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State Department vague on Makdissi’s whereabouts | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat – The US State Department refused to confirm or deny knowing the whereabouts of former Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi. Makdissi has not been seen in public since the news of his defection from the al-Assad regime in November. Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported on Tuesday that Makdissi is currently present in the US and was “co-operating with US intelligence officials who helped him flee to Washington one month ago.”

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat a US State Department official refused to confirm or deny the report.

Refusing to comment on CIA operations, the official However did stress that what was important is that “the supporters of the al-Assad regime are turning away from him, one after another” adding “we are always glad to hear this, and we expect more resignations and defections from those around al-Assad”.

Just two weeks ago, US State Department Deputy spokesman Mark Toner denied that Makdissi was present in the US, adding that the US State Department is well aware of the former Syrian Foreign Ministry’s importance. Whilst just one day prior to this, Toner told a press conference “we believe Jihad Makdissi is in London” but added ‘we cannot confirm this.” He also stressed that the US State Department was “not aware of him reaching out to [any] US embassy.”

For their part, Syrian officials have denied that Makdissi had defected from the al-Assad regime, claiming that he has instead taken three months of administrative leave. Whilst Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV – known to staunchly follow the al-Assad regime line – announced that Makdissi had been sacked for making statements that were not in line with the government’s official position.

Makdissi reportedly angered Damascus when, speaking during a press conference, he said that the al-Assad regime will never use chemical weapons against civilians and would only contemplate using such arms in the event of foreign intervention, thereby tacitly admitting that Syria was in possession of such arms.

Sources close to Makdissi previously informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the senior Syrian official had been contemplating leaving Syria for a long period of time before his defection, but had been waiting to ensure the safety of his family before taking any action. The source claimed that Makdissi was able to transfer his family members, including his parents, to Beirut and from there to London, before he himself fled the country.

Following his reported defection from Syria, opposition sources revealed that Syrian regime forces had burnt the Makdissi home to the ground in retaliation. The opposition Syrian Military Council confirmed that “regime forces set fire to the home of the Syrian Foreign Minister spokesman located in Damascus’s upscale al-Mezza district.”

Makdissi is the most senior al-Assad regime member to defect since the defection of Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Jihad in August. Makdissi is a former senior diplomat at the Syrian embassy in London; he worked closely with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mualem and Syrian Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud. Makdissi was appointed spokesman for Syria’s Foreign Ministry shortly after the uprising against the al-Assad regime erupted in March 2011. During his tenure as Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Makdissi strongly supported the al-Assad regime’s actions, including in the wake of several massacres. When government forces were blamed for the deaths of some 103 Syrian civilians, including 49 children, in an incident known as the Houleh massacre late May, Makdissi dismissed this as a “tsunami of lies.”

Makdissi is a member of Syria’s Christian minority, which has largely backed the al-Assad regime. He had previously been viewed as something of a “hero” to al-Assad regime loyalists, being crowned with numerous affectionate titles such as “the regime’s man” and even “al-Assad’s James Bond”. However following news of his defection, Makdissi has largely been dismissed as a traitor and foreign agent.