President Bashar Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, and Syrian Defense Minister Dawoud Rajih have been killed during fierce clashes in Damascus, Arab media outlets reported on Wednesday. Shawkat died in a Damascus hospital where he was taken after the attack.
Hezbollah's al-Manar television and a security source said Syrian General Hassan Turkmani, a former defence minister and senior military official, died of wounds sustained in the bomb attack.
Later, Syrian TV announced the death of Interior Ninister Mohammad Shaar in the explosion.
Hafez Makhlouf, head of the investigations at the Syrian Intelligence Agency, also died in the Damascus explosion, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian sources.
According to the reports, the officials were killed after a bomb struck a government building in Damascus; other Syrian officials were injured in the explosion, including Intelligence Chief Hisham Bekhtyar. Al- Arabiya reported that the terrorist who activated the bomb worked as a bodyguard for Assad’s inner circle. It also claimed that Syria's Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Chaarand was also killed in the blast, but Syrian state television denied the reports, stating that he was in stable condition. The reports could not be confirmed.
Assad (L) and Rajih (Archive photo: EPA)
Shortly after the blast, five additional explosions were heard near the northwestern Damascus district of Muhajireen, close to the base of the Fourth Armoured Division that is led by Assad's brother Maher, residents said. It was not clear whether those forces were being targeted.
The regime was quick to name General Fahad Jassim al-Freij as the new defense minister.
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Two groups claimed responsibility for the explosion. Liwa al-Islam, an Islamist rebel group whose name means "The Brigade of Islam", said in a statement on its Facebook page that it "targeted the cell called the crisis control room in the capital of Damascus." A spokesman for the group confirmed the claim by telephone.
The Free Syrian Army also claimed responsibility for the attack, according to spokesman Qassim Saadedine. "This is the volcano we talked about, we have just started," he said. Syria's rebel commander
Riad al-Asaad said in a phone interview from his headquarters in Turkey that rebel forces planted a bomb inside a room where senior government officials were meeting Wednesday.
The rebel leader denied government claims that it was a suicide attack, saying all those who carried out the operation are safe. He said the attack marked "the beginning of the end of the regime."
Wednesday's attack struck the National Security building in Damascus during a meeting of Cabinet ministers and senior security officials."General Dawoud Rajih was martyred in the terrorist attack that targeted the building of national security," the state television reported.
The capital has seen four straight days of clashes pitting government troops against rebels, who are trying to bring down the regime by force.
Earlier, the Free Syrian Army leader, Riad Al-Asaad said that there have been battles taking place in 90% of Damascus' neighborhoods in recent days, stating that he predicts the "battle over Damascus will decide the fate of the Syrian revolution."
Reports on fierce battles taking place in the Syrian capital suburbs have appeared in media outlets at the beginning f the week, but restrictions on foreign media have made it impossible to obtain reliable information as to the scope of the fighting.
Defense Minister Dawoud Rajih (Photo: EPA)
In an interview with Sky News Arabia, Asaad said: "We're not saying the battle over Damascus will be easy, but regardless of who wins, the very fact that Damascus is part of the battle zone carries great significance for us and for the entire world."
Fierce battles in Capital (Photo: EPA)
On Tuesday, Colonel Qassem Saadeddine, spokesman of the joint command of the Free Syrian Army inside Syria, told Reuters via Skype that many fighters arrived in Damascus from several provinces 10 days ago to take part in the operation and more would be sent soon.
Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi, on the other hand, said that militants clashed with government forces in a number of neighborhoods in the capital, but have surrendered. According to Zoabi, some of the armed rebels escaped after the confrontation, while Syria's official news agency claimed that security forces are chasing after "remainder members of terror cells."
Meanwhile, the UN said it will vote Wednesday afternoon on a new Syria resolution to end the 17-month civil war in the Middle East country.
The key stumbling block is the Western demand for a resolution threatening non-military sanctions and tied to Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, which could eventually allow the use of force to end the conflict in Syria. Russia has said it will veto any Chapter 7 resolution, but council diplomats said there is still a possibility of last-minute negotiations.
Syrian human rights groups have stated that some 94 people were killed across the country in the past day.
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