A Syria opposition official insisted Saturday that reports Vice President Farouq al-Sharie has defected are genuine, and said he was being held under house arrest by the Syrian regime.
A Syrian National Council (SNC) official told Al Arabiya that a Syrian TV statement that “Sharie never thought of leaving the country” was incorrect.
SNC legal office head Marwan Hji al-Rifai told Al Arabiya that Sharie was under house arrest and like other “noble” people he had attempted defect to save his family.
On Friday, spokesman for the Higher Revolutionary Council of the Free Syrian Army, Luay al-Miqdad, claimed Sharie had defected to Jordan.
Miqdad told Al Arabiya that two other high-ranking officers had also defected, but did not give any names.
If Shari has left the Syrian government, it would be a large blow to President Bashar al-Assad's fight to control the country. He is the most powerful Sunni figure in the minority Alawite-led regime, and has served in top posts for almost 30 years.
Sources from the Syrian opposition said that Sharie has been missing for the past two days and that he did not announce his “explicit” defection untill after he arrived in Jordan.
According to Miqdad, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has been working on a scenario to make the FSA seem as the culprit behind Sharie’s “killing.”
Sharie, 74, has been Syria’s vice president since 2006.
Born in the southern city of Deraa, Sharie first worked in the aviation sector in the early 1960s before entering politics.
He has Bachelors in English, and in 1972 he left to study international law in London and was appointed in 1976 as Syria’s ambassador to Rome. In 1984, he served as the country’s foreign minister.
The vice president's cousin, Ya’rub al-Sharie, appeared in a video on Thursday announcing his official defection and joining the ranks of the Syrian revolution.
Clashes in Aleppo, Damascus
On Saturday, clashes continued between the FSA and security forces in Aleppo and Damascus.
Government troops fought back rebels near the airport of battle-scarred Aleppo, Syria’s state media said Friday, in the first official acknowledgement combat had neared a strategic gateway to the country’s largest city.
Syria’s official SANA news agency said “armed terrorist groups” - the regime’s phrase for rebels - had been pushed out from areas on both sides of the airport, which is located about 15 kilometers southeast of Aleppo’s historical center. The report did not make it clear whether the fighting was closer to the international airport or the adjacent military airfield, a base for carrying out airstrikes on rebel sites in the north.
Aleppo carries major symbolic and strategic value. It’s the commercial hub of northern Syria and close to rebel-held territory and critical supply corridors to the Turkish border.
In Damascus, activists reported heavy shelling and clashes in many areas Friday, including western districts believed to have rebel pockets. Damascus-based activist Moaz al-Shami described the shelling as “nonstop” and said gunners were firing from the Qassioun mountains overlooking the city.
Meanwhile, the Syrian National Council on Friday announced that the Red Crescent has brought six corpses to a hospital in the countryside of Damascus in Douma, with their necks all slit and hands handcuffed.
The 17-month-old conflict between Assad’s regime and rebels trying to bring him down has left some 20,000 people dead, according to estimates by anti-Assad activists. The escalating fight has in the past two months turned to battles in the country’s two main cities, Damascus and Aleppo - once firm bastions of Assad’s rule. Rebels have managed to keep fighting in both cities despite facing overwhelming regime firepower.