Bomb kills men at heart of Assad rule as Syria fight rages
BEIRUT/AMMAN (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed three of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s top military officials on Wednesday, security sources said, the worst blow to Assad’s high command in the country’s 16-month-old rebellion.
The bomb killed Assad’s powerful brother-in-law, the defense minister and a top general, bringing the battle to the heart of Assad’s powerbase and sparking fighting across Damascus.
Residents, fearing fierce retaliation by Assad’s forces, said army helicopters fired machineguns and in some cases rockets at several residential districts. Television footage showed rebels storming a security base in southern Damascus.
The bomber, said by a security source to be a bodyguard assigned to Assad’s inner circle, struck a meeting in central Damascus attended by ministers and senior security officials as battles raged within sight of the nearby presidential palace.
Washington, which fears a spillover into neighboring states, said the situation seemed to be spinning out of control. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said “the battle for the capital, the decisive fight” was under way. The U.N. Security Council put off a scheduled vote on a Syria resolution.
State television said Defense Minister Daoud Rajha and Assad’s brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, the deputy defense minister, had been killed in a “terrorist bombing” and pledged to wipe out the “criminal gangs” responsible.