A high-ranking Syrian military official has died in a Moscow hospital last week, according to a report from Russia Today on Monday, citing an unnamed source.
“The official’s body was moved from Moscow to Damascus at the end of last week on a private jet,” the source said, without revealing the man’s identity.
Russia has protected its Soviet-era ally during the anti-regime uprising in Syria, which began in March 2011, has spiraled into an armed conflict with more than 23,000 deaths over the past 17 months, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
In July, Russia and China vetoed a Security Council resolution on Syria for the third time to the outrage of western nations.
The consequences of the vetos are “clear,” Britain’s U.N. ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said, highlighting the “further violence and bloodshed, and a deteriorating situation that is now spilling over the borders and sucking in the region.”
The United States, Britain, France and Germany have said they will seek action against the Syrian government outside the council. All have rejected providing military aid to the Syrian opposition, however.
Russia said last month that is ready to host talks between the Syrian opposition and President Bashar al-Assad in a bid to end the country’s conflict.
Last week, Syria’s former prime minister, the highest profile government figure to defect, said the regime was collapsing.
“The Syrian regime only controls 30 percent of Syria’s territory. It has collapsed militarily, economically and morally,” Riad Hijab told a news conference in the Jordanian capital Amman on Tuesday.
Hijab fled to Jordan last week, the latest in a string of defections from President Bashar al-Assad’s government
The United States, which has imposed a raft of tough sanctions to try to force Assad’s departure, reacted by lifting an asset freeze imposed on Hijab.
“The United States encourages other officials within the Syrian government, in both the political and military ranks, to take similarly courageous steps to reject the Assad regime and stand with the Syrian people,” Treasury official David Cohen said.
Hijab’s replacement as premier, Wael al-Halqi, insisted the sanctions imposed by Arab and Western governments “have only affected innocent Syrians.”