Syrian defense minister assassinated in Damascus blast (ISRAEL HAYOM) News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff 07/18/12)
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Suicide bomb attack strikes National Security building in Damascus
during a meeting of cabinet ministers and senior security officials •
Deputy Defense Minister and Bashar al-Assad´s brother-in-law Assef
Shawkat reportedly killed.
Syrian Defense Minister General Daoud Rajiha was killed on Wednesday
after a suicide bomber struck a government building. Al Jazeera
reported that the interior minister and intelligence chief were also
injured in the blast.
Wednesday´s attack struck the National Security building in Damascus
during a meeting of cabinet ministers and senior security officials.
The capital has seen four straight days of clashes pitting government
troops against rebels, who are trying to bring down the regime by
The fighting is an unprecedented challenge to government rule in
President Bashar al-Assad´s seat of power.
Al-Manar, a Lebanese-based TV station controlled by Hezbollah
reported Wednesday that the Syrian president´s brother in-law and
Deputy Defense Minister Assef Shawkat was also seriously wounded in
the explosion. Sky News reported that Shawkat had actually been
Al-Mayadeen, a Lebanon-based news channel, said several senior
security officials had been killed in the blast, without giving
Activists in Damascus said by telephone that Republican Guards sealed
of the Shami hospital in the capital after ambulances had brought
casualties from the site of the explosion.
Earlier Wednesday, an army barracks near the "palace of the people",
a huge Soviet style complex overlooking the sprawling capital from
the western district of Dummar, came under rebel fire at around 7.30
a.m. (0430 GMT), activists and a resident said.
"I could hear the sound of small arms fire and explosions are getting
louder and louder from the direction of the barracks," Yasmine, who
works as an architect, said by phone from Dummar.
Video footage broadcast by activists purportedly showed fire in the
barracks overnight as a result of an attack by mortar rounds, but
residents who saw the fire said they had not heard explosions to
indicate it was a result of an attack.
Dummar is a secure area containing many auxiliary installations for
the presidential palace and the barracks is just hundreds of meters
from the palace itself.
Fighting also erupted overnight in the southern neighborhoods of
Asali and Qadam, and Hajar al-Aswad and Tadamun - mainly Sunni Muslim
districts housing Damascenes and Palestinian refugees.
Asad and the ruling elite belong to the minority Alawite sect, an
offshoot of Shi´ite Islam that has dominated power in Syria since a
Government troops used heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns
against rebels moving deep in residential neighborhoods, armed mostly
with small arms and rocket propelled grenades.
Rebels directed their fire overnight at a large state facility turned
headquarters for pro-Assad militia, known as shabiha, drawn mainly
from Alawite enclaves in nearby hills.
Army tanks and anti-aircraft guns, used as an infantry weapon, took
positions in the northern neighborhood of Barzeh, where hundreds of
families from the neighboring district of Qaboun are seeking shelter.
"Anti-aircraft guns are firing at Qaboun from Barzeh. There are lots
of families in the streets with no place to stay. They came from
Qaboun and from the outskirts of Barzeh," said Bassem, one of the
activists, speaking by phone from Barzeh.
In the central neighborhood of Midan tanks and infantry fighting
vehicles known as BDMs took positions in main thoroughfares and
sporadic fighting was reported.
"Armor have not been able to enter the alleyways and old streets of
Midan. The neighborhoods old Zahra and the old area near Majed mosque
are in the hands of the rebels," said Abu Mazen, an activist in the
Rebel fighters have called the intensified guerilla attacks in recent
days, which have targeted shabbiha buses, unmarked intelligence
patrols and armored vehicles in the capital, the battle "for the
liberation of Damascus" after 16 months of revolt.
But senior opposition figures took a more nuanced view.
"It is going to be difficult to sustain supply lines and the rebels
may have to make a tactical withdrawal at one point, like they did in
other cities," veteran opposition activist Fawaz Tello said from
"But what is clear is that Damascus has joined the revolt," Tello, a
Damascene, told Reuters. "By hitting well known Sunni districts of
the city, such as Midan, the regime is exposing the sectarian nature
of the crackdown."
