Syria’s defense minister, Daoud Rajha, and his deputy, Asef Shawkat — who is the brother-in-law of President Bashar al-Assad — were killed on Wednesday when a suicide bomber attacked security headquarters in Damascus. Syria’s national security chief Hisham Bekhtyar and interior minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar were also reported to be injured.
Top security ministers and security chiefs had been meeting to discuss the 17-month uprising. The attack occurred after reports of the first major rebel offensive in Damascus over the weekend; heavy shelling and regime forces firing on buildings and residents has been reported in the al-Qaboun district. Rebel spokeswoman Susan Ahmad told the BBC that entrances to Damascus had been closed.
he assassinations could prove to be an “important symbolic turning point” in the uprising to overthrow Assad. Says the BBC‘s Jim Marcus:
The fact that a bomber was able to carry out such an attack against a high security target speaks volumes about the government’s ability to protect its own members and raises questions about the broader capacities of Syria’s “security state.”
As the level of senior defections from the Syrian military continues many analysts believe that it is not now a question of “if” the Syrian regime collapses from within, but “when.”
According to Al Jazeera, both the Free Syrian Army and a group called the Islamic Brigade have claimed responsibility for the attack.
The attacks occurred at the same time as diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict have come to a standstill. A team of some 300 United Nations observers have been basically confined to their hotel rooms while the UN Security Council considers extending their mandate. Western powers have insisted that this can only occur along with the imposition of harsher sanctions on the Assad regime; Russia and China have refused to agree to such and Russia has submitted its own draft resolution.
Witnesses in Damascus reported that a huge security presence has been deployed in the city. But one rebel spokesman told the New York Times that fighting in the capital has mostly been skirmishes between regime forces and the FSA. “The battle for Damascus has not started,” he said.
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Photo by Freedom House