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Where in the world is Syria’s vice president?

Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa always seemed like a good candidate for defection. The longtime Syrian diplomat is a Sunni from the southern province of Deraa, where the uprising first broke out. He is not reported to be a central figure in the regime’s brutal and indiscriminate crackdown – indeed, President Bashar al-Assad exploited his ...

Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa always seemed like a good candidate for defection. The longtime Syrian diplomat is a Sunni from the southern province of Deraa, where the uprising first broke out. He is not reported to be a central figure in the regime’s brutal and indiscriminate crackdown – indeed, President Bashar al-Assad exploited his reputation for reconciliation by tapping him to lead the (ultimately unfruitful) "national dialogue" with the opposition last year.

Last week, according to Syrian activists, Sharaa finally jumped ship. According to a Free Syrian Army spokesman, the vice president fled Damascus to Daraa Province, from where he was trying to cross into Jordan.

The Syrian government, however, swiftly denied the news. State television broadcast a statement from his office saying that Sharaa "has never at any moment thought of leaving the homeland to whatever direction." The vice president, however, still has not appeared in public or on state TV since claims of his defection.

There’s also a chance that Sharaa is still in regime hands, but has fallen out of favor due to his presumed sympathy for the anti-Assad rebels. A defected Syrian official said it was "well-known" that the vice president was under house arrest, while New American Foundation fellow Randa Slim, citing a source close to Sharaa, said that he was in Damascus but under the guard of troops from the Presidential Palace.

And finally, the newest rumor, first reported in Jordanian media, is that Sharaa was killed in Daraa province by a regime bombing campaign while trying to escape across the border. The report suggests that the Syrian government will sit on the news of Sharaa’s death for a while, and then announce that he was murdered by the rebels.

All of this is merely a long way of saying that confirming even basic facts about the status of a high-ranking Syrian official is fraught with difficulty these days, and trying to untangle the sources and agendas behind any particular story is a surefire method to develop a headache.

David Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq. @davidkenner

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