Syrian forces stretched, intelligence chief dies

Oliver Holmes – Reuters July 20,2012

A fourth member of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle died on Friday from a bomb attack this week and his forces fought to recapture border posts and parts of Damascus from rebels who have converged on the capital.

As refugees flooded across Syria’s borders and U.N. officials said they had heard banks in Damascus had run out of cash, Russia’s envoy to Paris added to a sense Assad’s days were numbered by saying he had accepted he would have to leave power.

Syrian state television flashed a government statement soon afterwards saying the comments were “completely devoid of truth”.

Assad has not spoken since Wednesday’s attack on a meeting of his high command and only appeared on Thursday to appoint a new defense minister to replace one of the assassinated men.

Syrian state television said a funeral ceremony for the defense minister, his deputy – Assad’s brother-in-law – and a senior general was being held on Friday in Damascus.

It said later Syria’s intelligence chief Hisham Bekhtyar had died on Friday morning of wounds sustained in the same attack.

Clashes continued in Damascus for a sixth day and at least three people were killed when Syrian army helicopters fired rockets at the southeastern neighborhood of Saida Zeinab, opposition activists said.

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