Assad's brother-in-law dies in bombing

Syria's interior minister and Bashar Al-assad's brother-in-law were killed in a bombing.

Suicide bombing at Damascus security building.

BEIRUT - Syria's defence minister and President Bashar al-Assad's brother in-law were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Damascus on Wednesday, in the most serious blow to President Bashar al-Assad's high command in a 16-month-old revolt.

It was not clear whether Assad himself was present when a suicide bomber, said by a security source to be a bodyguard assigned to Assad's inner circle, struck a security meeting in the Syrian capital as battles raged within sight of the presidential palace.

State television said Defence Minister Daoud Rajha and Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat were killed in a "terrorist bombing".

A Syrian security source confirmed Shawkat, 62, was killed and said Intelligence chief Hisham Bekhtyar was wounded. State television said Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar had also been wounded in the blast.

The attack took place on a fourth day of fighting in the capital, where rebels 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 terrorist explosion which targeted the national security building in Damascus occurred during a meeting of ministers and a number of heads of (security) agencies," state television 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 centre of power.

An army barracks near the "palace of the people", a huge Soviet-style complex overlooking the sprawling capital from the western district of Dummar, came under rebel fire around 7.30 a.m. (0430 GMT), activists and a resident said.

"I could hear the sound of small arms fire and explosions are getting louder and louder from the direction of the barracks," Yasmine, who works as an architect, said by telephone from Dummar.

FIRE IN THE BARRACKS

Video footage broadcast by activists appeared to show fire in the barracks overnight as a result of an attack by mortar rounds, but residents who saw the fire said they had not heard explosions to indicate it was a result of an attack.

Dummar is a secure area containing many auxiliary installations for the presidential palace and the barracks is just hundreds of meters from the palace itself.

Fighting also erupted overnight in the southern neighbourhoods of Asali and Qadam, and Hajar al-Aswad and Tadamun - mainly Sunni Muslim districts housing Damascenes and Palestinian refugees.

Assad and the ruling elite belong to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has dominated power in Syria since a 1963 coup.

It has endured more than a year of rebellion but recent high level defections signalled support beginning to fall away.

Two Syrian brigadier-generals were among some 600 Syrians who fled from Syria to Turkeyovernight, a Turkish official said on Wednesday, bringing the number of Syrian generals sheltering in Turkey to 20, including a retired general.

The official could not immediately confirm if other defected officers had also arrived in Turkey in the last 24 hours but said a number of lower-ranking soldiers usually accompanied defecting generals.