DAMASCUS (EJP) --- EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton expressed “deep concern” at reports of Wednesday’s explosion of a government building in the Syrian capital of Damascus, which occurred as world leaders prepared to meet to form a contingency plan for the beleaguered regime as part of the UN Security Council.
Insisting the attack “underlines the urgent need for concerted action by the UN Security Council and the international community”, she reverted to UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s much-discussed six-point peace plan as the essential course of action.
Condemning the bomb attack on the National Security building in Damascus, which left two senior members of authoritarian leader Bashar al Assad’s administration dead, she expressed deep concern “at the escalating violence and its tragic consequences for the Syrian population”, and concluded “it is of the utmost importance that violence stops now and that all parties engage in a peaceful settlement of the conflict”.
Council members had been expected to meet on Wednesday afternoon, hours after the attack was staged, to discuss what measures would be made available to the international community should Assad continue to flout the peace plan. But, according to a UN statement, they are now expected to meet Thursday.
UN Security-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement reiterating “that acts of violence committed by any party are unacceptable and a clear violation of the six-point plan”. Initial reports following the attack had two opposition groups claiming responsibility for planting the bomb, which is thought to have exploded as a high-level meeting of government officials was underway.
The substantial blast on the central hub of the Syrian regime killed Defense Minister Dawous Rajha and his deputy, Assad’s brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, as well as wounding Interior Minister Muhammed al-Shaar and intelligence chief Hisham Bekhtyar. A third key figure, former defence minister Hassan Turkmani, was later confirmed dead by Syrian state TV.
Islamic group Liwa al-Islam (translating to “The Brigade of Islam”) issued a statement on its official facebook page saying it “targeted the cell called the crisis control room in the capital of Damascus”; whilst the Free Syrian Army also declared themselves behind it, with spokesman Qassim Saadedine calling it “the volcano we talked about, we have just started”.
A Syrian journalist told Arab news service Al-Jazeera that the regime responded with “crazy” mortar attacks against opposition forces, and it announced the speedy appointment of a replacement defence minister, Fahd Jassem Al-Freij.
There have also been reports of heavy fighting between government and opposition forces in the capital, with Free Syrian Army leader Riad Al-Asaad claiming 90% of neighbourhoods in Damascus are engaged in fighting, declaring that “battle over Damascus will decide the fate of the Syrian revolution”, and adding that the fate of the capital city “carries great significance for us and the entire world”.
Highlighting the need “for all sides to stop armed violence in all its forms” and “move swiftly towards a political dialogue and a peaceful democratic Syrian-led transition”, Ban called on the Security Council to “shoulder its responsibility and take collective and effective action on the basis of the UN Charter obligations and in the view of the seriousness of the situation on the ground”.
Ashton had repeatedly called on Syrian opposition forces to “get as much unity of purpose and a sense of inclusivity”, but will be concerned by the apparently united approach to violence opposition groups have seemingly adopted, as she has also stated that it’s “vital that the Syrian opposition unites to work together for a peaceful transition”.
The Security General met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Beijing on Wednesday to discuss the situation in Syria, whilst Annan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier this week in Moscow.
Both Russia and China are permanent members of the UN Security Council, but Russia has so far been opposed to EU and US-backed resolutions to invoke Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which would allow the use of military action in Syria should the government fail to ease its programme of continued violence against civilians.