Syria’s former foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi on Wednesday broke his silence for the first time in months saying he left the country because there was no middle ground left in Syria’s brutal conflict, but he denied reports that he fled to the United States or Europe.
Makdissi, once one of the most recognizable faces of President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime who disappeared from public view in December, made the remarks in an emailed statement to the media and obtained by Al Arabiya. Makdissi did not disclose his whereabouts and his future plans.
Diplomats in the Middle East said he had defected but did not say where he had gone.
“The goals of the popular movement are frankly legitimate -- in principle and in essence -- and have won the battle for the hearts, because all parts of society always stand with the weak and with the legitimate demands of the people.
“But they have not won the battle for the minds, for many reasons that are common knowledge.”
He was quoted by AFP saying that he did not necessarily belong to any party.
“I joined no one; I am independent,” Makdissi said, adding that he did not possess any state secrets and was not part of the decision-making process in the regime.
“What I know as a media spokesman is no more than what ordinary Syrians know,” he said.
The ministry announced on December 11 that Makdissi had taken sanctioned leave for three months following reports of the diplomat’s resignation and speculation about his possible defection.
But Makdissi blasted his pro-regime critics who “found the time to insult me and immediately accuse me of treason, without respect for the lives of the more than 65,000 Syrian martyrs.”
“I wish I could have stayed on Syrian land, but there is no longer room for moderation in this chaos,” Makdissi said of the war that began as a popular uprising and steadily militarised under brutal state repression.
“There are some who want an existential battle... it must remain a battle to save the country and the Syrian entity through national partnership,” Makdissi said, without clarifying to which parties he was referring.
Without revealing his current place of residence, he said: “I have not set foot in Europe or America, even though I have the visas in my passport”.
Makdissi said he had not set foot in either the United States or Europe since his departure, but was staying with “honorable brothers who are helping the Syrian people get through their humanitarian crisis”. He gave no details.
He described his departure from Syria as a temporary absence. “Things are out of control,” he added, calling on Syrians to work together to save their nation. “I left a battleground, not a normal country.”
A native Arabic speaker and fluent in French and English, Makdissi conducted his thesis in London while working for the Syrian embassy.
The Christian native of Damascus was called back to the Syrian capital soon after the uprising broke out in March 2011 to assume the post of foreign ministry spokesman and became known for his active Twitter account.
The longtime Assad loyalist has since shied from the limelight and kept away from the opposition.