Damascus responds harshly to assassinations

Syria’s leaders have vowed to retaliate with force against perpetrators of Wednesday’s triple assassination that exposed a gaping hole in the security establishment and delivered a huge blow to the Kofi Annan plan that seeks to restore calm in the embattled state.

The security establishment has responded harshly to the killings, signalling that fresh violence, fuelled by a combination of fury, grief and hurt pride, appears set to rock Syria.

“The armed forces will not be deterred by this coward terrorist act from continuing their sacred duties to chasing down the criminal terrorist gangs and cutting off every hand that harms the security of the homeland and citizens,” warned new Defence Minister General Fahd al-Freij.

Others who died on Wenesday were Assef Shawkat — the deputy Defence Minister; and Hassan Turkmani — a former Defence Mminister and head of the “crisis cell” that is steering the government’s response to the anti-regime revolt.

Quickly asserting his authority, Gen. al-Freij denied as “false and fabricated” the news broadcasted by a section of Arab satellite channels that spoke of defections in Idlib — a city near the Turkish border; and al-Midan — a prominent district in Damascus. He stressed that the Army stood fully behind President Bashar al-Assad, and rubbished reports of an explosion inside the premises of the army’s Fourth Division.

On Thursday, organisations aligned with the Syrian opposition maintained that the guerilla offensive in Damascus — in its fifth consecutive day — has continued to engulf prominent regime power centres. Fighting has apparently spread to the government headquarters in Damascus and in the Ikhlas neighbourhood next to an area where the Council of Ministers reside.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has claimed that opposition fighters have disabled three military vehicles and damaged a helicopter.

The Syrian Local Coordination Committees is reporting loud explosions in Mashrou-Dumar — an upscale area on a mountain edge at the outskirts of Damascus.

The expected counter-attack from the government, in response to the killings, is likely to further undermine the peace plan of the U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, centred on a ceasefire observed by both sides embroiled in conflict.

But with a government offensive in the offing after Wednesday’s strike, the Russians, contrary to the western stance, have stressed that Damascus should not be subjected to punitive measures in case it fails to abide by the Kofi Annan plan.

If Syria is told to curb violence unilaterally, it would amount to “direct support for the revolutionary movement”, asserted Sergei Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister.

Apart from Russia, Iran and Hizbollah — the Lebanese militant group — has reinforced its backing for the Assad regime in the aftermath of the assassinations. Ali Akbar Velayati, the adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pledged that “Iran will defend Syria” as it is the lynchpin of the resistance against Israel, which is supported by “reactionary powers,” who are the masterminds of the revolt.

Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah described the slain Syrian officials as “comrades –in-arms in the conflict with the Israeli enemy”.

He expressed confidence in the Syrian army’s ability to “crush the hopes of the enemies”.

More In: International | News