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Live coverage of Syria suicide blast killing three in Assad's inner circle

The Globe and Mail's live coverage of a suicide blast that killed Syria's defence minister and other senior officials.

  • Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime was struck today by a blast that killed several key members of Assad's inner circle.

    Be sure to watch Globe and Mail Middle East Correspondent Patrick Martin's 90-second take on what the regime is now likely to do: www.theglobeandmail.com

    Earlier, we followed the dramatic and fast-moving events in Damascus - described by many as a turning point in the 16-month Syrian conflict that has killed more than 10,000 - in a live blog of breaking news, tweets, pictures and analysis.
  • Here is a quick summary of senior Assad regime figure either killed or injured in today's suicide attack inside the National Security building in Damascus today:

    Defence Minister Dawoud Rajha (killed)

    President Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat (killed)

    Hisham Ikhtiar - director of the National Security Bureau (injured)

    Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar (injured)
  • Just a bit of context in terms of Wednesday's attack by a suicide bomber on senior Assad officials:

    The suicide attack took place after four days of fighting between Syrian army - helped by helicopter gunships - and rebel fighters in parts of Damascus. The capital has seen some of the most intense fighting yet since the conflict began.

    The suicide attack took place as a diplomatic effort by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to put more pressure on the Assad regime seemed to be stalled.
  • Interesting tweet from the Financial Times Middle East and Africa correspondent Borzou Daragahi ‏@borzou:

    Tragically, if #Syria regime were to collapse any time soon, opposition nowhere near ready to take power; far worse shape than Iraq 2003
  • Syrian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Dawoud Rajha attends a Syrian air defence live ammunitions exercise in an undisclosed location in this undated file handout distributed on July 9, 2012. He was killed in Tuesday's suicide attack at the National Security building in Damascus. Reuters

  • Assef Shawkat, brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, stands during the funeral of late president Hafez al-Assad in Damascus in this June 13, 2000 file photo. Shawkat was killed in a bomb attack which targeted a meeting of Assad's top security and military officials on July 18, 2012, Hezbollah's al-Manar television and a security source in Syria said. (Reuters)

  • A tweet by anti-Assad activist @Samsomhoms from inside Syria in the city of Homs - which in the past has been the scene of heavy fighting:

    Many asked for the Yemeni solution, others the Libyan solution. But we are undergoing the Syrian solution. Congratulations #Syria
  • Widely being tweeted right now is a comment by the Syrian Minister of Information on Syrian TV:

    "I confirm this is the last battle, not just in Damascus, but in all of Syria."
  • The Globe's Middle East Correspondent Patrick Martin has just filed some valuable analysis. Here it is:

    It was only a matter of time before an event of this magnitude hit the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

    With sporadic attacks lately even in the heart of the Syrian capital, it was clear the rebel forces were attempting to strike at the very nerve centre of the ruling leadership.

    However, rather than push the Alawite President and his cronies toward capitulation, the attack is likely to have the opposite effect.

    For the governing Alawite minority, this civil conflict/war has always been about survival. As they perceive the opposition, an overwhelmingly Sunni force, the Alawites have everything to lose and nothing to gain by surrendering to them.

    It is a case of "give us victory or give us death."

    Wednesday's successful attack on such a high-level Syrian asset underscores once again how well organized and lethal the opposition forces are.

    Benefiting from the growing influx of regional, Islamist fighters, including those allied with al-Qaeda, the opposition may take encouragement from the success of the attack.

    But it is likely to foreshadow a substantial surge in the regime's counter attack, as the cornered Assad leadership will feel completely justified in striking out as a cornered cat.
  • RT @jonsnowC4: The suicide killing of Defence Minister and his Deputy + Assad's Sister's husband heralds a more horrible future for Syri ...
  • Commenting on the apparent suicide bombing in Damascus today, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said:

    "We are aware of reports that the Syrian Defence and Deputy Defence Ministers have been killed and a number of others injured by an apparent suicide bombing in Damascus.

    “This incident, which we condemn, confirms the urgent need for a Chapter VII resolution of the UN Security Council on Syria.

    “The situation in Syria is clearly deteriorating. All the members of the UN Security Council have a responsibility to put their weight behind the enforcement of Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan's plan to end the violence.

    “We call on all parties to refrain from violence, and for the Security Council to shoulder its responsibilities.”
  • Just some context to British Foreign Secretary William Hague's statement - a Chapter 7 UN resolution relates to non-military sanctions against the Syrian regime. The UN Security Council is to vote on the matter this afternoon. Russia and China are not likely to support it.
  • From AFP: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appointed a new defence minister on Wednesday after a suicide bombing killed two top regime officials including defence minister General Daoud Rajha.

    State television reported that Fahd al-Freij has now been appointed to the post.
  • The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights called Shawkat’s death “a severe blow to the Syrian regime since he played the main role in operations by regular forces to crush the revolution.”
  • A statement from the Syrian Army via AFP:

    Syria’s army said after the bombing it would “continue fighting terrorism.”

