Syria bombing: Security chief becomes fourth Assad aide to die
A FOURTH member of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle died on Friday from the bomb attack this week that claimed the lives of three ministers including the president's brother-in-law.
Syrian state television said a funeral ceremony for the defence 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.
As refugees flooded across Syria's borders and UN 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 in a 'dignified manner'.
Syrian state television flashed a government statement soon afterwards saying the comments were "completely devoid of truth".
Mr Assad not spoken since Wednesday's attack on a meeting of his high command and only appeared on Thursday to appoint a new defence minister to replace one of the assassinated men.
The fighting continued early on Friday, with at least three people were killed when Syrian army helicopters fired rockets at the southeastern Damascus neighbourhood of Saida Zeinab, opposition activists said.
"One rocket hit a three story building. I got through to my relatives in Saida Zainab and could hear the sound of the bombardment on the phone," Reem, one of the activists, told Reuters by telephone from Damascus.
The civil war escalated dramatically in the past week as rebels closed in on the capital Damascus and launched their most serious blow yet on Assad's inner circle, killing three top aides in an assassination.
Syrian activists say 310 people were killed across the country on Thursday in what was the single deadliest day of fighting since the beginning of the 17-month revolt against the regime.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that at least 93 of those killed on Thursday were government troops.
The Local Coordination Committees, which documents civilian deaths, said 217 civilians were killed.
Death tolls are difficult to verify in tightly controlled Syria which places severe restrictions on journalists.
Early on Friday Syrian TV said troops recovered control of the rebellious neighborhood Midan in the capital.
"Our brave army forces have completely cleaned the area of Midan in Damascus of the remaining mercenary terrorists and have reestablished security," the broadcaster said.
Damascus activist Khaled al-Shami, contacted by the Associated Press via the Internet, said rebels carried out a "tactical" retreat early Friday to spare civilians further shelling after five days of intense clashes between opposition fighters and regime forces.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights however said that fighting was still continuing.
The attack came after a night of fighting in several other districts across the capital, the Observatory said.
The diplomatic bickering meanwhile continued, after Russia and China blocked a United Nations resolution threatening wide-ranging sanctions against the regime.
Russia and the West are struggling to agree even on the extension of the UN military observer mission mandate, which expires today.
Russia said it backed an unconditional 45-day extension proposed by Pakistan, while Britain wants to extend for only 30 days for a final time.