Site of assassination attempt on Syrian prime minister sends warning to regime

The Syrian prime minister escaped the bombing unharmed, but the attack – in one of Damascus's wealthiest neighborhoods – shows the safe zone for regime members is shrinking. 

This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian firefighters extinguishing burning cars after a car bomb exploded in the capital's western neighborhood of Mazzeh, in Damascus, Syria, Monday, April. 29, 2013.

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The Syrian prime minister survived a bomb attack on his convoy this morning in a wealthy neighborhood of Damascus, though his bodyguard was killed and several others were injured in the blast.

The attack in the "upscale" neighborhood highlights the increasing vulnerability of the Assad regime, as it is home to many government officials and several embassies – including the Swiss embassy, located only 100 yards from the blast, according to The Associated Press.

According to Syrian state television, Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi was unharmed in the blast, which occurred as he was traveling through the western Damascus neighborhood of Mazzeh.  A Syrian official told AP that the explosion was caused by an improvised explosive device planted beneath a parked car that detonated as Mr. Halqi's convoy passed.

The state-run Al-Ikhbariya station said al-Halqi went into a regular weekly meeting with an economic committee straight after the bombing and showed him sitting around a table in a room with several other officials.

The TV said it was showing the video as a proof that al-Halqi was not hurt. But the prime minister's comments after the meeting did not refer to Monday's blast and he was not asked about it by reporters, leaving doubts as to whether the footage was filmed before or after the bombing.

The state-aired footage showed heavily damaged cars and debris in the area of the blast as firefighters fought to extinguish a large blaze caused by the explosion.

No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, but BBC News notes that similar bombings have been linked to Jabhat al-Nusra, a jihadist rebel group affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Halqi, a Sunni, was appointed last August after his predecessor, Riyad Hijab, defected from the government after serving for only two months. Reuters noted that President Bashar al-Assad and his father, both of whom are Alawites, a minority Shiite-related sect, have consistently appointed members of Syria's majority Sunni community to the premiership, but the position is largely powerless. The presidency and most of Mr. Assad's security positions are held by Alawites.

Meanwhile, rebels continued an assault launched Sunday in northern Syria to seize three military air bases and choke off the Assad regime's air power. Lebanon's Daily Star writes that, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, rebels breached the Kweiras air base in Aleppo Province and the Abu Zuhour air base in Idlib Province on Saturday, and have been fighting government forces for control.

“The rebels have broken into the [Abu Zuhour] airport but they are still on the periphery and are engaged in violent clashes with soldiers,” Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman told AFP. “It’s an important military airport because it’s still functional.”

The rebels also invaded a helicopter base near the Turkish border yesterday, the Daily Star adds. The Islamist al-Burraq Brigades said that several rebel factions are attacking the base to capture it.

Aerial bombardments by the Syrian Air Force have been responsible for some 45,000 fatalities during the Syrian civil war, the Monitor reported at the start of this year. Rebels consider the regime's air power its "main threat" because they can do little to stop attacks by helicopters and jets, even in territory they hold on the ground.

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