Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad al-Maqdessi has defected from President Bashar Assad's regime, a Syrian opposition leader announced on Monday.
“Maqdessi left Damascus for Beirut and from there he headed to an unknown destination,” Jamal al-Wadi, the director of the office of revolutionary movement of the Syrian National Council, told Sky News Arabia television.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Maqdessi has “resigned” and is headed for London.
"Maqdessi was pressured by people inside the presidential palace, but not the president himself, to resign. He is now on his way to London," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told Agence France Presse, adding that he had left with his family from the Beirut Rafik Hariri International Airport.
"The entourage of the president was disturbed by frequent media appearances by Maqdessi and some of the statements he made," Abdel Rahman said of the diplomat, who maintains an official Twitter account.
A native Arabic speaker and fluent in French and English, Maqdessi conducted his thesis in London while working for the Syrian embassy.
The Christian native of Damascus was called back to the Syrian capital soon after an uprising against Assad broke out in March last year to assume the post of foreign ministry spokesman.
He later relocated his wife and two children to Beirut, where he would visit them on the weekends.
Maqdessi had come under criticism of late by the ministry, the cabinet and by state media officials at the presidential palace, according to friends. However, he maintained his loyalty to Assad.
Earlier on Monday, the Lebanese pro-Damascus television al-Manar said “Maqdessi has been relieved of his duties for voicing stances that do not conform to Syria's official rhetoric."
Al-Mayadeen, another Beirut-based pro-Syria television, also reported that Maqdessi had defected.
Meanwhile, Lebanon's al-Jadeed television said "Maqdessi left for London via the Beirut airport after tensions in his relation with the Syrian regime."
Later on Monday, the rebel military council of Damascus and its countryside said regime forces torched Maqdessi's house in al-Mazzeh neighborhood in the Syrian capital.
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