Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi has taken sanctioned leave for three months, pro-government daily Al-Watan said on Tuesday, following reports of the diplomat's resignation.
"The foreign ministry has authorised Jihad Makdissi to go on leave for a period of three months and he left the country in a legal manner," the newspaper said, citing an official source.
This is the first reaction from Damascus regarding information that surfaced last week about a possible defection by the longtime loyalist to President Bashar al-Assad.
The source also denied the presidency's press office chief, Luna al-Shibl, had been slated to replace Makdissi. "These are rumours on the Internet, and they are unfounded," she said.
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On December 3, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the spokesman had been "pressured by people inside the presidential palace, but not the president himself, to resign" and had travelled to London with his family.
Al-Manar, the television station of the powerful Lebanese movement Hezbollah -- a staunch ally of Damascus regime -- said Makdissi was relieved of his duties "after improvising official statements".
A native Arabic speaker and fluent in French and English, Makdissi 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.
Makdissi 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.