BEIRUT -– Syria denied Saturday that Vice President Farouk Shara had defected as opposition reports continued to provide conflicting accounts of whether he had fled to neighboring Jordan or was still in the country.
"Shara has never at any moment thought of leaving the homeland to whatever direction," state media reported, citing a statement released by the vice president's office.
The Syrian Arab News Agency reported that Shara has been working with all sides to end the bloodshed in the 17-month conflict in Syria. In the release, Shara also welcomed Friday’s appointment of Lakhdar Brahimi as the new United Nations envoy to Syria.
However, a spokesman with the rebel Free Syrian Army said Friday that Shara had left the country. Meanwhile, an official with the opposition Syrian National Council told Al Arabiya news channel that Shara had planned to defect and leave the country but that he was being held under house arrest.
If true, the defection would be the biggest blow yet to the government of President Bashar Assad and the latest in a series of defections that have raised questions about how long his government can last. Last week, Prime Minister Riyad Hijab fled to Jordan with his family and has said the government controls only 30% of the country.
But few seem sure of where exactly Shara is.
A spokesman with the Syrian National Council’s media bureau said it did not know Shara’s whereabouts with certainty but was working on confirming the news of his defection.
And a statement released by the Free Syrian Army's joint command spokesman, Fahd Almasri, said, "A complicated security plan is required for this kind of operation for an official at this high level .… we don’t confirm nor deny the entire story and take extreme caution in relaying any details."
But Almasri promised widespread high-level defections in the days to come.
-- Times staff
Photo: A photo from 2008 shows Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, with Vice President Farouk Shara during a meeting at the parliament in Damascus. Credit: Louai Beshara / AFP/Getty Images