One of two deputies of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has defected and fled the country for Jordan, an opposition spokesman said Saturday.
Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa, 74, was held under house arrest by Assad's regime, but escaped it, following other "noble" people who defected in recent months, a spokesman for the Syrian National Council told Al Arabiya.
Syrian state news agency SANA earlier dismissed reports about defection of Sharaa, citing a spokesman from his office in Damascus.
But the opposition spokesman said Sharaa never had an office in the Syrian capital.
The discrepancy could not be immediately reconciled, and Sharaa made no public statements till Saturday evening.
A spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army, the main opposition group in the country, said Friday that Damascus was planning to kill Sharaa and blame his death on the rebels.
The claim could not be independently verified.
No officials of Sharaa's rank have yet defected since the start of the unrest in March 2011. Between 18,000 and 20,000 people, according to independent estimates, have been killed in the conflict.
Sharaa is the highest-ranking Sunni Muslim in a country run by an Alawite minority. He was a close ally of Assad's father, late president Hafez Assad, and served as a foreign minister for 22 years before becoming a vice president in 2006.