DOHA, Qatar, Jul 18 (IPS) - (Al Jazeera) - Syria’s defence minister and interior minister are among those who were killed after a suicide bomber struck the National Security building in Damascus during a meeting of cabinet ministers and senior security officials, state media reported.
Defence minister General Rajha and his deputy Assef Shawkat – the brother-in-law of President Bashar al-Assad – were killed on Wednesday in the deadliest assault on government officials since the violence began 16 months ago.
Also killed were Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar and General Hassan Turkmani, a former defence minister and currently Syria’s deputy vice president, who later died of his injuries, The head of the national security office Hisham Bekhtyar were among those seriously wounded in the bombing, state television said.
The attack took place as government ministers and a number of security officials were meeting at the building in the district of Rawda, according to state TV.
Fahad Jassim al Feraj has been named new defence minister, state TV said. Liwa al-Islam, an Islamist rebel group whose name means “The Brigade of Islam”, claimed responsibility for the blast.
It said in a statement on its Facebook page that it “targeted the cell called the crisis control room in the capital of Damascus”. A spokesman for the group confirmed the claim by telephone. The attack was also claimed by the Free Syrian Army.
“This is the volcano we talked about, we have just started,” spokesman Qassim Saadedine said. Five explosions were also heard on Wednesday near the northwestern Damascus district of Muhajireen, close to the base of the Fourth Armoured Division that is led by al-Assad’s brother Maher, residents said.
It was not clear whether those forces were being targeted. Syria’s information minister denied on state television that any explosion had occurred at the base. Rajha, 65, is the most senior government official to be killed in the Syrian civil war as rebels battle to oust Assad.
A former army general, Rajha was the most senior Christian government official in Syria. Assad appointed him to the post last year. Syrian state TV said that several other participants in a top-level meeting who were wounded in the blast had been rushed to Al-Shami hospital in the capital.
© Inter Press Service (2012) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service
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