Syria dismisses Bashar al-Assad assassination claims
Social media blamed for spreading rumour that president was shot by Iranian bodyguard
RUMOURS that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad had been assassinated by one of his own bodyguards have been dismissed as "ridiculous", despite appearing in Arab, Israeli and Russian media.
The reports surfaced on Saturday when it was claimed that the Syrian leader had been gunned down by a member of his security team. The assassin was even named in some reports and on Twitter as Iranian Mehdi Jacoby.
The Israel News Agency website said that news of Assad's death had been confirmed by "Russian media sources". It reported that he had been shot at "point-blank" range by his bodyguard and died in hospital in Damascus "from heart failure resulting from massive blood loss" on Saturday night.
The agency also quoted an Israeli security analyst who pointed out that there had been no news of Assad for more than 24-hours. He also claimed that the assassination was part of an Iranian plot "to take control of the Syrian army and its wealth of weapons".
The Israeli report raised the spectre of Western intervention in Syria to prevent Iran from taking control of the country, which is in chaos after two years of civil war claiming the lives of 70,000 people.
The Syrian government dismissed the reports and blamed social media sites like Twitter and Facebook for allowing the rumour to spread. An official told Russia Today: "It's not true. Definitely it's not... It's ridiculous. And he [Assad] doesn't have an Iranian bodyguard." Media who picked up on the story should feel "shame".
Meanwhile opposition group the Syrian National Coalition, recognised by many as the legitimate voice of the country, has been thrown into confusion after it rejected the resignation of its leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib.