Soldiers from the 3rd Armored Division are withdrawing from Damascus and abandoning their tanks in the streets following an explosion
which claimed the lives of a number of senior officials from President Bashar Assad's
inner circle, Al Arabiya reported Wednesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, State TV said the regime will announce a call-up of reserves on Thursday.
A bomb ripped through a high-level security meeting Wednesday in the Syrian capital, killing some top regime officials — including Assad's brother-in-law.
Celebrations in Idlib
Syrian state-run TV confirmed the deaths of Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha, a former army general and the most senior government official to be killed in the rebels' battle to oust Assad; and Gen. Assef Shawkat, the deputy defense minister and one of the most feared figures in Assad's inner circle. He is married to Assad's elder sister, Bushra. The blast also killed Hassan Turkmani, a former defense minister.
The bombing was the harshest blow to the government's inner circle in the 16-month uprising.
Reports in Idlib said Assad's forces are withdrawing from the Maarat il Naaman area, a former rebel stronghold. The soldiers are leaving their weapons and equipment behind, according to reports.
More celebrations in Idlib
Videos posted on YouTube show Idlib residents celebrating the death of Rajha and Shawkat. The blast also killed
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
said the bombing in Damascus is evidence that violence there is "rapidly spinning out of control," and it underscores the urgent need for a political solution.
Appearing with Panetta at a Pentagon news conference, British Defense Minister Philip Hammond said the escalating violence indicates that the rebels feel emboldened and that the government of President Assad is suffering "probably some fragmentation around the edges" as it struggles to keep a grip on power.
"There is a sense that the situation is deteriorating and is becoming more and more unpredictable," Hammond said.
Hammond and Panetta both stressed the urgency of finding a political solution that results in Assad's exit.
"It's extremely important that the international community, working with other countries that have concerns in that area, ... bring maximum pressure on Assad to do what's right to step down and to allow for that peaceful transition," Panetta said.
"The violence there has only gotten worse and the loss of lives has only increased," Panetta said, "which tells us that this is a situation that is rapidly spinning out of control." He said that is all the more reason for the international community to bring "maximum pressure" on Assad to step down and permit a stable transfer of power.
Hammond suggested that Russia
hold the key to finding a peaceful solution.
"The regime exists at the moment because it receives tacit support from other powers in the world," he said. "If those powers are sending clear messages about the limits of their tolerance for the activities of the regime, that will be an effective constraint on the activities of the regime."
Panetta and Hammond both cautioned the Assad regime not to lose control of its chemical weapons.
"We will not tolerate the use or the proliferation of those chemical weapons," Hammond said, adding, "So our diplomacy has to focus on getting those who have the greatest influence with the regime to ensure that it acts responsibly in relation to chemical weapons."