The events over the past 24 hours look like the most significant military development since the outbreak of the Syrian uprising in March 2011. At least three top men in Bashar al-Assad's security apparatus have been killed yesterday in what was either a planted bomb at the security headquarters, or a suicide bombing. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) has taken responsibility for the killings of:
- Deputy Defence Minister Assef Shawkat: the jackpot of the bomb attack, Shawkat was the feared intelligence chief and architect of the regime's crackdown on the protests and armed resistance. Married to Bashar's sister Bursha, he was a member of the inner circle of Assad's extended family.
- Defense Minister General Daoud Rajiha: an Orthodox Christian, appointed defense minister earlier this year in an attempt to rally the Christian minority behind the regime.
- General Hassan Turkomani, head of crisis management office: Turkomani headed the 6-member policy body in charge of the government's response to the uprising. Also assistant to the vice-president.
- The fate of the Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar and National Security Bureau chief Hisham Ikhtiar is yet unknown, but they appear to have been badly wounded.
This is just about as high as you can get in Syria's security apparatus, save for Assad's brother Maher, who is in charge of elite army units (the 4th mechanized division).
The brains behind the regime's military strategy decapitated in one single blow, in the heavily guarded Damascus city centre, it points both to the rebels' growing operational capacity and Assad's loosening grip over the heart of his regime. A number of generals have defected since the beginning of the week, and my opposition sources in Paris say more big names are to follow over the next 48 hours.
It's the fifth day of fighting in Damascus today, part of the FSA's offensive to break the regime's hold over the capital. It looks like I may have underestimated their ability to launch swift coordinated attacks: they are still there, pinning the army down in all major neighborhoods. The more they hold out, the more likely we are to see mass desertions of whole units in the government forces.
Al Jazeera: Analysis: A deadly blow to Syria's regime
- The Impact of Syrian Uprising on Lebanon
- Why Saudi Arabia Supports the Syrian Opposition
- Why Russia Supports the Syrian Regime