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Wednesday, Sep 24 , 2014 ( Thul-Qedah, 1435)

Updated:10:00 PM GMT

Top Syria Ministers Killed, Assad Helpless

OnIslam & News Agencies
Syria defense minister
Syria's Defense Minister Daoud Rajha and Assad’s brother-in-law Assef Shawkat were killed in an attack on the national security building in Damascus
Syria, attack, defense minister

DAMASCUS – Syria’s defense minister and President Bashar Al-Assad’s brother-in-law were killed Wednesday, July 18, in a suicide bombing attack in Damascus, in the deadliest blow to the Syrian regime in a 16-month revolution.

"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," Syria’s state television said.

The television said Defense Minister Daoud Rajha and Assad’s brother-in-law Assef Shawkat were killed in the attack.

A security source told Reuters that Intelligence chief Hisham Bekhtyar was also wounded in the attack.

State television said Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar had also been wounded in the blast.

Republican Guard troops had sealed off the Shami hospital near the site of the explosion, indicating senior officials were among the wounded, activists contacted by telephone had said.

The bomber is believed to be a bodyguard assigned to Assad's inner circle.

Those killed and wounded in the attack form the core of a military crisis unit led by Assad to take charge of crushing the revolt against his regime.

Bashar has not appeared since the attack or made any statement, but sources with knowledge of the situation said the president was not at the meeting where the attack took place.

The attack took place on a fourth day of fighting in the capital Damascus, where opposition fighters from outside the city have brought the fight to end four decades of rule by the Assad family close to the power base of the ruling elite for the first time.

Republican Guard troops had sealed off the Shami hospital near the site of the explosion, indicating senior officials were among the wounded, activists contacted by telephone had said.

The start of a fourth day of fighting in the capital early on Wednesday had already brought the 16-month-old revolt close to the center of power.

Protests broke out across Syria last year for an end to Assad’s 11-year rule, inspired by revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, which ousted their autocratic leaders.

More than 20,000 people have been killed by Assad’s security forces in a bloody crackdown against anti-regime protests.

Helpless Assad

The new turn in the Syrian revolution has left the Assad’s family that ruled the pivotal Arab country for four decades struggling for its life for the first time.

"Even those who love him feel he can no longer provide security," Ayman Abdel-Nour, an adviser to Assad until 2007 and now an opposition figure, told Reuters.

"They think he is useless and living in a cocoon."

Assad, who inherited power from his father Hafez Al-Assad, is surrounded by a tight circle of family and clan members and a security establishment staffed mainly by adherents of the Alawite minority to which the Assads belong.

"He (Assad) thinks of himself as God's messenger to rule Syria,” Abdel-Nour said.

“He listens to the sycophants around him who tell him 'you are a gift from God'. He believes that he is right and that whoever contradicts him is a traitor.

“Many of his close friends and advisers have either left him or distanced themselves from him."

In response, Assad has taken charge of a military crisis unit and takes all the daily decisions, from the deployment of army units to tasks assigned to the security services, as well as mobilization of the Alawite Shabbiha, the feared militia accused of a series of massacres in the past two months.

"Bashar remains the center. He is involved in the day-to-day details of managing the crisis," a Lebanese politician close to the Syrian rulers, told Reuters.

"He set up an elite unit led by him to manage the crisis daily."

In this unit, intelligence chief Hisham Bekhtyar is responsible for security coordination, Dawoud Rajha is minister of defense, Assef Shawkat is deputy chief of staff of the armed forces.

Alongside them are Ali Mamlouk, special adviser on security, Abdel-Fattah Qudsiyeh, head of military intelligence, and Mohammad Nassif Kheyrbek, a veteran operator from the era of Assad's father.

Maher al-Assad, the president's younger brother and Syria's second most powerful man, commands the main loyalist strike forces.

But Abdel-Nour, the former Assad adviser, paints a darker picture of the inner circle.

He stresses that there is nothing autonomous about the way government units operate, whether the shelling of opposition neighborhoods by Maher's armored columns or the killing of villagers by the Shabbiha militia. All units are under Bashar's command and many have family ties.

Each region has its own Shabbiha leader and many of the central cities are led by Shabbiha men related to Assad.

"Assad is a front man for a big security establishment of 300,000 regular army. He has a small clique that supplies him with information,” said Patrick Seale, biographer of Assad's father.

"They might still mount a coup against him and that remains his big threat."

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