Syria’s top diplomat Moalem, soft-spoken defender of Assad, dies at 79

AMMAN: Syria’s? long-time foreign minister Walid al-Moalem, an unyielding defender of Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s bloody crackdown on peaceful protesters that sparked a decade old conflict, died on Monday, the government said.

There were no details on the cause of death, but the 79-year old had been in poor health with heart problems. A source close to the government said it was expected his deputy, veteran diplomat Faisal Mekdad, would replace him as foreign minister.

The genial public face of Assad’s rule to the outside world, Moalem was branded a traitor by the opposition for supporting the violent crackdown on protesters at the beginning of the conflict in 2011. Thousands took to the streets that year demanding an end to the Assad family’s decades-old authoritarian rule that later erupted into a full-scale civil war. - Reuters