A rebel group in Syria reported on Saturday that Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa has defected, but later said it could neither confirm nor deny the leader's arrival in Jordan, suggesting that his attempt to flee has failed.
Citing a spokesman for the Free Syrian
Army (FSA), a rebel group fighting against President Bashar Assad,
Al Arabiya reported on Saturday morning that Sharaa had arrived in Jordan after deserting the embattled regime.
The spokesman, Luay al-Miqdad, told the television network that two other high-ranking officers have also defected, but did not specify names.
Syria later denied the reports. Vice-President Farouq al-Shara "never thought for a moment about leaving the country", said a statement from his office broadcast on state television issued in response to reports that the veteran Baath Party loyalist had tried to defect to Jordan.
The statement said he had worked since the start of the uprising to find a political solution to end the bloodshed and welcomed the appointment of veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi as a new international mediator for Syria.
Sources from the Syrian opposition claimed that Sharaa has been missing for the past two days and that he did not announce his defection until after he arrived in Jordan.
According to Jordanian media outlets, a Western diplomat located in Amman has confirmed Sharaa's arrival. Sharaa is said to have been helped by members of Jordanian tribes in entering the Hashemite Kingdom.
Opposition sources told the Almustaqbal newspaper that Sharaa stayed in the Syrian city of Deraa for three days, along with three top military officials. The heavy shelling that targeted the region in recent days was meant to kill the defectors, they said.
Sharaa, 74, has been Syria’s vice president since 2006.
Syrian officials were quick to deny the report; Jihad Makdissi, a spokesman for the Syrian foreign ministry, said on his Facebook page that the defection was part of a web of rumors spread by opponents of the Syrian people.
The FSA suggested that Sharaa's attempt to defect may have been unsuccessful.
"This kind of operation, which involves senior officials, warrants a series of complex security procedures that require careful information transfers. Therefore, we cannot confirm or deny… Sharaa's defection," the group said.