|Damascus blast kills Syrian defence minister|
|Written by Al Jazeera|
|Wednesday, 18 July 2012|
General Daoud Rajha is fatally wounded in suicide bomb attack on the National Security headquarters in Damascus.
The Syrian defence minister has been killed and several other senior security officials wounded after a suicide bomber struck the National Security building in Damascus during a meeting of cabinet ministers and senior security officials.
State television confirmed General Daoud Rajha was killed in Wednesday's suicide blast.
According to Al Manar TV Syrian Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar, President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat and head of the national security office Hisham Bekhtyar were all killed in the blast.
Syrian state TV said that several other participants in a top-level meeting who were wounded in the blast had been rushed to Al-Shami hospital in the capital.
Al Jazeera's Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut, capital of neighbouring Lebanon, said: "We don know yet the number of casualties but the fact that it happened near where the president lives is significant."
"It seems it is a very serious explosion and we are not sure if it’s a suicide bomber in a car or if it’s one of the bodyguards or one of the insiders who blew himself up as a high-level meeting was taking place with a number of ministers and high level security official attending it."
Rajha, 65, is the most senior government official to be killed in the Syrian civil war as rebels battle to oust President Bashar Assad.
Rajha, a former army general, was the most senior Christian government official in Syria. Assad appointed him to the post last year.
Two groups claimed responsibility for the explosion in Damascus On Wednesday that killed several top Syrian officials, including the defence minister and the president's brother-in-law.
Liwa al-Islam, an Islamist rebel group whose name means "The Brigade of Islam", said in a statement on its Facebook page that it "targeted the cell called the crisis control room in the capital of Damascus."
A spokesman for the group confirmed the claim by telephone.
The Free Syrian Army also claimed responsibility for the attack, according to spokesman Qassim Saadedine. "This is the volcano we talked about, we have just started," he said.
The explosion came as clashes beween the Syrian military and the Free Syrian Army in Damascus entered a fourth straight day.
Citing the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, news agencies reported sounds of explosions on the outskirts of the Syrian capital on Wednesday.
Fighting was also reported in the central district of al-Midan, where rebel fighters are holed up.There were no immediate reports of casualties.
More government forces and tanks were deployed in areas inside and around Damascus following the violence, activists said.
The SOHR also said that more than 60 soldiers had been killed in clashes with the FSA fighters in the past 48 hours, but there was no independent confirmation of the claim as foreign media is barred from reporting inside Syria.
"Between 40 and 50 soldiers of the regular Syrian forces were killed the day before yesterday [Monday] in fighting in Damascus, and at least 20 were killed yesterday," the Observatory's Rami Abdel Rahman told the AFP news agency.
He added that forces of the presidential guard had deployed around the capital, but "they are not involved in the fighting" that erupted in several districts of the city on Sunday.
Soldiers loyal to al-Assad have called on civilians in Damascus areas controlled by the rebels to "leave immediately" ahead of an attack to purge those areas of "terrorists", activists said.
'Victory is nigh'
The rebels said on Tuesday they had intensified their offensive, declaring the latest phase of their offensive would "liberate" Damascus. A rebel spokesman said "victory is nigh".
"We have transferred the battle from Damascus province to the capital. We have a clear plan to control the whole of Damascus. We only have light weapons, but it's enough,' said FSA spokesman Colonel Kassem Saadeddine.
"Expect surprises," Saadeddine added, before adding later that rebels had downed a helicopter over Qaboon, although an activist in the district said there was "no foundation" to the report.
The fighting came as Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, pressed leaders of Syria's major ally, China, to back tougher action to stop violence.
In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria
Ban met Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, in Beijing on Wednesday before the vote on the Western resolution that links the renewal of a UN mission in Syria with a threat to impose sanctions if the regime does not pull back heavy weapons.
But diplomats warned there is little chance the resolution will be adopted by a divided council.
The key stumbling block is the Western demand for the resolution to impose non-military sanctions, which is tied to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, and which could eventually pave the way for military force to end the conflict in Syria.
Russia, another Syria ally with veto power at the Security Council, is reportedly opposed to any mention of non-military sanctions or Chapter 7, but the US and its European allies insist it must be included in a new resolution.
Late on Tuesday, Russia called for consultations on the proposed resolution. Alexander Pankin, a Russian deputy ambassador, said after the meetings that any mention of Chapter 7 or sanctions were still a "red line for Moscow".
Both Russia and China have previously vetoed Security Council resolutions seeking to take a hard line on the violence-wracked country.
Putin pledges support
But Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, vowed earlier on Tuesday to do everything to support UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's plan for ending the violence.
Annan, who told Putin the violence had reached "unacceptable" proportions, arrived on Tuesday for his first meeting with the Kremlin chief since he won elections for a third term in office.
However, neither Putin nor other Russian officials offered any sign that they were ready to take a harder line with al-Assad or compromise on punitive measures against the regime's brutal use of force.
"From the very start, from the first steps, we supported and continue to support your efforts aimed at restoring civil peace," Putin told Annan at the start of their talks.
Annan replied that "the Syrian crisis is at a critical time" before the discussion was closed to the media.
The future of Annan's three-month-old peace initiative, which was never implemented due to escalating violence, will be decided by the Security Council's Friday deadline.
The council will determine whether to extend and enlarge the 300-observer UN mission, or wind it down.
Credit: Al Jazeera
Syria Live Blog
According to the Reuters news agency the Syrian intelligence chief Hisham Bekhtyar has been wounded and is undergoing surgery after the bombing in Damascus.
Syria 17 minutes ago
The Head of the national security office was also reported dead, bringing the death toll to four.
Syria 19 minutes ago
Syria 24 minutes ago
“This explosion took place at the national security building in Damascus. It seems it is a very serious explosion and we are not sure if it’s a suicide bomber in a car or if it’s one of the bodyguards or one of the insiders who blew himself up as a high-level meeting was taking place with a number of ministers and high level security official attending it.
“We also know the Republican Guard, the elite unit of the Syrian security forces, is surrounding the as-Shami hospital. This is the main hospital for the government and government officials and it seems more high officials who were at that meeting could have been injured as well.
Yes, [it would be of great concern to the government] it took place in the heart of the capital, in ar-Raudah neighbourhood an upscale neighbourhood. security is very tight over there … there are embassies there … there are people living there with a lot of security guards. It is also very close to al-Malki where President Assad lives with his family. He live in in ar-Raudah neighbourhood slong with regular people … it’s a residential neighbourhood. It’s a 10-minute walk from that building where the explosion happened.
But now we know that in the past few months security had been updated very tightly around that neighbourhood, around President Assad’s residence. Still it’s a very major significant development.
Credit: Syrian Blog Al Jazeera
|Last Updated ( Wednesday, 18 July 2012 )|
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