In a strong blow to President Bashar Assad’s inner core, three senior ministers of Syria’s government, including the President’s brother-in law, were killed in a bombing inside the National Security building in Damascus on Wednesday.
The bombing killed Syria’s defence minister, Daoud Rajha, and his deputy, Gen. Asef Shawkat, who was reportedly married to Assad’s older sister and was a member of the president’s inner circle. It also killed Gen. Hassan Turkmani, a former defence minister who served as an assistant vice president. Turkmani was also the head of the crisis resolving team appointed by Assad to tackle the 17-month long conflict. Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ibrahim Shaar was also injured.
“The terrorist explosion which targeted the national security building in Damascus occurred during a meeting of ministers and a number of heads of (security) agencies,” Syria’s state television said. Media reports suggest that the bomber was a bodyguard for Assad’s inner circle, who detonated a suicide vest whilst in the meeting room. The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and a jihadist group called Lord of the Martyrs Brigade both claimed the bombing, according to BBC news.
Meanwhile, government reinforcements were reported to have been deployed in the streets of Damascus yesterday, in the fourth day of fighting in the capital, which had largely been spared from the violence gripping much of the country. At least 45 people are said to have been killed in the conflict in the last three days.
The bombing received widespread condemnation, with US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta saying that the situation in Syria was “spinning out of control”. Panetta said Assad’s government would be held responsible if it failed to safeguard its chemical weapons, which Western and Israeli officials have said were moved from their storage sites.
Russia used the incident to reject any Western-backed resolution on Syria and said that “decisive battles” were taking place in Syria.
In related news, Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah, pointed out to a crowd of his supporters in Beirut, via video link, the ties between his organisation and the Syrian regime and praised the top Syrian officials who were killed yesterday in Damascus for their support for the Palestinians. “The missiles we used in the Second Lebanon War were made in Syria. And it’s not only in Lebanon but in Gaza as well. Where did these missiles come from? The Saudi regime? The Egyptian regime? These missiles are from Syria,” Nasrallah said addressing the crowd to commemorate the 6th anniversary of the Second Lebanon War.