Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa, who was replaced by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country's ruling Baath party's leadership Monday, was the only top Syrian official to advocate a political compromise to the country's bloody civil war, dealing yet another blow to the possibility of a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
Assad appointed Sharaa, now 74, to the Baath party's leadership in 2000. Sharaa He was one of the last vestiges of the regime's old guard and the most powerful Sunni Muslim figure in the president's inner circle, but will retain his office as vice-president, a post he has held since 2006.
In an interview with Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar in December 2012, Sharaa spoke out against Assad's military campaign to crush the uprising, saying that Assad "does not hide his desire for a military solution that achieves a decisive victory.
"No rebellion can bring an end to the battle militarily. Just as (operations) of the security forces and units of the army will not bring an end to the battle," he said.
In the interview, he also revealed that while Assad held all the key powers in Syria, there were differences of opinion within the political elite, but not to the extent that they were “deep divisions.”
Sharaa comes from Daraa, the birthplace of the uprising that erupted in March 2011. He found himself torn between his loyalty to the regime and the bloodshed and destruction suffered by his home town, European diplomats say.
He had sought to serve as a mediator at the beginning of the crisis but was blocked by regime hardliners including Assad's feared younger brother Maher, the diplomats said.
It was Sharaa's undying loyalty to the Baath regime and his staunch opposition to the United States and Israel that propelled him through the ranks, becoming foreign minister in 1984.
The married father of two served on the ruling Baath party's central committee since it seized power in 1963. He was named vice president in charge of foreign affairs in a major reshuffle in February 2006.
Sharaa is a fierce critic of Israel and has long insisted there can be no compromise over the Syrian demands that Israel surrender the Golan Heights, liberated in the Six Day War of 1967.
Sharaa enjoyed the confidence of Hafez al-Assad, who entrusted him with secret negotiations with Israel launched in 1991. He headed the Syrian delegation during both the abortive rounds of open peace talks that followed.
His sharp tongue also solidified his reputation for vehemently opposing US policies in the Middle East. Days after the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, when Washington accused Damascus of allowing military supplies to transit its territory into Iraq, Sharaa shot back that he hoped US and British forces would be defeated.
Western diplomats based in the Syrian capital say Sharaa had become the champion of hardliners within the regime in the past few years, particularly on Lebanon. His elevation to the vice presidency followed the resignation in June 2005 of veteran incumbent Abdel Halim Khaddam, who broke with the regime soon afterwards and went into self-imposed exile in France.