A suicide bomber struck the National Security building in the Syrian capital on Wednesday, killing the defence minister and President Bashar Assad’s brother-in-law — the harshest blow to the Syrian regime since the uprising began.
Syrian state-run TV said the blast came during a meeting of cabinet ministers and senior security officials in Damascus, where four straight days of clashes pitting government troops against rebels have sent tensions soaring.
Defence minister Dawoud Rajha, 65, a former army general, was the most senior government official to be killed in the Syrian civil war as rebels battle to oust Assad. General Assef Shawkat, the deputy defence minister and one of the most feared figures in Assad’s inner circle, was also killed. He was married to Assad’s older sister, Bushra.
Interior minister Mohammed Shaar was wounded and in stable condition, state TV said.
Syrian state TV also confirmed that General Hassan Turkmani, head of the regime’s crisis cell and assistant to the Syrian vice president, was also among those killed.
Wednesday’s attack was a nearly unheard-of strike on the inner circle. Although it was unclear who was behind the attack, the high-level assassinations could signal a turning point in the 16-month conflict as the violence becomes increasingly chaotic.
Syrian army helicopters fired machineguns and in some cases rockets at several residential districts of Damascus as President Bashar al-Assad’s forces fought rebels across the capital on Wednesday, residents and activists said.
The suicide bomb attacks herald a new phase in the crisis and will fuel more uprisings, George Sabra, a spokesman for the rebel Syrian National Council, said on Wednesday.Meanwhile, the UN Security Council postponed until Thursday a vote on a Western-backed resolution that threatens Syrian authorities with sanctions in a bid to end the conflict, Russia’s UN envoy said on Wednesday.