Syrian Vice President Faruq al-Shara has not defected, state television said yesterday, citing a statement from his office after media reports said that he had fled.
“Mr Shara has never thought about leaving the country or going anywhere,” television reports said.
Al-Shara himself was not seen.
Al-Shara, 73, is the most powerful Sunni Muslim figure in the minority Alawite-led regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has served in top posts for almost 30 years.
The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) said in a statement that al-Shara, who has been vice president since 2006, had tried to defect to the opposition.
“Initial reports show that there was an attempted defection, but that it failed,” the FSA’s military council said.
A Jordanian official said al-Shara was not on Jordanian soil, after Arab media reports that he had fled to the neighboring Arab country.
Syrian state television said al-Shara also hailed the appointment on Friday of new UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, the veteran Algerian diplomat who is taking over from former envoy Kofi Annan.
Al-Assad’s regime has been hit by a series of defections since an anti-regime revolt broke out in March last year, including former Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab and high-profile general Manaf Tlass — a childhood friend of al-Assad.
Hijab, who defected two weeks ago, told a press conference in Jordan on Tuesday last week that the regime now controlled only 30 percent of Syrian territory, adding: “It has collapsed militarily, economically and morally.”
Meanwhile, China yesterday welcomed the naming of Brahimi as the new international envoy for the conflict in Syria, vowing support and cooperation for his mission after he replaced Annan.
“China will support and cooperate positively with Mr Brahimi’s efforts at political mediation,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Beijing differs with the West on how to handle the conflict in Syria, and along with Moscow has vetoed UN Security Council resolutions on the issue, putting it at odds with Washington and London.