Media in the Middle East are reporting that Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa has defected to the opposition and fled to neighboring Jordan.
The Saudi-owned broadcaster Al-Arabiyah quoted an activist with the opposition Syrian Free Army as saying Sharaa disappeared about 10 days ago and was believed to have traveled to Amman.
Syrian state media has rejected the claims, saying Sharaa "has never thought for a moment about leaving the country."
The development comes amid reports of defections by several high-ranking government officials, including Sharaa's cousin, the prime minister, and two members of the cabinet of President Bashar al-Assad.
Sharaa, 74, has served as Syria's vice president since 2006.
The reported defections are seen as a turning point in the 17-month conflict between Assad and opponents calling for his ouster.
Based on reporting by Al-Arabiyah, AP, and dpa