Bashar al-Assad
Bashar al-Assad Israel news photo: Flash 90

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s mother has fled the country, the former U.S. ambassador to Damascus said on Thursday.

Speaking to CNN, Robert Ford said that Anisa Makhlouf, the president's mother, has gone to the United Arab Emirates amid signs that her son's grip on power is weakening. The president’s sister, Bushra, fled to Dubai.

"Members of the regime, little by little, are flaking off," Ford told CNN. "They themselves know they are losing."

"When UN and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met Bashar al-Assad the last time in December in his office, he told us that you could hear artillery outside the president's office,” said Ford.

“I mean, the fighting is getting that close now to the inner circle itself. And so you can imagine what that does to their own spirits, their own morale," he added.

Makhlouf, who is in her late seventies, is the widow of Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father who ruled Syria from 1971 until his death in 2000.

She rarely appears in public but is believed to have significant influence with the regime.

Ford also told CNN that Syria's former foreign ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, has fled to the United States as a refugee.

Makdissi became one of the most prominent regime defectors in late November when he left Beirut after first crossing from Syria.

Loyalist forces in Syria later torched Makdissi's home. Makdissi is a member of Syria's Christian minority which up to this point has largely backed the Assad regime.

Syrian officials have denied that Makdissi has defected, saying he had instead taken three months of administrative leave. However, at the time of his departure, Hizbullah's television network in Beirut – not known to be out of step with the regime line – announced that the spokesman's views had strayed from official positions and that he had been fired.

Reports last month indicated that Makdissi is co-operating with U.S. intelligence officials who helped him flee to Washington.

Ford, however, told CNN that contrary to rumor, Makdissi was not working with the U.S. government.