28/12/2012 — Dubai, Asharq Al-Awsat – Has he defected or been sacked? Is he in hiding or has he been kidnapped? Nothing is certain, but what is clear is that former Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi suddenly disappeared, under mysterious circumstances, and nothing has been seen or heard from him in more than one month.
Both Britain and Washington have denied knowing Makdissi’s whereabouts, whilst rumors about Makdissi’s fate abound in Lebanon. As for the al-Assad regime, it has remained silent, insisting that Makdissi is on “administrative leave”. So what is the fate of Jihad Makdissi? Asharq Al-Awsat has obtained important details regarding Makdissi’s movements over his final days and weeks in Syria prior to his disappearance.
A source close to Makdissi informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the former Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman had been preparing to “flee the sinking ship” for weeks prior to his reported defection. He revealed that Makdissi initially arranged for his family to travel to Lebanon, and then following this he would travel to the country every week where he would spend three days with his family before returning to Syria. He added that Makdissi last entered Lebanese territory on Friday 30 of November. He said “Jihad Makdissi would telephone me regularly every time he arrived in Lebanon, which was on a weekly basis” adding “our last contact was on Thursday [29 November], and that was the final journey that Makdissi took from Damascus to Lebanon.”
The source, who resides in Beirut and who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, added that he was surprised to hear the conflicting reports on 2 December that Makdissi had variously been sacked or defected. He revealed that he immediately tried to contact Makdissi to find out what was happening but that there was no answer on the former Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman’s Syrian-registered mobile phone. He added that just one hour later, this phone line had been disconnected.
The source said “I was extremely surprised when I learned of this news. From my close relationship with him, I know that he never delays answering or returning messages for more than one hour.”
He added “Jihad can’t bear to be cut off from the world for more than two hours, and in my view this means that he is under house arrest.”
The source confirmed that Makdissi did not travel to Britain, basing this on “the fact that he did not go to the British embassy to obtain a visa, whilst he also does not hold British nationality, contrary to reports.”
He also stressed that the name “Jihad Makdissi” did not appear on any passenger lists of flights travelling to Britain, whilst the British authorities have also denied his presence there.
The source asserted that even if Makdissi has defected – although he doubts this – London would not be his preferred destination. He said “Jihad has many enemies in London amongst the Syrian community, particularly as he was responsible for photographing the Syrian demonstrators who protested in front of the Syrian embassy in London, transferring these photos to the Syrian security apparatus which sought to blackmail all those who had taken part in the protests.”
For its part, Britain’s The Guardian newspaper claimed that “Makdissi is co-operation with US intelligence officials who helped him flee to Washington almost one month ago” adding “this has now been confirmed”. The report claimed that Makdissi has undergone “almost a month of debriefings, which have helped intelligence officials build a picture of decision-making in the inner sanctum of the embattled regime.”
The source, who is close to Makdissi, revealed that he was in close contact with him over the past months, and that he encouraged him to “flee the sinking ship”. He said that Makdissi had reassured him that “God willing, everything will be alright.” He informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Makdissi had spoken about leaving the Syrian Foreign Ministry for full-time academia prior to his disappearance, asserting that this may have been an indication that Makdissi was looking for any way out of Syria. He added that Makdissi eventually confided in him that he was looking to leave Syria “because the Syrian situation is moving in a vicious circle, and it has become impossible for the two sides to resolve this, whilst the future of Syria is in the grip of the unknown.”
The Beirut-based source described Makdissi as being “very astute” adding “he has a security awareness in his personal character, and he is very close to al-Assad and is considered one of the inner circle…however it seems that he was coordinating with more than one side to move away from the scene, and this made it easy to uncover his movements.”
The source asked “if Makdissi had defected from the regime, would the Syrian regime dare to announce that he is on three months administrative leave, knowing that he could emerge at any time and deny this? However the talk that he is on leave – according to newspapers affiliated to the Syrian government – indicates beyond reasonable doubt that he is in the hands of the regime or one of its allies in Lebanon.”
The source stressed that in his view “Makdissi is in the hands of the regime, until proven otherwise.”
He also confirmed that “the controversial statement that was read by Jihad Makdissi concerning the use of chemical weapons in Syria, which confirmed that Damascus is indeed in possession of such arms, was word-for-word what was issued to him by the Foreign Ministry and he did not improvise a single word.”
For its part, another source, close to the Makdissi family, expressed fears that the former Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman “is behind held by the Syrian regime or is a guest of one of its allies in Lebanon”