Information Minister Omran Zoabi said on Tuesday security forces were
fighting armed infiltrators in Damascus. He said many had surrendered
while others "escaped on foot and by car and are firing randomly in
the air to frighten people".
16 months ago. Activists say Syrian government forces have also used
helicopter gunships to battle rebels in the capital Damascus.
The activists say that helicopters fired heavy machine guns during
overnight clashes in the neighborhoods of Qadam and Hajar al-Aswad as
a ring of fierce clashes nearly encircled the heavily guarded capital.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday that, "The fate of the Assad
family is sealed, but on its way out of power it can kill more
people. The Assad family is holding on to power at the cost of the
continued slaughter of its own people. The world understands, the
International Red Cross made a very important declaration [on Sunday]
that it sees the situation in Syria as a civil war."
Barak added that "there is a disturbing lesson in the fact that the
entire world, even when these grave events unfold before all of our
eyes, cannot manage to gather the fortitude, legitimacy or the unity
required to… put an end to this bloodbath."
Nawaf Fares, Syria´s ex-ambassador to Iraq and the most senior Syrian
politician to defect to the opposition, told the BBC on Tuesday that
Assad´s regime will not hesitate to use chemical weapons if it is
cornered. When asked if he thought Assad might use chemical weapons
against the opposition, Fares replied he could not rule it out,
describing Assad as "a wounded wolf and cornered."
"There is information, unconfirmed information of course, that
chemical weapons have been used partially in the city of Homs," Fares
told the BBC. "It doesn´t occur to any Syrian, not only me, that
Bashar al-Assad will let go of power through political
interventions. ... He will be ousted only by force," he said.
While the clashes in Damascus were focused in a string of
neighborhoods in the city´s southwest, for many of its four million
people the violence brought ominously close to home the strife that
has deeply scarred other Syrian cities.
In high-end downtown cafes frequented by the business and government
elite tightly bound to the Assad regime, customers watched as black
smoke billowed on the horizon and the boom of government shells
reverberated in the distance.
"Without a doubt, this is all anyone is talking about today," a
Damascus activist who gave his name as Noor Bitar said via
Skype. "The sounds of war are clear throughout the city. They are
bouncing off the buildings."
Meanwhile, Syrian Ambassador to Belarus Farouk Taha defected on
Monday and aligned himself with the rebels. Also Monday, Morocco
asked the Syrian ambassador to leave the country. Within hours,
Syria´s state-run TV said the Foreign Ministry had declared Morocco´s
ambassador to Syria persona non grata.
International diplomacy has failed to stop the violence, and world
powers remain deeply divided over who is responsible and how to stop
it. The U.S. and many Western nations have called on Assad to leave
power, while Russia, China and Iran have stood by the regime.
Also on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the
West of using blackmail to secure a U.N. Security Council resolution
that could allow the use of force in Syria. Lavrov objected to the
text of a Western-backed resolution that calls for sanctions and
invokes Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which can be enforceable
militarily. He said Russia had been told that if it opposed the
resolution, Western nations would not extend the mandate of a U.N.
mission sent to Syria to monitor a cease-fire.
"We consider it to be an absolutely counterproductive and dangerous
approach, since it is unacceptable to use monitors as bargaining
chips," Lavrov said.
International envoy Kofi Annan, who has made little progress in
brokering a political solution in Syria, met Russian leaders in
Moscow on Monday. The meeting — the latest in Annan´s efforts to save
his faltering peace plan — comes a day after the conflict crossed an
important symbolic threshold, with the international Red Cross
formally declaring it a civil war, a status with implications for
potential war crime prosecutions.
Monday´s fighting and Wednesday´s attack that killed the top minister
suggest that deep cracks were appearing in the tightly controlled
facade of calm that has insulated Damascus from violence throughout
the uprising. Damascus — and Syria´s largest city, Aleppo — are both
home to elites who have benefited from close ties to Assad´s regime,
as well as merchant classes and minority groups who worry their
status will suffer if Assad falls.
