Damascus Blast Strikes at Assad’s Inner Circle

Voice of America – July 18, 2012

Syrian state television says a suicide bomber has struck the National Security building in Damascus, killing Defense Minister Daoud Rajha and Deputy Defense Minister Assef Shawkat, brother-in-law to President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian General Hassan Turkmani, a former defense minister, is also reported to have died of injuries sustained in Wednesday’s bombing.

​​The rebel Free Syrian Army has claimed responsibility for the attack, which seriously wounded several other officials participating in a high-level meeting. Reuters news agency is reporting that a second rebel group, Liwa al-Islam — whose name means “The Brigade of Islam” — is also claiming responsibility.

The Syrian military has vowed to “continue fighting terrorism” and has named Armed Forces Chief of Staff Fahed al- Jasem el-Freij as the new defense minister.

Soon after the blast, the Syrian government vowed to “continue fighting terrorism” and named armed forces chief of staff Fahed al-Jasem el-Freij as the new defense minister.

The attack came amid days of clashes between rebels and government troops in Damascus, the heaviest period of fighting in the capital since the revolt against Assad began 16 months ago.

World reaction

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the bombing indicates the situation in Syria is “deteriorating rapidly.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the attack shows there is an “urgent” need for a new United Nations resolution on Syria.

U.N. to debate Syria mission

The United Nations Security Council is expected to vote Wednesday on a resolution that would extend the U.N. observer mission in Syria.

The mission’s mandate expires Friday, and the Council has been divided about whether a new resolution should include a threat of sanctions against President Assad’s government.

Britain, France, Germany and the United States are pushing for a 45-day renewal of the mission in Syria along with a threat of sanctions.

Russia has promised to veto that version. Its proposal calls for a longer extension of the mission, but no sanctions.

China has backed Russia in blocking previous Western-backed resolutions calling for tough action on Syria.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met Wednesday with Chinese leaders in Beijing. He expressed hope that the Security Council will unite to help end the bloodshed in Syria and help the country’s people begin working toward a Syrian-led transition.

“[I am] deeply concerned and sometimes I cannot sleep when I think of so many people being killed every day, even today and yesterday, hundred and 200 people have been killed,” said Ban. “This must stop at any cost, so that Syrian people can commence immediately [a] dialogue for political resolution of this issue, reflecting the genuine aspiration and genuine needs of people.”

China’s official People’s Daily newspaper ran a commentary Tuesday rejecting foreign intervention in the Syrian crisis.

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