WASHINGTON - The Obama administration said Wednesday that several countries in the Middle East and elsewhere have informally offered to grant asylum to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his family.
Administration officials also said they were continuing to encourage those close to Assad to defect and said they believed that Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi, who disappeared this week, is currently in London.
The State Department said it couldn't vouch for the sincerity of the Assad asylum offers and noted that they raise serious questions of accountability for abuses committed by his government. But spokesman Mark Toner said the United States is convinced that Assad must leave.
"We do understand that some countries both in the region and elsewhere have offered to host Assad and his family should they choose to leave Syria," Toner said. He would not name the countries.
BRUSSELS, Belgium - Serbia's ambassador to NATO was chatting and joking with colleagues in a multistory parking garage at Brussels Airport when he suddenly strolled to a barrier, climbed over, and flung himself to the ground below, a diplomat said.
By the time colleagues reached him, Branislav Milinkovic was dead. His motives are a mystery. Three diplomats who knew Milinkovic said he did not appear distraught in the hours leading up to his death Tuesday night.
Belgian authorities confirmed that the ambassador had killed himself. A former author and activist opposed to the authoritarian regime of Serbia's former strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Milinkovic, 52, was outgoing, had a warm sense of humor, and worked to keep good ties with ambassadors from other former Yugoslav countries, according to diplomats and acquaintances.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands - Four crew members died and seven were missing in the icy waters of the North Sea, after a cargo ship collided with another vessel and sank off the Dutch coast Wednesday night. "We can confirm that four bodies have been found, along with 13 people rescued alive," said coast guard spokesman Marcel Oldenburger.
He said a massive air and sea rescue operation involving helicopters, two navy patrol ships and even one of the ships involved in the collision would continue through the night.
The 485-foot Baltic Ace collided with the 440-foot container ship Corvus J in darkness near busy shipping lanes 40 miles off the coast of the southern Netherlands. The Baltic Ace, carrying a cargo of cars, had a crew of 24, which was forced to abandon ship as it sank quickly.