Loyalist forces in Syria have torched the home of former Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad al-Makdissi.
Sources close to the former spokesman told a Beirut-based reporter for the A-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper that Makdissi had considered leaving the country for a long time. However, he had waited “to ensure the safety of his family before taking any action,” according to the report.
The sources claimed the spokesman had transferred his parents and the rest of his family to Beirut and then to London before he fled. A member of Syria's Christian minority which up to this point has largely backed the Assad regime, Makdissi is fluent in English.
Various media reports initially claimed that Makdissi was on his way to the United States. But the UK-based Guardian newspaper quoted Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, as saying Makdissi was in London and being debriefed by UK officials.
"It appears that Makdissi was right to ensure his family's safety before fleeing Syria, for the Assad regime's response to his defection has been quick and brutal,” the newspaper reported.
Quoting opposition sources, the report said Syrian government forces burned the spokesman's Damascus home in the upscale al-Mezza district “to the ground” on Monday night following news of his defection.
A diplomatic source told media Monday evening that Makdissi had defected. It is expected that he will hold a news conference in the near future to announce his defection, the source said.
Lebanon's Al-Manar television station – linked to the Hizbullah terrorist organization -- quoted Syrian government sources as saying the former Foreign Ministry spokesman had been sacked for issuing statements that were contrary to the position of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Among them was a statement in July that the regime would not use chemical weapons against its own people, thereby tacitly admitting such weapons exist in the country.
A similar statement was broadcast on government-run national television earlier Monday, when the ministry assured the international community that Assad would not approve such a measure.