CONFLICTING REPORTS ON SYRIA SPOKESMAN
Amid conflicting reports on his whereabouts and job status, the U.S. State Dept. said Dec. 5 that it believes the high-profile spokesman for Syria’s foreign ministry, Jihad Makdissi, has fled Syria for London.
“If true, this is obviously another sign of the regime crumbling from within as those closest to [Syrian president Bashar al-]Assad are realizing that the end is nigh,” said State Dept. spokesman Mark Toner.
Makdissi’s disappearance fueled several speculative media reports, including a Guardian Dec. 4 dispatch that said he had defected and was on his way to the U.S.
Reports from the U.K. after Toner’s remarks denied Makdissi is in London, however.
“I don’t know that we’ve reached out in any way,” said Toner. “Again, I don’t think we can – we can only now confirm that we believe that he’s in London; we can’t confirm that. I can’t speak to whether we’ll reach out to him in any way, shape, or form.”
Lebanese media reported that Makdissi was fired for making statements that didn’t reflect government positions, according to Al Arabiya, which noted his home was burned shortly after his exit by a pro-government militia. The Syrian government said it would address Makdissi’s departure but has yet to speak of it.
Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Makdad, told Sky News that Makdissi had not defected and was on a “three-month sabbatical.”
Al Arabiya said Makdissi was the highest ranking Christian in the Assad government and one of the few members who speaks English. He had been the country’s foreign ministry spokesman for 14 years.
Toner said Dec. 7 that Makdissi’s whereabouts were unknown, saying “of course a spokesperson is an important part of any government, but seriously, we have no idea where he is, and it just, I think, is a further indication, however, that those around Assad are looking for the exits.”
WARNER BROS. DEFENDS ‘HOBBIT’
The studio behind the anticipated “Hobbit” film preparing for release has moved to counter a widely quoted press report that a screening in a new 3D technology left viewers feeling woozy.
ABC’s “Good Morning America” reported on “Hobbit Headaches” on Dec. 4 while the U.K.’s Sunday Times noted dizzy fans were left “sick as a hobbit” a few days earlier.
In a statement from Warner Bros. Pictures director of publicity, Stephanie Phillips, said the film, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” has been screened extensively with “extremely positive” feedback.
Warner Bros., also speaking for New Line Cinema and MGM Pictures, said none of the thousands who have seen the screening in 3D expressed “any of the issues described by two anonymous sources in media reports.”
The studio has invested a reported $250M in the film, the first in an expected trilogy.
The Sunday Times sparked the spate of negative coverage Dec. 2 with its story of dizzy spells and nausea among a screening audience in New Zealand, where the
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