No sign of Assad after bomb kills kin, rebels close in

Wed Jul 18, 2012 6:37pm EDT
 

By Mariam Karouny and Oliver Holmes

BEIRUT/AMMAN (Reuters) - Mystery surrounded the whereabouts of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday, a day after a bomber killed and wounded his security chiefs and rebels closed in on the centre of Damascus, vowing to "liberate" the capital.

The Syrian leader made no public appearance and no statement on Wednesday after a bomber killed his powerful brother-in-law, his defense minister and a top general.

By the early hours of Thursday morning, residents had reported no let-up in the heaviest fighting to hit the capital in a 16-month revolt against Assad's rule.

Fighting on Wednesday had come to within sight of the presidential palace, near the security headquarters where the bomber struck a crisis meeting of defense and security chiefs.

Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, who served as a top commander and one of the pillars of the Assad clan's rule, was killed in the blast along with Defense Minister Daoud Rajha.

Another senior general also was killed and the heads of intelligence and the Interior Ministry were wounded, deeply damaging the security apparatus of the Assad family, which has ruled the country with an iron fist for four decades.

Intense clashes were reported late on Wednesday in the capital's central districts of Mezze and Kafar Souseh, while a police station in the Hajar al-Aswad district was in flames.

The army was shelling its own capital from the surrounding mountains as night fell. Government troops, having vowed retaliation on Wednesday for the assassination, fired machineguns into the city from helicopters.   Continued...

 
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (C) stands with leaders of the army, including Fahad Jassim al-Freij (front L) and Daoud Rajha (front R) at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in a ceremony to mark the 38th anniversary of the 1973 October War with Israel, in Damascus in this October 6, 2011 file handout photo released to Reuters on July 18, 2012. REUTERS/Sana/Handout/Files