Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is willing to step down, Russia’s top diplomat was quoted as saying on Tuesday. Sensational news, except that it was a fake. The source of the phony story, spread by Western news outlets, was the Saudi daily al-Watan which said Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov had made the statement in a telephone interview from Moscow.

The Russian diplomat also allegedly told the al-Watan that the Syrian President's brother, Maher Assad, had been seriously injured in the explosion that killed several security officials in Damascus last month. The Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed the report as “information provocation” and denied the interview had ever taken place.

Russian diplomats said it as another example of an ongoing information war against Russia over its staunch opposition to the West’s efforts at regime change in Syria. Last week a fake Twitter account purporting to be that of Russia’s Interior Minister quoted the Russian Ambassador to Damascus as saying that al-Assad may have been killed. The hoax was readily picked by Western news wires before the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a denial.

Two days later Moscow had to unmask another lie spread by the Syrian opposition. A Syrian rebel group claimed to have killed a Russian general working as an adviser to Syria's ministry of defence in an operation in the western Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus. The General, Vladimir Kuzheyev, personally met with reporters in Moscow and said he is alive and well. “Such falsehoods are an example of an information war that is being waged by the militants and their backers,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in its comment on the hoax.

Analysts attributed the surge in the information war on the Syrian front to the rebels’ military setbacks. “The West and the Syrian opposition have mounted an information war to camouflage their failure to oust the Assad regime,” said General Leonid Ivashov, Vice-President of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems.

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