Suicide Bomber Kills Syria’s Defence Minister and His Deputy

A suicide attack Wednesday which struck at the heart of Syria’s security apparatus killed defence minister General Daoud Rajha and President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, state media said.

The bombing, which for the first time in a 16-month anti-regime uprising managed to strike at Assad’s inner core, adds urgency to aUN Security Council debate on Syrian sanctions later on Wednesday, when a showdown between Western powers and Russia and China is expected.

Officials said the bomber struck as ministers and security officials were meeting at the heavily guarded National Securityheadquarters in Damascus.

Interior minister Mohammed al-Shaar and General Hisham Ikhtiyar, head of National Security, were among those listed as wounded in the bombing, which came on the fourth day of an offensive launched by rebels to capture Damascus.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights called Shawkat’s death “a severe blow to the Syrian regime since he played the main role in operations by regular forces to crush the revolution.”

Syria’s army said after the bombing it would “continue fighting terrorism.”

“The terrorist act increases the armed forces’ determination to clean the country of terrorist groups,” it said in a statement.

Rajha, a Christian, was defence minister, deputy army chief and deputy head of the Council of Ministers. Assad himself is overall commander of the military.

Shawkat was deputy defence minister and a former military intelligence chief.

The National Security branch — a linchpin of Syria’s security apparatus — is headed by General Hisham Ikhtiyar, who was also wounded in Wednesday’s blast.

The brazen attack on regime insiders came as battles raged across Damascus and after the Free Syrian Army (FSA) — comprising defected soldiers and civilians who have taken up arms against Assad’s forces — warned the government to “expect surprises.”

Columns of black smoke rose over the capital, with the Local Coordination Committees, which organises anti-regime protests on the ground, reporting that Qaboon and Barzeh neighbourhoods were bombarded by loyalist forces.

It also said there was less traffic than normal in the city where fighting has raged since Sunday, with the rebels announcing a full-scale offensive dubbed “the Damascus volcano and earthquakes of Syria.”

Regime forces and the FSA clashed in the Al-Midan and Zahira districts of Damascus as well as at Assali south of the city, the LCC said.

Rebel forces on Tuesday said the battle to “liberate” Damascus had begun, as heavy fighting raged with the regime using helicopter gunships in the capital for the first time.

As the fighting inched closer to the regime’s nerve centre, FSA spokesman Colonel Kassem Saadeddine said “victory is nigh” and the struggle would go on until the city was conquered.

“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.”

“Expect surprises,” Saadeddine added.

-AFP via Yahoo