Wednesday 21 February 2018

Video: Syria 'spinning out of control' as suicide bomb kills Assad’s brother-in-law

Syria's Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Dawoud Rajha was killed by a bomb which exploded during a meeting of ministers and security officials at a national security building in Damascus
Syria's Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Dawoud Rajha was killed by a bomb which exploded during a meeting of ministers and security officials at a national security building in Damascus
Assef Shawkat, brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He was also killed in the blast
Tanks on the streets of Damascus
Tanks on the streets of Damascus

Alan Martin

A suicide bombing killed members of President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle in Syria today, sparking calls for tougher UN action amid US warnings the country was "spinning out of control".

The attack that killed Syria's defence minister and Assad's brother-in-law will weaken morale and might accelerate high-level defections, but does not signal the president's imminent downfall, analysts said.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said the situation in Syria appeared to be "spinning out of control," as he renewed calls for increased global pressure on Assad to step down.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned the suicide attack, and said it "confirms the urgent need for a Chapter 7 resolution of the UN Security Council on Syria".

Chapter 7 allows the 15-member council to authorise actions ranging from diplomatic and economic sanctions to military intervention.

"The situation in Syria is clearly deteriorating. All the members of the U.N. Security Council have a responsibility to put their weight behind the enforcement of Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan's plan to end the violence," Hague said.

State TV said President Assad's brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, and Gen Dawoud Rajha, the defence minister were victims of a blast during a high-level security meeting. The Interior minister was also injured.

General Shawkat was the deputy defence minister and was among the most feared figures in Assad's inner circle. He was married to Assad's elder sister, Bushra.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the bombing "shows us that it is high time to ratify the next U.N. resolution."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Paris would push for the resolution. "Given this degree of violence, it means that it is necessary and urgent to find a political transition that allows the Syrian people to have a government that expresses its aspirations."

But, with four straight days of fighting in Damascus - some within sight of the presidential palace today - Moscow said the draft resolution would worsen the violence.

"A decisive battle is under way in Syria," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. "It is a dead end policy to support the opposition. Assad will not go on his own and our Western partners don't know what to do about that."

Analyst Gala Riani said the suicide bombing was "in some ways the most successful direct attack on the regime we've had so far."

"I think the next few days are going to be crucial in signalling where the conflict goes from here," said Riani, a Middle East analyst at the Control Risks consultancy.

"At the very least, we can expect the situation to continue to deteriorate. But I think it will take more than this to take the Assad regime down."

The brazen attack at a meeting of top security officials and ministers in the heart of Damascus will send a message to the top of the Syrian government that they are vulnerable.

"It sends a stark message that individual ministers are not safe and is likely to accelerate the erosion of the regime's support base," said Anthony Skinner, head of Middle East consultancy Maplecroft.

The bombing, claimed by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and also by Islamist group Liwa al-Islam, does not alter the fact that the rebels remain hugely outgunned by Assad's forces.

"These are very significant developments, but I believe the offensive will be repelled," Skinner said. "Psychologically, though, this will likely give the FSA a significant boost and may also precipitate more defections at a senior level."


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