Four key Syrian military officials including Defense Minister Gen. Daoud Rajha and Assad’s brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, who served as his deputy, were killed at the top-level meeting in central Damascus.
Syrian General Hassan Turkmani – a former defense minister and senior military official – and Interior Minister Mohammad al-Shaar have died from wounds sustained in the blast.
Another prominent governmental figure targeted by the attack is Syrian intelligence chief Hisham Bekhtyar. Bekhtyar is currently undergoing surgery for injuries sustained in the blast, a security source told Reuters.
A number of attendees received serious injuries, and some of them remain in critical condition, the agency reported.
It has been confirmed by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups inside Damascus that Maher al-Assad, the president’s younger brother and the commander of the Army’s elite Fourth Armored Division, was also injured.
The “confirmed” information the FSA claims they received suggests that he is most likely being treated by his personal medical team at the Presidential palace or at a secret location.
“We have been able to hear the sound of this explosion and we have to admit that is was a very intense and massive blast,” RT’s Maria Finoshina reported from Damascus.
She said the blast occurred in a traditionally safe and calm upscale region where many government buildings are located.
“So of course security has been very tight, specifically in this area,” Finoshina says.
There have also been multiple reports saying more explosions have been heard at an army base in Damascus.
Reuters has reported about five blasts close to the military base.
However, there have not been any official comments confirming the latest information.
The bomber who detonated the explosive worked as a bodyguard for President Bashar Assad’s inner circle, the news agency cites its sources as saying.
It also cites a Facebook statement by Liwa Al-Islam, a Syrian rebel Islamist group which has claimed responsibility for the attack. The Free Syrian Army also claimed responsibility for the attack, according to spokesman Qassim Saadedine.
A rebel commander identified as Riyad al-Assad says the bomb was planted inside a room where senior government officials were meeting. However, he denied information which suggested the deadly blast was a suicide bombing.
The Syrian government put the blame for the “terrorist bomb attack” on “hired hands” and pledged to pursue perpetrators and wipe out “criminal gangs,” state TV reported.
A meeting of Syrian ministers and security officials was taking place on the premises at the time of the blast. Several top Syrian officials have been badly wounded by the bombing. The area around the national security building in Rawda district has been cordoned off.
Damascus has already appointed a new defense minister, state TV reports. Gen Fahad Jassim al-Freij, who was previously the chief of staff of the armed forces, will now take the top cabinet post.
It is the highest-profile killing of a Syrian official during the 17-month-long conflict in the country. Earlier lower-ranking officials and military officers had reportedly been killed or abducted by the armed opposition.
The attack comes amid a major armed opposition offensive in the city. The fourth day of fighting has seen gunfights erupting within sight of Bashar Assad’s presidential palace.
The violence comes ahead of a UN Security Council session which is tasked with deciding whether to prolong an observer mission in Syria before it expires on Friday. All members agree that the mission should continue its work, but differ on the wording of a resolution which would allow it happen.
Following the killing of the Syrian officials, international envoy Kofi Annan asked to postpone voting on a UN-backed Syria resolution, which had been scheduled for Wednesday.
Moscow has noticed a “dangerous pattern”, whereby discussions over a resolution of the Syrian conflict in the United Nations Security Council are met with ramped up operations on the part of militants.
“A dangerous pattern [has emerged]: when the UN Security Council debates resolving the crisis in Syria, militants launch attacks, tearing down all attempts [at a peaceful settlement],”
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov posted on Twitter.
Russia and China propose a neutral resolution calling on a cessation of all hostilities. Western members have called for a stronger document which would open the way for sanctions or even military action against the Syrian government if it fails to stop using heavy weapons against the rebels and withdrawal its troops from the streets.