An Explosion in Damascus
"According to state television, the dead included the defense minister, Daoud Rajha; Asef Shawkat, the president’s brother-in-law who was the deputy chief of staff of the Syrian military; and Hassan Turkmani, a former minister of defense and military adviser to Vice President Farouk Sharaa.
"But the television report rejected claims by Arab satellite channels that the minister of the interior, Mohamed Sha’ar, also was killed, saying he was injured and in stable condition...
"The attack, after three days of fighting in the capital, seemed to heighten tensions between government soldiers and the opposition, with fierce clashes reported in several Damascus neighborhoods. There was also a rash of reported defections from the government side."This attack, which is being claimed by the Free Syrian Army, removed crucial personalities in a regime built largely off personal ties among the elite. It also sends a signal that the regime is vulnerable even in its innermost sanctums. As Paul Mutter suggests, the FSA must have had inside help to pull this off. Together with the spread of fighting to the Damascus suburbs, it shows that the rebels can succeed, and that Assad's ability to maintain power is probably more precarious than most had suspected. Mutter also passes on information regarding the current situation in the capital:
"Rula Amin of Al Jazeera reports that there is "[a]nxiety in Damascus as people anticipate a strong govt reaction against the armed rebels on the ground." Syrian activists report that heavy weapons and Alawite militias have been deployed inside Damascus, and that the Syrian Army is withdrawing forces from the Golan to reinforce Damascus. Demonstrations are taking place in Damascene neighborhoods, as are firefights, and access in and out of the city has reportedly been severely restricted.
"There is indeed reason to fear that this attack will lead to reprisals. In the regime's collective mind, this simply cannot go unanswered. A major new military push against the rebels, if it occurred, could be damaging to them if in their recent push towards Damascus they are stretching their forces too thin."Events in Syria may be coming to a head. The prospect of a rash of defections destabilizing the regime in Damascus is real, and Assad's next move will be aimed at stopping that.