July 18, 2012 (Reuters)
July 18, 2012 (Reuters)
A security source said the bomber who struck inside the security headquarters was a bodyguard entrusted with protecting the closest members of Assad’s circle. State television said it was a suicide bomber. Anti-Assad groups claimed responsibility.
Washington, which fears a spillover into neighbouring states, said the situation seemed to be spinning out of control. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said “the decisive fight” was under way in Damascus.
The U.N. Security Council put off a scheduled vote on a Syria resolution on Wednesday and U.S. President Barack Obama phoned Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Assad’s main world power protector, to try to persuade Moscow to drop support for him.
CORE OF CRISIS UNIT KILLED
The generals killed and wounded in Wednesday’s bombing form the core of Assad’s crisis unit to crush the revolt, which grew out of protests inspired by Arab Spring uprisings that unseated leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
The armed forces chief of staff, Fahad Jassim al-Freij, quickly took over as defence minister on Wednesday to avoid giving any impression of official paralysis.
“This cowardly terrorist act will not deter our men in the armed forces from continuing their sacred mission of pursuing the remnants of these armed terrorist criminal gangs,” Freij said on state television. “They will cut off every hand that tries to hurt the security of the nation or its citizens.”
The explosion appeared to be part of a coordinated assault on the capital that has escalated since the start of the week. Rebel fighters call it the “liberation of Damascus” after months of clashes which activists say have killed 17,000 people.
“This is the final phase. They will fall very soon,” Abdelbasset Seida, a leader of the opposition Syrian National Council, told Reuters in Qatar. “Today is a turning point in Syria’s history. It will put more pressure on the regime and bring an end very soon, within weeks or months.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said: “This is a situation that is rapidly spinning out of control.” He called for maximum global pressure on Assad to step down.
FEAR OF DESTABILISATION
Western leaders fear the conflict, which has been joined by al Qaeda-style jihadists, could destabilise Syria’s neighbours: Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.
Syrian forces hit rebel positions across the capital after the attack on the security meeting, with activists saying government troops and pro-government militia were flooding in.
State television broadcast footage it said was filmed on Wednesday showing men in blue army fatigues ducking for cover and firing – the first time official media has shown clashes in the heart of the capital.
Government troops used heavy machineguns and anti-aircraft guns against rebels in residential neighbourhoods, armed mostly with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades.
Rebels were jubilant at their success in penetrating into the capital and at the deaths of the security chiefs. Abdullah al-Shami, a rebel commander based in Turkey, said: “I expect a speedy collapse of the regime … and it means we will not be in need of outside intervention, with the regime beginning to crumble much faster than we envisaged.” Yet some opposition figures said victory would still not be easy.
“It is going to be difficult to sustain supply lines and the rebels may have to make a tactical withdrawal at one point, like they did in other cities,” veteran opposition activist Fawaz Tello said from Istanbul.
“But what is clear is that Damascus has joined the revolt.”