REUTERS, BBC, AL ARABIYA, THE GUARDIAN
DAMASCUS - Syrian State television is reporting that Syria's Defense Minister Gen. Dawoud Rajha and intelligence chief Assef Shawkat were killed in a bombing at the National Security Bureau in Damascus on Thursday. Other ministers and officials were hurt and were brought to the capital's al-Shami hospital, including the Interior Minister who is reportedly in stable condition.
There are still conflicting reports about who is responsible for the bombing, and who was killed. It is still unclear whether the bombing was a suicide attack, but the scope and precision of the attack suggest an inside job.
UPDATE: Syrian defense minister's bodyguard said to be the suicide bomber, according to SANA. Minister killed in blast.— Andrew Chappelle (@andrewchappelle) July 18, 2012
Assef Shawkat, brother-in-law of Syrian President Assad, killed in bomb attack - Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV. Reuters.com for updates.— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) July 18, 2012
"A suicide attack has targeted the National Security building," said State television according to Al Arabiya, adding that "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 bombing area was sealed and journalists were banned from entering.
Liwa Al-Islam, a Syrian rebel Islamist group, claims responsibility for Damascus explosion - Facebook statement.— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) July 18, 2012
The Guardian reports that the Defense Minister was a 65-year-old Greek Orthodox Christian from Damascus who was appointed to the post last August, having previously served as the army's chief of staff. The Guardian also quoted a Reuters article that described Gen. Rajha as a member of President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle. Shawkat, the head of the nation's intelligence services, is President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law.
The attack comes amid continuing violent clashes between security and rebel forces in Damascus and intense diplomatic negotiations to sway Russia and China to back harsher sanctions, according to the BBC. Western countries are pushing a draft resolution that gives the regime 10 days to withdraw heavy weapons from cities and return troops to barracks.