(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- Syria's defense minister and the president's brother-in-law were killed Wednesday when a suicide bomber targeted the national security building in Damascus, according to Syrian state-run TV. Other top government officials were also said to have been wounded.
Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha, 65, died in the attack Wednesday after four days of battles in which Syrian troops used tanks and helicopters against rebels. Rajha is the most senior official to die during the country's civil war, which has escalated since it began in March 2011.
The country's 62-year-old Deputy Defense Minister Assef Shawkat, who is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law and a top aide, also died in the attack, according to state-run TV.
State television reported that the country's interior minister, Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar, is in stable condition after being wounded in the attack. The head of the national security office, Hisham Bekhtyar, was reportedly critically wounded.
The Free Syrian Army and Islamist rebel group Liwa al-Islam claimed responsibility for the attack.
In a statement made on the group's Facebook page, Liwa al-Islam said it "targeted the cell called the crisis control room in the capital of Damascus," Al Jazeera reported.
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi appeared on state TV after the attacks, again blaming "foreign elements" and calling it a "terrorist bomb attack."
"[This is a] cowardly act that will only increase the determination of the army to chase them and only add to our resolve," al-Zohbi said.
He also blamed Arab and Western governments and their intelligence services for the attack, which he said those responsible "will pay for dearly."
It is still unclear whether it was a suicide bomber in a car near the building or someone who was able to get close to the Syrian leaders who carried out the attack. The attack was close to Assad's residence and came during a meeting of cabinet ministers and senior security officials that included Rajha, Shawkat, Syria's interior minister, the country's head of intelligence and the head of national security.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said today that the bombing in Syria “makes clear that Assad is losing control” and that the “window is closing” to find a peaceful solution to the violence.
Carney stressed that the administration does not “believe that violence is the answer” to the escalating crisis, but stopped short of condemning the attack on top officials of the Assad regime.
“It is precisely because of the ongoing campaign by President Assad against his own people that we are seeing a situation that is getting worse and worse,” Carney told reporters at the daily briefing. “That is why it is so important for the international community to come together around a plan that produces the transition -- the political transition that is essential if Syria is to have a brighter future.”
Carney could not confirm whether Assad was a target of the bombing or say where he is currently located and he did not have any information about who may have been behind the attack.
“We're still gathering details about the incident,” he said. “All I can tell you is that it reflects the fact that the situation is getting more violent every day in Syria. And it only proves the point that we've been making, that the window is closing. We need to take action in a unified way to help bring about the transition that the Syrian people so deserve.”
Carney confirmed that President Obama called Russian President Putin today to discuss the situation in Syria, but did not have a full readout for the press yet. He confirmed that the U.S. is working with its partners at the UN to try to “bring about the consensus that we believe is absolutely necessary.”
“One concern expressed by those who have resisted supporting a transition that would see Assad remove himself from power is that it would -- that that outcome would cause the situation to spiral out of control or cause chaos or more violence. And our argument has always been that the situation as it exists with Assad in power is what will result in greater violence and greater chaos. And that is being borne out, unfortunately,” Carney said.
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