Embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad may be considering a request for political asylum in Latin America, according to a report by Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
The paper notes a series of meetings by Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Miqdal in Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador may indicate preliminary discussions for Assad's exit. The Syrian representative reportedly handed classified personal letters from Assad to the countries' leaders.
A source in the Venezuelan capital Caracas who spoke to Haaretz was not able to say what the response to the Syrian request was, but Venezuela's foreign ministry confirmed to the El Universal newspaper that al-Miqdad did indeed bring a letter for President Hugo Chavez. Chavez received the letter just before he set out to Cuba last Wednesday to undergo further treatment for cancer.
According to the Guardian, the Syrian ambassador to Venezuela has denied the claims.
"It is not worth honoring these claims with a response. You can ask our Venezuelan counterparts. In several interviews Assad has said he was born in Syria and will die in Syria. Right now he is not afraid. He is in a strong position. There is no probability that this news is true," ambassador Ghassan Abbas reportedly said.
In November, Assad told the Russian news website Russia Today he was not considering leaving Syria. “I am not a puppet. I was not made by the West to go to the West or to any other country,” Assad said. “I am Syrian, I was made in Syria, I have to live in Syria and die in Syria."
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the Associated Press during a conference in Doha the U.N. does not consider an asylum deal for Assad a viable way to end the Syrian conflict.
Activists estimate that more than 40,000 people have been killed since the start of the Syrian conflict in March 2011. Violence in and around the country's capital has intensified in recent weeks, as government forces launched an offensive to retake Damascus' suburbs from opposition fighters.
Captions by the Associated Press