Syria's longest-serving vice president; Born 1938; Died April 24, 2007. the former vice president of Syria, Zuhair Masharqa, who survived numerous purges to become the country's longest- serving vice president, has died at the age of 69, the official news agency has reported.

Masharqa, who was vice president for 22 years, died of a massive heart attack at his home in Damascus.

The Syrian Arab News Agency said that the politician would be buried in Aleppo, his home town, in northern Syria.

He began his political career as governor of the northern province of Hama in 1973, and then joined the regional leadership of the ruling Baath Party in 1975.

Masharqa was appointed to the Cabinet in 1978 as minister of education, and became vice president in 1984.

President Hafez Assad clearly valued his loyalty, as Masharqa remained in the upper ranks of government despite many purges.

He retired last year when President Bashar Assad, who had succeeded on the death of his father in 2000, appointed Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa as vice president.

Masharqa also served as deputy head of the National Progressive Front, a coalition of Syria's ruling Baath party and nine smaller allies.

He is survived by his wife and five children.