Syria: Defence minister and President Assad’s brother-in-law killed in bomb attack
A BOMB exploded during a high-level security meeting in
Damascus yesterday, killing three senior regime officials –
including President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law – in the biggest blow to Syria’s ruling family dynasty in the country’s civil war.
• National Security building hit whilst cabinet ministers met senior security officials inside
• Dawoud Rajha and his deputy General Assef Shawkat among the dead
• Attack comes on fourth day of violence in Syrian capital
Syrian state-run television said the bomb exploded during a meeting of Cabinet ministers and senior security officials in the capital, where fighting between rebels and government troops has raged all week.
The assassinations could
signal a turning point in the civil war after some of the worst bloodshed that Damascus has seen in the 16-month uprising, the growing list of high-ranking defections from the regime and the increasing frustration by world leaders over their inability to find a diplomatic solution.
United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said last night that the bombing “only underscores the urgency of decisive [Security Council] action”.
US defence secretary Leon Panetta said the attack showed that the bloodshed in Syria was “rapidly spinning out of control,” and it was time for the international community to bring maximum pressure on Mr Assad to step down.
President Barack Obama’s administration imposed new
financial sanctions on the Syrian government.
It was not immediately clear where Mr Assad was. He issued no immediate statements on the attacks.
The Assad family has ruled Syria for four decades and yesterday’s bombing was an unheard-of strike on the inner circle.
Syria’s rebel commander Riad al-Asaad claimed responsibility, saying his rebel forces planted a bomb in the room and
detonated it. All those involved in carrying out the attack were safe, he added.
State-run television initially said it was a suicide blast but later referred to the attack as a bomb.
“God willing, this is the beginning of the end of the regime,” Mr Asaad said from his base in neighbouring Turkey. “Hopefully Bashar will be next.”
Syrian TV confirmed the deaths of defence minister
Dawoud Rajha, 65, a former army general and the most senior government official to be killed in the rebels’ battle to oust MrAssad; General Assef Shawkat, the deputy defence minister who is married to Mr Assad’s elder sister, Bushra, and is one of the most feared figures in the inner circle; and Hassan Turkmani, a former defence minister.
Interior minister Mohammed Shaar and Maj Gen Hisham Ikhtiar, who heads the National Security Department, were wounded.
Although there were no statements from Mr Assad, Syrian TV said in the hours after the attack that a decree from him named Gen Fahd Jassem al-Freij as the new defence minister. He used to be the army chief of staff.
Omar Shawaf, a member of the Syrian National Council
opposition group, said the deaths sent a clear message to the regime that no-one was safe – including the president himself.
“The hands of the Syrian people and the Free Syrian Army can reach anyone inside Damascus,” he said.
Republican Guard troops surrounded the nearby al-Shami Hospital, where the wounded were being treated.
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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