    “The terrorist act increases the armed forces’ determination to clean the country of terrorist groups,” it said in a statement.
  • #Syria diplomatic talks: fairly useless, potentially distracting parlor game w no connection to events on ground
  • Just one quick post on the diplomatic front (via AFP) about Russia, which has resisted supporting non-military sanctions on Syria - an issue the United Nations Security Council is to vote on this afternoon:

    Russia Wednesday said a decisive battle is in progress in Syria and rejected a Western-backed U.N. resolution on the crisis as it would mean taking sides with a revolutionary movement.

    “A decisive battle is in progress in Syria. Adopting the resolution would mean outright support of a revolutionary movement,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in reference to the armed opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.

    “And if we are talking about a revolution then the United Nations has nothing to do with it,” Lavrov said on the sidelines of a Kremlin meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
  • Lots of diplomatic reaction: Britain calling on all sides to refrain from violence; France saying the attacks illustration the urgent need for a political transition in Syria; and Russia describing a decisive battle under way in Syria.
  • Let's move back to events on the ground in Damascus - one of the key questions is: Who carried out this attack inside the National Security building at a meeting of senior Assad officials?
  • The Free Syrian Army (FSA) has been coordinating rebel fighters inside Damascus for four straight days. Today's suicide attack comes at a crucial moment in the ongoing fighting. This from the Guardian newspaper on who might have carried out the attack:

    "It was not clear whether it was a suicide bombing but it was rumoured that the suspected killer may have been a bodyguard for members of Assad’s inner circle."
  • A Reuters photo of the newly appointed defence minister (front left):

    Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (centre) stands with leaders of the army, including Fahad Jassim al-Freij (front left) and Daoud Rajha (front right) at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in a ceremony to mark the 38th anniversary of the 1973 October War with Israel, in Damascus in this October 6, 2011 file handout photo released to Reuters on July 18, 2012.

    Syria appointed General Fahad Jassim al-Freij as defence minister, state television said, to replace Daoud Rajha who was killed in a bomb attack on Wednesday.

  • Some U.S. reaction to events in Syria via the BBC:

    US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta tells a Pentagon press briefing that the situation in Syria is "rapidly spinning out of control" after "a real escalation in fighting". Mr Panetta says President Assad must step down to pave the way for a peaceful transition.
  • A big thanks to everyone joining this live blog.

    It has been a momentous day in the Syrian capital of Damascus: the opposition was able to infiltrate arguably the most important - and well-guarded - national security building and kill members of President Assad's inner circle.

    The suicide attack on members of the inner circle comes as rebel fighters have taken the fight to the capital over the last four days - in fighting that has seen regime helicopter gun-ships deployed over the capital and hitting targets.

    Meanwhile, there is a showdown that is looming at the United Nations this afternoon with the Security Council scheduled to vote on non-military sanctions against Syria. Russia and China are resisting such a resolution.
  • There will be more details that are likely to come out in terms of *how* this attack was carried inside such a key security building. But we now have a pretty clear idea that the Free Syrian Army was behind it. This via AFP:

    Syria’s rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) claimed responsibility for the deadly attack.

    The FSA command “announces the good news of the outstanding operation this morning that targeted the National Security headquarters and the killing” of the officials “responsible for barbaric massacres,” it said in a statement.
  • There are some reports emerging of other Assad inner circle officials killed in today's blast. We will look in to those reports.

    But for now, here is a quick summary of senior Assad regime figure either killed or injured in today's suicide attack inside the National Security building in Damascus today:

    Defence Minister Dawoud Rajha (killed)

    President Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat (killed)

    Hisham Ikhtiar - director of the National Security Bureau (injured)

    Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar (injured)
  • Interesting tweet from a BBC producer ‏Cara Swift (@cswift2) about the regime's response to today's attack:

    #Syria Info Minister: any state which sent one bullet or one dollar to the terrorists in Syria is responsible for every drop of blood shed
  • I've just been speaking to our Middle East correspondent Patrick Martin, who is in our Toronto office. He's going to be speaking to some of his contacts in the region and hopefully we can get some updates via him.
  • I've posted below the four key names of Assad inner circle officials either killed or injured in today's blast. Here is fifth (and there may be more) - this comes via a tweet by CNN journalist Ivan Watson (@IvanCNN):

    Hassan Turkumani, President Bashar al Assad's security advisor, also among those killed in Damascus Blast:‪#Syria‬ State TV
  • We know the most powerful man in Syria: President Bashar Assad.

    The second most powerful man is his younger brother Maher al-Assad, who commands the main loyalist strike forces. There is no indication yet that he was inside the National Security building in Damascus. But he is someone on the Free Syrian Army's hit list.
  • This photo really captures how close the Syrian opposition has struck to heart of the Assad regime.

    Assef Shawkat, who was killed today, was married to Bashar Assad's sister.

