Bashar al-Assad's regime has been hit by a suicide bomb that has killed three senior officials, and left more injured. Image courtesy of the Kremlin Presidential Press and Information Office.
A suicide bomb blast in the Syrian capital of Damascus has claimed the lives of four senior officials within President Assad's regime. The nation's defence minister general Daoud Rajiha, vice assistant vice president Hassan Turkmani, and Assef Shawkat, the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Syrian interior minister Mohammad Shaar, who was previously confirmed to have been injured in the blast, has also died of his injuries according to reports on Syrian state television. Further rumours allege that President Assad's maternal cousin Hafez Makhlouf was also killed, although these reports remain uncorroborated.
Two groups have claimed responsbility for the attack, with Islamist rebel group Liwa al-Islam and the Free Syria Army (FSA) vying to claim the attack as their own. FSA spokesman Qassim Saadedine referred to the alleged 'Operation Volcano'. "This is the volcano we talked about, we have just started," he said.
Other officials were wounded in the attack, including intelligence chief Hisham Bekhtyar. The Syrian government has subsequently vowed to retaliate for the attack, stating it to be "more determined than ever to confront all forms of terrorism and chop any hand that harms national security."
Ministers and security leaders were inside the building for a meeting when the explosion happened. Security sources have claimed that the suspected suicide bomber was working as a bodyguard for members of President Assad's inner circle.
Free Syria Army launches 'Operation Volcano'
The incident has taken place during an escalation of fighting within the capital, as the Free Syria Army launches a series of attacks it has labelled 'Operation Volcano'.
In retaliation, Syrian state television has announced that the regime is to announce a call-up of reservists
Further developments have also been reported, with explosions said to have occured within Syria's 4th Division base in Damascus. 4th Division, Syria's strongest and only mechanized infantry division, is an elite unit commanded by President Assad's brother Maher. Syria's 4th Division is tasked with the defence of the Assad regime, and boasts T-72 tanks and Hind-D attack helicopters in its arsenal.
There were initial reports of a military barracks located close to the Presidential Palace being ablaze, while rebels are also claimed to have shot down a military helicopter.
The website of the government news agency Sana remains offline, having been brought down by a cyber-attack.
Recent violence is likely to have a significant influence on talks between UN chiefs and Chinese and Russian delegates, with the UN Security Council pushing for tighter sanctions on the nation as there appears to be no end in sight for the fighting.
President Assad has moved quickly to replace Rajiha, with reports alleging that army chief of staff Fahed al-Jasem al-Freij is to be named as the new defence minister.
This story will continue to be updated as further details are announced.
A suicide bomb attack claiming the lives of four senior officials within Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime has reinforced the need to resolve a conflict that is increasingly spiralling out of control. Liam Stoker reports the international response from US defense secretary Leon Panetta, UK foreign secretary William Hague and Russia's deputy ambassador to the UN Alexander Parkin.