In a tremendous blow to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, a suicide bomber struck a national security meeting in the Syrian capital today, killing Assad's brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, and Syrian Defense Minister Dawoud Rajiha, two of the highest-ranking members of the regime. A third member of the team, a top ranking general, also died from his wounds. Read below for earlier updates
Update (8:30 a.m.): Several Syrian rebel groups have claimed responsibility for the attack, but one says it was not a suicide bomb. They say the explosives were planted in room ahead of the meeting.
Update (7:28 a.m.): Syrian state TV confirms that Assad's brother-in-law, Shawkat, was killed in the bombing, according to Reuters. There also questions about whether the attacker blew himself up or planted the bomb and also began shooting. In any event, the attack appears to be the work of an insider and an ominous threat to anyone else in the regime.
Update (6:56 a.m.): Hezbollah's al-Manar television in Lebanon is reporting that Shawkat has died as well.
Update: Syrian state TV has reported that the Syrian defense minister, General Dawoud Rajiha, was killed today after a suicide bomber struck a government building. The Interior Minister & intelligence chief were also injured, according to Al Jazeera.
A suicide bomber has reportedly struck a national security building in the Syrian capital, as the Free Syrian Army's major offensive to "liberate" Damascus has extended into a third day. The government dismissed the idea that rebels had made a major push into the heart of the city, but numerous witness accounts report heavy fighting moving through the suburbs and closer to the heart of the regime. Reuters reported on Wednesday morning that fighting has taken place at an army barracks 'within sight" of the presidential palace.
The bombing, which was reported by Syria's state TV, apparently targeted a building where top security officials were holding a meeting and there are reports of serious injuries to the Syrian defense minister. It also comes the day after a top Syrian defector claimed that Bashar Al-Assad's regime has been working with members of Al-Qaeda to orchestrate bombings around the country, so there many be continued questions about who is truly responsible.
In either case, it seems that after months of being slaughtered is smaller cities around the nation, rebels are finally making a concerted effort to attack the government directly — and it seems to be having an effect. After nearly four straight days of guerrilla attacks in Damascus suburbs (while also holding off tanks and helicopter gunships) the fighting has only gotten worse. Combined with continued reports of Syrian generals defecting to Turkey, it could be a sign that the military resistance is weakening and the rebels are actually making ground. Some activists even claim that government's response, including shelling Sunni neighborhoods in Damascus itself, has finally led many holdouts in the capital to join the revolt.
Since it has become painfully obvious that an international military response is not coming, the rebels have stepped up the fight themselves. Could this truly be the beginning of the end for the Assad regime? Or is the government still too entrenched and rebels stretched too thin do real damage? The "Battle for Damascus" can't continue much longer without getting some more definite answers.