Syria Denies Defection of Vice President

Posted August 18th, 2012 at 7:00 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian state television is reporting that Vice President Farouq al-Shara has not defected, as rebels had claimed earlier in the week.

The report Saturday said the 73-year-old Sunni Muslim “has never thought about leaving the country.”

The channel also said that al-Shara had welcomed the U.N. appointment Friday of veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi as international envoy to Syria, replacing former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, who is stepping down at the end of the month.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released a statement Friday offering support to Brahimi in bringing a secure and lasting peace to Syria.

China on Saturday welcomed the appointment and pledged positive support and cooperation in the negotiations with Syria.

On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council said it is allowing the mandate for the U.N. observer mission in Syria to expire. The mandate ends Sunday, but the Council said it hopes to establish a political office in the battle-ravaged country.

Also Friday, thousands of Syrians took to the streets in anti-government demonstrations, as Syrian aerial forces targeted opposition hubs in the northern city of Aleppo and fought rebels in neighborhoods around Damascus.

VOA's Scott Bobb witnessed a demonstration in the northern town of Marea that was held in sympathy for the dozens of people killed or wounded this week when a Syrian jet bombed nearby Azaz, killing mostly women and children.

“This one was particularly emotional because of the attack by airplanes on Wednesday against Azaz, which is 20 kilometers away, in which mostly women and children were killed.”

Syrian opposition activists said President Bashar al-Assad's forces shelled parts of Damascus and Aleppo Friday.

U.N. officials estimate that as many as 2.5 million Syrians are in need of aid as a result of the 18-month uprising.