Syria's foreign minister, Walid Muallem, died Monday at the age of 79, the government announced on state television.

The state news agency SANA carried an official government announcement but did not specify the cause of death.  A source close to the Syrian government said it was widely expected his deputy, veteran diplomat Faisal Mekdad, would replace his as foreign minister.

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem Dies Aged 79
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem Dies Aged 79:

Facts about  Walid Muallem:

  • The veteran diplomat, who had been foreign minister since 2006, started his career as a diplomat in 1964.
  • Al-Muallem was first appointed foreign minister in 2006 and also held the post of deputy prime minister.
  • Since 2012, a year after Syria's deadly conflict started, he was also made deputy foreign minister.
  • In press conferences, he was known for his mocking stances against the West, whom he accused of conspiring to start the conflict.
  • The veteran diplomat saw his country's tilt further toward Iran and Russia, which have helped shore up Assad's rule and allowed the authoritarian leader to regain most of the territory he once lost to insurgents.
  • Muallem accused Washington and the West of fueling the country's unrest and labelled armed insurgents as "terrorists" in a conflict that has cost tens of hundreds of thousands of deaths and led to the exodus of millions of refugees.
  • Muallem was from a Sunni family from Damascus, publicly defended Moscow and Shi'ite Iran's growing military role, backed by its proxies in Syria, which many Syrian opponents of Assad labelled as an occupation and blamed for fuelling sectarian tension in a Sunni-majority country.
  • "I am ready to be one of Hassan Nasrallah╩╣s soldiers," Moalem said in August 2006, referring to the leader of the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah.

(Input from agencies)