Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi has defected and has left Beirut to settle in London, diplomatic sources said on Monday.
“He defected. All I can say is that he is out of Syria,” the source, who did not want to be named, told Reuters.
Lebanon's al-Manar Television said on Monday earlier reported that Makdissi has been sacked for making statements which did not reflect official government positions.
Makdissi’s mobile telephone was switched off on Monday evening and there was no immediate comment on Syrian state media.
Makdissi, who belongs to Syria’s Christian minority, staunchly defended Assad’s crackdown on the 20-month revolt against five decades of autocratic rule by Assad and his late father.
He often spoke at news conferences in Damascus to set out Syria's response to the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad but was rarely seen in the media in recent weeks, raising speculation that he may have defected.
A former diplomat, Makdissi is fluent in English, a rarity in the state apparatus shaped by xenophobic Baath Party ideology. But he had little influence in a system underpinned by the security apparatus in which the foreign ministry has no say.
Asaad Mustafa, a former agriculture minister, told Al Arabiya that Makdissi was expected to defect because “the scale of falsified information he was asked to report was unbearable.”
Mustafa added that all current Syrian diplomats are looking for “means for salvation” and that anyone who could find an opportunity to snatch does not miss it.