Assad’s brother-in-law among victims

The Syrian security establishment suffered a heavy blow on Wednesday after a suicide bomber killed the country’s defence minister, his deputy, and seriously injured several other top security officials including the interior minister and the intelligence chief.

The lethal strike was carried out by a suicide bomber who, apparently, was part of a security team that has been posted to guard Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s inner circle. The sketchy information available so far seems to suggest that the bomber struck during the course of a high profile security meeting that was being held in the national security bureau in the Rawda district of Damascus.

The deadly attack also delivered a personal blow to Mr. Assad, whose brother- in-law Assef Shawkat, the deputy defence minister was among the dead. The defence minister Dawoud Rajiha was also killed. The interior minister, Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar is recuperating in hospital, as is the intelligence chief, Hisham Bekhtyar, who sustained serious injuries. Syrian authorities have appointed Fahad Jassim al-Freij, the serving chief of staff of the armed forces, as the new defence minister.

The claims of responsibility have come thick and fast soon after the attack. Liwa Al-Islam, a Syrian rebel Islamist group posted a statement on Facebook where it claimed responsibility for the strike.

The opposition Free Syrian Army also said it carried out the attack, according to its spokesman Qassim Saadedine.

On their part, Syrian authorities pinned the blame for the "terrorist bomb attack" on "hired hands," and vowed to wipe out "criminal gangs," state television reported.

Wednesday’s mega-strike caps four days of hit-and-run violence in Damascus, which started after the opposition launched a new offensive codenamed Operation Damascus Volcano, which has focused on high visibility targets.

On Tuesday gunfire and plumes of smoke were reported from a street not far from the parliament. Opposition videos also showed on fire, hilltop barracks that apparently housed personnel who were engaged in performing security duties for the high security presidential palace down below. State television beamed images of troops patrolling deserted streets of Midan area — a prominent Damascus enclave — parts of which were earlier reported to have come under fire from the opposition.

As Damascus immersed into a deep security crisis, the United Nations Security Council was getting ready to debate a resolution on the extension of a UN monitoring mission in Syria, whose deployment has been tied to the fulfillment of a six point peace plan authored by Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League envoy on Syria. Russia and China are opposed to a British draft which embeds the possibility of sanctions, if not more, against the Assad regime in case it does not comply with Mr. Annan’s plan.

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