arrest since generals started to defect from the Syrian army.
The diplomatic sources told the paper that Sharaa had a falling out with Assad’s inner circle following a confrontation with the president’s brother, Maher Assad.
There are also rumors Sharaa may have defected.
Sharaa’s Wikipedia page for a brief time contained the detail that he had left the country, but the sentence was removed moments later, with another user claiming the rumor had no verification.