    In this June 13, 2000 file photo, Syrian President Bashar Assad, right (in sunglasses), his brother Maher, center (in sunglasses), and brother-in-law Major General Assef Shawkat, left (in sunglasses), stand during the funeral of late president Hafez Assad in Damascus, Syria. Syria's state-run TV says President Bashar Assad's brother-in-law is among the dead in a suicide bombing in Damascus. Gen. Assef Shawkat was the deputy defense minister in Syria. AP

  • The Syrian uprising started in March 2011 and the 16-month conflict has resulted in more than 10,000 people being killed, according to the United Nations. Syrian opposition says the death toll is actually more than 17,000.
  • When we started this live blog we were reporting two members of Assad's inner circle as being killed in today's suicide attack in Damascus. We can add a third:

    An authority with direct knowledge of the situation says Hassan Turkmani, a former Syrian defence minister, has died in a bombing in Damascus. (via Associated Press)
  • All eyes are on Damascus today, but Reuters has just moved this picture from the city of Homs: A building burns after shelling at Al-Ghouta in Homs city July 18, 2012.

  • One again, the death toll could be climbing: a report is moving that a fourth member of Assad's inner circle was killed in today's attack. We're just looking in to that report.
  • This from a CNN journalist ‏@RAGreeneCNN:

    BREAKING: #Syria state TV now confirms Interior Minister WAS killed in #Damascus bomb targeting #Assad inner circle. TV earlier denied it
  • Very interesting tweet via Guardian newspaper journalist Brian Whitaker (@Brian_Whit) quoting the Free Syrian Army (FSA):

    "Syria -- FSA saying Damascus explosion was remote controlled, not suicide bomb"
  • When we started this blog - several news organizations were describing a suicide bomber - possibly a bodyguard to one of the ministers being responsible for the attack.

    The situation is still very murky - but now there is talk of a "remote controlled" bomb being involved.
  • In this image made from amateur video released by the Shaam News Network and accessed Wednesday, July 18, 2012, Syrians celebrate after hearing about the suicide attack that hit the National Security building in Idlib, north Syria. A bomb ripped through a high-level security meeting Wednesday in Damascus, killing the defense minister as well as President Bashar Assad's brother-in-law in the harshest blow to the government's inner circle in the 16-month uprising. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

  • Some interesting analysis on how today's events in Damascus will be viewed in New York as the United Nations Security Council is set to meet. This come via the blog UN Dispatch and writer Mark Goldberg:

    These developments in Damascus come as the Security Council has been mired in tense and intense negotiations back in New York. The mandate for the UN monitoring mission in Syria (UNSMIS) is set to expire on Friday. If it is not extended before then, the remaning military observers will have to leave Syria. There is a very real time pressure to get a resolution passed.

    So far, the western members of the Security Council have been pushing to include sanctions provision in a resolution to extend the UNSMIS mandate. Russia has been adamently opposed, and has drafted a more gentle security council that simply extends UNSMIS mandate by 3 months and makes no mention of sanctions. Meanwhile, Kofi Annan is on a flight to New York from Moscow where he met with Vladimir Putin yesterday, so there may even be some changes in Russia’s position that we don’t yet know.

    The rest of the blog can be read here: ht.ly
  • Here is a quick summary of senior Assad regime figure either killed or injured in today's suicide attack inside the National Security building in Damascus today:

    Defence Minister Dawoud Rajha (killed)

    President Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat (killed)

    Hisham Ikhtiar - director of the National Security Bureau (injured)

    Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar (killed)

    Hassan Turkmani, former defence minister and head of crisis cell (killed)
  • Suicide attack or remote controlled device? When we started this live blog it was widely rumored that a suicide bomber had struck inside the building. Now, other reports emerging - this tweet from CNN's Arwa Damon (@arwaCNN):

    "free #syria army says attack was explosive device planted inside meeting room & triggered w/remote control"
  • One of the questions is how will today's events alter the dynamics of the Syrian conflict - will it force the Assad regime to entrench or will it lead to mass defections of soldiers and senior figures?

    The following tweet cannot be verified by the Globe and Mail but it does come from a well-known democracy activist Alexander Page (@AlexanderPageSY):

    "BREAKING & CONFIRMED: defection of #Damascus military security official with control of 120 military tanks #Syria"

    Similar reports of defections are being reported on Twitter. Again, very hard to confirm.
  • The Globe's Middle East Correspondent Patrick Martin give his 90 second video take on the dramatic events in Syria. He argues that the Syrian regime is unlikely to back down. Be sure to have a look: www.theglobeandmail.com
  • We are wrapping up the blog for now.

    Thanks so much for joining us in this live blog of dramatic events in Syria today - widely seen as a turning point in the conflict, as anti-Assad forces strike at the heart of the regime. Follow www.theglobeandmail.com for latest updates and answers to some of these key questions:

    What is the final count on the number of Assad inner circle officials killed today - and how exactly were they killed?

    Will the attacks entrench the Assad regime or lead to defections?

    Will the fighting in Damascus - ongoing since Sunday - now escalate, with Syrian rebels emboldened by today's attack?

    With events fast-moving on the ground in Syria, can United Nations diplomacy keep up?

    Thanks again!
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