But for months, rebels have been gaining strength in poorer towns and
cities in the Damascus countryside. Some activists suggested Monday
that recent government crackdowns in those areas had pushed rebels
into the city, where they were determined to strike at the heart of
"It seems there is a new strategy to bring the fighting into the
center of the capital," said activist Mustafa Osso. "The capital used
to be safe. This will trouble the regime."
Another activist, who gave only his first name, Moaz, said he had
never seen such violent fighting in his neighborhood of Tadamon, a
poor, densely populated area south of downtown.
He said the army had parked armored vehicles at the neighborhood´s
entrances and posted tanks on its north and south edges.
Some two-thirds of the neighborhood´s residents have fled, while
those who remain are scared government snipers will target them if
they leave now, he said.
But so far, the rebels have kept the army out, destroying three tanks
and one armored car with rocket-propelled grenades, said Moaz,
declining to give his full name for fear of retribution. Others spoke
on condition anonymity.
Amateur videos posted online Monday gave glimpses of the fighting. In
one, a dozen fighters crouched Sunday behind sandbags, firing at a
tank down a rubble-strewn street with a machine gun and rocket-
propelled grenades. Another video showed a burnt station wagon with
at least three charred bodies inside that an off-camera narrator said
were government troops.
The fiercest fighting was in the southwest neighborhoods of Mezzeh,
Kafr Sousa, Al-Midan, Tadamon, Nahr Aisha and Al-Zahira, while
activists also reported clashes in the western suburbs and in the
northern neighborhood of Barzeh.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 12 people
were killed in and around Damascus, among some 90 people killed
nationwide. About a third of the dead were government troops, it said.
Activist claims and videos could not be independently verified. The
Syrian government bars most media from working in the country.
The government said little about the clashes, but the state news
agency said the army was hunting an "armed terrorist group" in one of
the neighborhoods. The regime blames the uprising on terrorists
acting out a foreign conspiracy to weaken the country.
Streets were largely deserted in neighborhoods near the fighting.
Many families have fled or are still trying to get out, and fear
grips those who remain.
"Assad will only go after he kills all of us," said a 28-year-old
mother of two reached by phone in the Midan neighborhood, who
declined to give her name for fear of reprisals from Syrian security.
The Syrian regime has grown increasingly isolated throughout the
crisis, with a number of Arab and Western nations withdrawing their
ambassadors to protest the crackdown.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New
York that Annan should tell the Russians what he told council members
last week: "that he needs the council to come together around a
resolution that makes very clear that there are consequences for non-
The British draft circulated Monday among Security Council members
threatens non-military sanctions against Assad´s government if it
doesn´t withdraw troops and heavy weapons from population centers
within 10 days.
A closed council session Monday afternoon made no progress in
bridging the differences.
Rice, the U.S. envoy, said the observer mission has been unable to do
its job because of the escalating violence and if the council is not
prepared "to back up the mandate we gave them with the tools at our
disposal, even to threaten sanctions, not even impose sanctions under
Chapter 7, then we´re leaving these guys hanging — and it´s
completely, not only ineffective, but it´s immoral."
The Security Council has scheduled a vote on the resolution
Wednesday — leaving two days for possible last-minute maneuvering
before the observer mission´s mandate expires. Both the British and
Russian texts have been put in a final form for a vote.
Meanwhile, Lebanese media outlets reported Monday that both the
Syrian and Lebanese armies have reinforced their respective armies
positioned along their shared border, not only to prevent the civil
war in Syria from spilling into Lebanon, but out of concern that
Israel may be looking to pre-emptively attack in Syria in order to
thwart the transfer of chemical weapons from the Syrian regime to the
Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist organization.
Assad will now find it more difficult to project business as usual
after the rebellion against his regime turned into pitched battles on
the streets of the capital Damascus on Monday, and the noose of
international pressure around the regime further tightened.
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