Middle East

Father of Assad spokesman Mekdad kidnapped in Syria

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad in Damascus (file image)
Image caption Faisal Mekdad is deputy foreign minister

Gunmen in Syria have abducted the elderly father of Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, one of the most powerful voices in the government.

The man was seized in the southern province of Daraa, government and opposition sources said.

No group said they had carried out the abduction but rebels have targeted the families of officials in the past.

Meanwhile, President Bashar al-Assad reiterated that he would not resign, despite growing international pressure.

"To resign would be to flee," Mr Assad told Argentina's Clarin newspaper and news agency Telam.

Comparing himself to a skipper of a ship in stormy seas: "The first thing he does is face the storm and guide the ship back to safety."

The president also welcomed US-Russian efforts to hold a peace conference on Syria, but warned that Damascus did not "believe that many Western countries really want a solution in Syria".

In a separate development, a car bomb blast in Damascus killed three people and injured five.

Syria's state media blamed "terrorists" for the explosion, adding that experts were working at the scene to dismantle another explosive device.

'Winning the war'

Mr Mekdad's father, who is said to be in his 80s, was abducted in his home village of Ghossom on Saturday, the deputy foreign minister's office was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

According to a Facebook post by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based opposition body which monitors news from Syria, "regime forces have since detained relatives of a suspect thought to be involved in the kidnapping".

Adding that "rebel battalions and factions have denied responsibility of the action", the Observatory noted that an undeclared agreement to cease mutual kidnappings was supposed to have taken effect in Daraa on Friday.

Faisal Mekdad has given interviews to Western media, defending President Bashar al-Assad.

Last month he told the BBC's Jeremy Bowen that Syria was facing a conspiracy by the West and al-Qaeda to destroy its independence but he insisted the government was "winning the war".

Since the uprising against Mr Assad began just over two years ago, the UN estimates that at least 80,000 people have been killed and some 4.25 million people have been displaced from their homes.