World | Fri Sep 28, 2012 1:38am IST

Bashar al-Assad's widowed sister has left Syria for UAE - source

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's widowed sister Bushra has left Syria and is living in the United Arab Emirates, a source close to the UAE government said on Thursday.

Bushra al-Assad, Bashar's older sister, was married to Assef Shawkat, the former deputy defence minister who was killed along with other senior officials in a bomb attack in Damascus on July 18.

"Bushra al-Assad is a frequent visitor to the UAE. She comes here for personal and humanitarian reasons. She is currently in the UAE, on one of these visits, and has been here for some time," the source said.

Lebanese and Gulf officials also confirmed that Bushra had come to the United Arab Emirates with her five children following her husband's death.

Forces loyal to President Assad are fighting to try to quell an 18-month-old uprising against his family's rule in which activists say up to 30,000 people have been killed.

Shawkat was a pillar of the Assad regime and its tight, clan-based ruling elite. He was one of his brother-in-law's top commanders, though he stayed largely behind the scenes, and was seen as pushing for a ruthless approach towards the rebellion.

After years as deputy head and then chief of military intelligence, he had become deputy defence minister by the time he was killed, another position that allowed him to wield power out of the limelight.

(Reporting by Raissa Kasolowsky in Abu Dhabi and Amena Bakr in New York; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Andrew Osborn)

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