British journalist Patrick Seale dies at 84

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BEIRUT (AP) — Patrick Seale, a veteran journalist and author on Middle Eastern affairs as well as one of the world's leading historians on Syria, has died in London after a battle with cancer, according to family and friends. He was 83.

An accomplished reporter, writer and literary agent, Seale was diagnosed with brain cancer in the summer of 2013. He died Friday in London, surrounded by family.

Seale is best known for his authoritative biography of the late Syrian President Hafez Assad, "Assad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East." Published in 1988, the book is considered the definitive work on Assad, the father of Syria's current leader, and to this day serves as a reference for foreign journalists covering Syria.

Seale wrote several other books, including "Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire" in 1992, about one of the world's most notorious militants. His last book, "The Struggle for Arab Independence: Riad El-Solh and the Makers of the Modern Middle East," tells the story of a turbulent region through the life of a Lebanese politician. It was published in 2010.

Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Seale spent his early years in Syria, where his father was a Christian missionary. He later moved to England where he studied, specializing in Middle Eastern history. He went on to become a foreign correspondent for Reuters, and later for the British newspaper, The Observer.

In later years, he was to be a regular freelance contributor to newspapers including the Guardian. His work was also syndicated by Agence Global, which allowed his columns to appear in major outlets around the world.

Britain's ambassador to Lebanon, Tom Fletcher, described him as a "wise, curious, mischievous lion of Levant history."

"Patrick Seale knew the Middle East inside out. But his wisdom was that he also knew how much he didn't know, and was furiously curious," Fletcher posted on his Twitter account.

In recent years, Seale's perceived closeness to the Syrian leadership earned him much criticism from opposition activists who deemed him an "apologist" for Assad. As Syria's protests gave way to civil war after a brutal military crackdown, Seale continued to call for a negotiated settlement out of the destructive conflict.

"Neither President Bashar Assad nor his enemies can hope to win an outright victory. By continuing to fight, they are simply exhausting themselves and ruining their country," Seale wrote in an article published in April 2013.

Seale was diagnosed with cancer last summer. At the age of 83, he decided to risk an operation to try to remove the tumor, but it returned and in June the doctors gave him six months to live, according to a recent blog posting by his son-in-law, Mathew Jeary.

"He has to the end been the most polite, generous and charming dying person I have ever met," Jeary wrote.

Seale is survived by his wife, Rana Kabbani, from whom he was separated, and four children from two marriages.

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