John McCain Germ Rebel Terrorist Suicide Bomber kills Patriotic Syrian Defence Minister
Syria conflict: ‘Suicide bomb’ kills defence minister
Gen Rajiha was attending a ministerial meeting
18 July 2012 Last updated at 12:16
Syrian Defence Minister Daoud Rajiha has been killed in a suspected suicide bombing at the national security headquarters in the capital Damascus, Syrian state TV says.
The deputy head of the armed forces, President Assad’s brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, is also reported to have died.
Other senior officials meeting inside at the time are said to be critically hurt.
The attack comes amid claims of a major rebel offensive on the city.
Syrian officials have downplayed the attacks.
“The Minister of Defence was martyred by the terrorist bombing that targeted the national security building,” the TV report said.
Security sources say the suspected bomber worked as a bodyguard for members of President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle.
Gen Rajiha has been defence minister for less than a year, serving previously as chief of staff, and is on a US blacklist for his role in the suppression of dissent.
He is believed to be an Orthodox Christian – a rarity in the Alawite-dominated Syrian military and government.
The attack comes as UN chiefs have been trying to persuade China and Russia to agree tougher measures on Syria, ahead of a Security Council vote on Wednesday on imposing sanctions.
UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met Chinese leader Hu Jintao in Beijing.
The UN has until Friday to renew the mandate for observers in Syria, although a vote is expected in New York on Wednesday afternoon.
Western nations want a new resolution threatening measures short of the use of force.
The Western-backed draft resolution to be discussed gives the Syrian government 10 days to withdraw heavy weapons from cities and return troops to barracks, otherwise a further resolution on sanctions will be submitted to the Security Council.
But the BBC’s Jim Muir in neighbouring Lebanon says that with Russia resisting all efforts to persuade it to take a tougher line with Syria, there is virtually no hope of concerted international action to pull the country back from the brink.
In other developments:
Turkish officials report two Syrian generals are among hundreds of refugees who fled into Turkey overnight, bringing the total number of fleeing generals to 20
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to discuss the Syrian crisis with Russian President Vladimir Putin
Iraq warns its citizens to flee the violence, hours after the bodies of two killed journalists were handed over by the Syrian authorities
Annan expressed hopes that the UN Security Council could “move forward” on Syria
The area around the national security building, in Rawda district, has been sealed off.
Witnesses at the site of the bombing said the area had been cordoned off and journalists were banned from approaching.
“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 TV said.
Earlier activists reported more clashes during the night in several areas around the south-west of Damascus.
They said the government had brought more troops and armour into some districts, and that several people had been killed in clashes and bombardments.
A rebel spokeswoman, Susan Ahmad, told the BBC the entrances to Damascus were closed in the morning.
“We heard the sounds of explosions every now and then all around Damascus,” she said.
“Now tanks are storming into al-Qaboun [district], shelling everything, shelling residential houses, shooting every moving thing and they are trying to arrest people and kill.
“People are trying to run away and get out of al-Qaboun.”
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Annan’s six-point peace plan
1. Syrian-led political process to address the aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people
2. UN-supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians
3. All parties to ensure provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and implement a daily two-hour humanitarian pause
4. Authorities to intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons
5. Authorities to ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists
6. Authorities to respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully
Activists have also posted on the internet pictures of what they say is a barracks on the heights overlooking the city engulfed in flames.
They believed it had been hit by fire from Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels, and said the barracks is involved in providing security for the presidential palace complex below.
State media said security forces fought off attacks by small groups of armed terrorists in the city.
But the TV carried night-time footage of troops deployed in the Midan quarter, in some very tense and deserted streets.
The rebels have declared a final battle for the capital, calling it Operation Damascus Volcano, and have been fighting troops in several parts of Damascus for the past three days.
The fighting reached central areas on Tuesday, with gunfire and plumes of smoke reported in a street near parliament.
The Free Syrian Army said the operation was well planned, and they had sent hundreds of fighters to the capital last week to be in place for the assault.
The rebels and the government often publish contradictory accounts of the same incidents.
Western journalists are under heavy restrictions in Syria, making it difficult to verify the claims of either side.