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U.S. cannot confirm or deny CIA role in Makidissi’s escape operation

Published:

Washington cannot confirm or deny reports that Syria’s foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi has escaped to the United States with the help of the CIA, London-based Asharq Al-Awsat quoted a U.S. official as saying.

The official, who kept his identity anonymous, told newspaper that State Department had “no knowledge” of Makdissi’s location.

Earlier, reports surfaced suggesting that Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah might have kidnapped Makdissi and handed him back to the Syrian regime.

In a Twitter conversation between Rami Jarah, a Syrian opposition activist, and Makdissi recently published and dated back to July 21, Makdissi said President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is criminal and against the Syrian people.

Makdissi predicted the Assad’s regime to fall “soon.” However, Makdissi said he didn’t see a suitable opposition faction for him to join.

The activist told the Asharq Al-Awsat that “Makdissi is a diplomatic man and he can make relations with others,” including the United States, in reference to the possibility that Makdissi could be in the United States.

On Monday, The Guardian reported that Makdissi was in the United States and was co-operating with the Americans.

Recent reports on Makdissi’s fate established links to Damascus’s latest statements on the matter claiming that he was rather on a “three-month sabbatical.”

Four days after his disappearance in Beirut, Hezbollah's television station Al-Manar announced on Dec. 3 that Makdissi had been sacked for making statements which didn’t reflect official government positions.

Makdissi reportedly angered Damascus when he said in a press conference that the Syrian regime will never use chemical weapons against civilians and that would only in case of foreign intervention. Makdissi’s admission that Damascus possessed the WMDs angered Damascus.

Mystery?

Early December, diplomatic sources said Makdissi had defected and left to Beirut on his way to London.

But on Dec. 4, British officials told The Guardian that Makdissi did not arrive to London. Later reports surfaced that he was headed for the United States, but those reports were soon dismissed by Washington.

“We believe Jihad Makdissi is in London, we cannot confirm. Not aware of him reaching out to U.S. embassy,” State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, told al-Hayat newspaper.

According to Reuters, Makdissi, who belongs to Syria’s Christian minority, staunchly defended Assad’s crackdown on the 20-month revolt against five decades of autocratic rule by Assad and his late father.

He often spoke at news conferences in Damascus to set out Syria's response to the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad but was rarely seen in the media before Dec. 3 , raising speculation that he may have defected.

A former diplomat, Makdissi is fluent in English, a rarity in the state apparatus shaped by xenophobic Baath Party ideology. But he had little influence in a system underpinned by the security apparatus in which the foreign ministry has no say.

Asaad Mustafa, a former agriculture minister, told Al Arabiya that Makdissi was expected to defect because “the scale of falsified information he was asked to report was unbearable.”

Mustafa added that all current Syrian diplomats are looking for “means for salvation” and that anyone who could find an opportunity to snatch does not miss it.

Opposition sources also said that the Syrian regime had burned the house of Makdissi in the high-security area of Mezzah in Damascus. The Torching of Makdissi’s home is an indication of Syrian regime anger toward the official who might have defected.

Sources also said that Makdissi was planning to escape Syria since October but he was afraid that the regime can take its vengeance against him through his relatives. However, since his family moved to Beirut in the past couple of months, Makdissi started visiting the Lebanese capital almost weekly.

Other sources said that Makdissi didn’t have any entry visas to both Britain and the United States as they were canceled after becoming Syria’s Foreign Ministry’s spokesman few months after the eruption of the uprising against Assad regime on March 2011.