DAMASCUS- Jihad al-Makdissi, a Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman and one of the most public faces of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, has reportedly fled the country on Monday.
A diplomat in the region said that al-Makdissi had defected on Monday. Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi, a well-known advocate for President Bashar Al Assad’s regime, has resigned and is headed for London, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Monday.
“Makdisi was pressured by people inside the presidential palace, but not the president himself, to resign. He is now on his way to London,” Observatory director Rami Abdul Rahman told AFP, adding that he had left with his family from Beirut international airport.
“The entourage of the president was disturbed by frequent media appearances by Makdisi and some of the statements he made,” Abdul Rahman said of the diplomat, who maintains an official Twitter account.
"He defected. All I can say is that he is out of Syria," the diplomat, who did not want to be named, told Reuters, adding to reports Channel 4 News has had from sources that al-Makdissi has been "exempted" from office and has left the country.
Press reports also indicated that Jihad al-Makdissi has reportedly been sacked as Syria's foreign ministry spokesman, the first high-profile departure from al-Assad regime in recent months.
A native Arabic speaker and fluent in French and English, Dr. Jihad al-Makdisi conducted his thesis in London while working for the Syrian embassy. Al-Makdissi, who is in his 40s, previously worked at the Syrian embassy in London and returned to Damascus a year ago to serve as spokesman for the ministry, defending the government's crackdown on the revolt against President al-Assad's regime.
While al-Makdissi had little influence in a country largely run by the military and security forces, his defection will be seen as a blow for President Bashar al-Assad as his government continues to battle with rebels in a 20-month uprising, the press reports added on Monday.
Some reports from the region suggested that al-Makdissi, who speaks fluent English, had been sacked for making statements that did not reflect the government's position.
For its part, the UK Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We're aware of reports that he has defected and may be coming to the UK. We're seeking clarification."
The Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad al-Makdissi's apparent defection comes as heavy fighting continued in recent days, with rebels seizing military bases in recent weeks including some close to the capital Damascus.
The conflict in Syria, which has already seen 40,000 people killed, has grown increasingly bloody in recent months as rebels moved on Damascus.