May 21, 2013
Syrian defence minister killed in bomb attack
Syria's defence minister was killed in a bomb attack on a high level security meeting in Damascus today, state television said, as the revolt against Bashar al-Assad struck at the heart of the president's inner circle.
Defense Minister Daoud Rajha was killed in what was described as a "terrorist bombing" by state television.
Lebanon-based news channel al-Maydeen said several senior security officials had been killed in the attack while battles raged within sight of Assad's presidential palace.
Republican Guard troops sealed off the Shami hospital near the sign of the explosion in northern Damascus, indicating senior officials were among the wounded, activists contacted by telephone had said.
"The terrorist explosion which targeted the national security building in Damascus occurred during a meeting of ministers and a number of heads of (security) agencies," the television said.
The start of a fourth day of fighting in the capital early on Wednesday had already brought the 16-month-old revolt close to the center of power.
An army barracks near the "palace of the people", a huge Soviet-tile complex overlooking the sprawling capital from the western district of Dummar, came under rebel fire around 7.30 am (0030 EDT), activists and a resident said.
"I could hear the sound of small arms fire and explosions are getting louder and louder from the direction of the barracks," Yasmine, who works as an architect, said by telephone from Dummar.
Video footage broadcast by activists appeared to show fire in the barracks overnight as a result of an attack by mortar rounds, but residents who saw the fire said they had not heard explosions to indicate it was a result of an attack.
Dummar is a secure area containing many auxiliary installations for the presidential palace and the barracks is just hundreds of meters from the palace itself.
Fighting also erupted overnight in the southern neighborhoods of Asali and Qadam, and Hajar al-Aswad and Tadamun - mainly Sunni Muslim districts housing Damascenes and Palestinian refugees.
Assad and the ruling elite belong to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has dominated power in Syria since a 1963 coup.
It has endured more than a year of rebellion but recent high level defections signaled support beginning to fall away.
Two Syrian brigadier-generals were among some 600 Syrians who fled from Syria to Turkey overnight, a Turkish official said on Wednesday, bringing the number of Syrian generals sheltering in Turkey to 20, including a retired general.
The official could not immediately confirm if other defected officers had also arrived in Turkey in the last 24 hours but said a number of lower-ranking soldiers usually accompanied defecting generals.