A bombing in the Syrian capital Damascus on Wednesday that killed several top officials has been hailed as a turning point by opponents of the ruling regime. Two organizations have claimed responsibility for the attack.
The bombing, which struck at the heart of Syria’s security apparatus, killing three senior figures, prompted the White House to claim that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad was "losing control."
White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said "increasing" defections" and a "strengthened and more united" opposition did not bode well for al-Assad.
Defense Minister General Daoud Rajha and Assef Shawkat, President Bashar Assad's brother-in-law, were among those killed, according to Syrian state television, which reported the attack as a "terrorist bombing." General Hassan Turkmani, the head of the crisis cell, also died in the attack.
'Severe blow' to regime
Syrian army defectors and rebel commanders in Turkey predicted that the bombing at the National Security headquarters in central Damascus would hasten the end of the regime, the news agency Reuters reported.
“The strength of the regime no longer matters when it faces the will of a people against soldiers who have lost their will to fight and when a soldier knows he is fighting his own people," Brigadier Fayez Amr, a senior member of the Joint Leadership of the Higher Council, a defectors’ group, told the agency. “Victory is closer than ever now."
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights called Shawkat's death "a severe blow to the Syrian regime since he played the main role in operations by regular forces to crush the revolution," notably in flashpoint Homs province.
Assad appointed General Fahd al-Freij as new defense minister, state media said. Former army chief al-Freij promptly appeared on television vowing to "hunt down criminal gangs and cut off the hand of those who threaten security."
'Volcano has started'
Liwa al-Islam, an Islamist rebel group, whose name means "The Bridge of Islam," said in a statement on its Facebook page: "We happily inform the people of Syria and especially the people of the capital that the National Security Bureau, which includes what is called the crisis management cell, has been targeted with an explosive device by the Sayyed al-Shuhada brigade of Liwa al-Islam."
"Several regime pillars have been killed," the statement added.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) also claimed to have carried out the attack, according to group spokesperson Qassim Saadedine.
"This is the volcano we talked about, we have just started," he said.
The UN Security Council is due to debate a fresh resolution on Syria later on Wednesday.
jlw/tj (Reuters, AFP, dapd)