Damascus Bombing: The Aftermath
Published Saturday, July 21, 2012
Syria held a funeral yesterday for three of its military leaders killed in last Wednesday’s attack [on the National Security headquarters in Damascus]. Head of the National Security Office Hisham Ikhtiyar died not long after from his injuries. Meanwhile, the Syrian army was able to regain some neighborhoods in the capital.
While the Syrian regime was holding a state funeral for the assistant vice-president Hassan Turkmani, Defense Minister Daoud Abdullah Rajiha and his deputy Asef Mahmoud Shawkat yesterday, state television announced the passing of the head of the National Security Office Hisham Ikhtiyar.
They were all killed by the bombing of the National Security headquarters last Wednesday, while Interior Minister Mohammad al-Shaar remains in hospital under treatment.
The Syrian news agency SANA announced that Damascus witnessed “a solemn procession for the heroic martyrs starting from the Martyrs Mausoleum in Mount Qasioun (overlooking Damascus). It was attended by Vice-President Farouk al-Sharaa and a number of military and political leaders, led by the new Defense Minister Jassem al-Fureij, the Speaker of the People’s Assembly Mohammed Jihad al-Lahham, and Prime Minister Dr. Riad Hijab.
In the meantime, well informed sources told Al-Akhbar that all speculations about the personalities present at the crisis cell meeting are based on categorically false information.
The sources disclosed that a Syrian official of the National Security Office, a retired Brigadier General, was present in the building and was supposed to participate in the meeting. He suffered minor injuries but was not in the meeting room at the time of the explosion.
The sources said that investigations had already led to the identity of the person who installed the explosive device inside the room. The device was camouflaged to look like a dossier holding several papers. Explosives, in the shape of broad flat panels, were transported into the building successively and assembled there.
They said that the person suspected of planting the explosives was one of the assistants to the head of the National Security Office Hisham Ikhtiyar.
Intersecting information from Damascus indicated that he was arrested and was being interrogated. The rumors on the day of the attack suggesting it was a suicide bomber were false.
The sources also indicated that the party responsible for the attack is not connected to any of the known armed Syrian opposition groups, or those who claimed responsibility for the operation. On the contrary, information point to the involvement of western and Israeli intelligence in recruitment, preparation, and execution.
Most Syrian opposition sources denied their involvement in the assassination that hit the most prominent symbols of the regime, although they condoned the attack.
A similar position was taken by jihadi Salafi groups who told Al-Akhbar that they had never heard of the “Islam Brigade” claimed to be responsible for the operation. Although they condoned the results of the operation, they said that none of their groups know anything about this “suspicious faction.”
This information coincided with a rapid pace of developments on the ground, specifically in the capital. Regular army forces launched a “counterattack” to regain neighborhoods in Damascus which led to violent clashes.
In the meantime, opposition sources began talking about clashes being witnessed in Aleppo for the first time.
Security sources told AFP that the army is launching “a counter-offensive to retake control of areas infiltrated by terrorists to guarantee the security of residents and allow them to return to their homes.”
State-run television announced that the official forces “have completely cleansed the Midan area from the terrorist mercenaries” following intense clashes.
A military source informed SANA that “authorities seized large quantities of weapons including DShK machine guns, explosive belts, military uniforms, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition, and communications equipment.”
Conversely, sources in the opposition confirmed the retreat of armed fighters from the neighborhood following intense shelling. They described the retreat at “tactical.”
Opposition sources also confirmed the death of at least three people by rockets from military helicopters in al-Sayyida Zainab neighborhood, southeast of the capital, in addition to clashes in the Mazzeh suburbs.
There were also reports of fighters flowing into the city from other regions to join the battle which they called “the Damascus volcano and Syria’s earthquake,” claiming it will be the final battle to take control of the city.
Syrian opposition fighters who keep chanting the mantra of “the zero hour” in their councils, said that “the coming days will not be like those that preceded them.” They spoke as if it was a predetermined deadline to set alight different areas of the country.
They revealed that the countdown to this phase has begun, following information that the explosion targeting members of the Damascus crisis cell was the starting shot for several attacks around the country.
In the same vein, opposition sources spoke about a “flood of arms” into Damascus beginning two days ago, as part of a pre-determined plan. It indicated that it will reach its peak by the beginning of Ramadan to coincide with several bombings, including some in the capital.
The sources said that their armed groups will carry out a series of attacks on military targets in several regions.
Opposition sources told Al-Akhbar that around 3,000 fighters from a number of Syrian governorates and some from North Lebanon are heading towards Damascus to take part in the battle that began a few days ago.
According to the same sources, these operations aim to spread as much chaos as possible in the country to destabilize the regime and make it look impotent in front of the Syrian people and the international community.
As the situation in Damascus unfolded, there were reports of clashes between the official army and armed rebels in Kfar Sousa, in addition to Harasta and Arbin in Rif Dimashq, along with several neighborhoods in Homs.
Meanwhile in Aleppo, there were reports of clashes in “the neighborhoods of Salaheddine, al-Azamiyah, al-Akramiya, and Ard al-Sabbagh, in addition to the town of al-Bab” between regular forces and insurgents.
Activists reported that several demonstrations were being held under the banner of the “Friday of the Ramadan Victory of Damascus” in Damascus, Hama, Aleppo, and Deraa. They claimed that demonstrators were met with gunfire.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, violent clashes claimed 128 lives in Syria yesterday. They included 85 civilians, 17 opposition fighters, and at least 26 soldiers.
In other notable developments, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced that Israel is preparing for a possible military intervention in Syria in case the Syrian government hands missiles or chemical weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
"I have instructed the military to increase its intelligence preparations and prepare what is needed so that ... (if necessary) ... we will be able to consider carrying out an operation," Barak said in an interview on Channel 10 television.
He added that they “are following ... the possible transfer of advanced munitions systems, mainly anti-aircraft missiles or heavy ground-to-ground missiles, but there could also be a possibility of the transfer of chemical means from Syria to Lebanon.”
"The moment [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] starts to fall we will conduct intelligence monitoring and will liaise with other agencies," Barak said.
On a tour of the occupied Golan Heights, Barak declared that Israeli troops were preparing to prevent the influx of Syrian refugees to Israel-controlled territories.
"They [refugees] have not chosen to come close to us, but in the event of the regime's downfall, which could happen...[Israeli forces] here are alert and ready, and if we have to stop waves of refugees, we will stop them," Barak said.
(Al-Akhbar, AFP, UPI, Reuters)
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.