Brother of Syrian parliament speaker assassinated in Damascus

 

Gunmen killed the brother of Syria's parliament speaker as he drove to work in Damascus on today, the state-run news agency reported, as the international envoy for Syria warned the country could become another Somalia.

Mohammed Osama Laham, brother of Parliament Speaker Jihad Laham, was killed in the Damascus neighborhood of Midan, the SANA news agency said.

It was the latest in a wave of assassinations targeting Syrian officials, army officers and other prominent supporters of President Bashar Assad's regime. Four of the president's top security aides were killed in a rebel bombing of state security headquarters in Damascus on 18 July.

The killing came a day after some of the most intense fighting in Damascus in months as rebels wage a civil war to unseat Assad.

UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said what is happening in Syria is a "big catastrophe." In remarks published today in the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, he said the international efforts now are focused on getting a "binding resolution by the (UN) Security Council" to start a political process that will lead to change.

"I don't want to go too far in pessimism, but the situation in Syria is very dangerous. The Syrian people are suffering a lot," Brahimi said. "I believe that if the crisis is not solved in a right way, there will be the danger of Somalization. It will mean the fall of the state, rise of war lords and militias."

The east African nation of Somalia has been mired in war for two decades after warlords overthrew a longtime dictator in 1991 and then turned on each other. The government, backed by African Union troops, is currently battling Islamist extremist rebels linked to al-Qa'ida.

In another blow to the regime, Turkey's state-run news agency reported today that seven Syrian generals defected to Turkey. The Anadolu Agency said they arrived in the Turkish border province of Hatay seeking refuge. Their identities were not disclosed.

The agency said they were taken to a refugee camp in Hatay that shelters defected soldiers under tight security. They join dozens of other generals who have abandoned the regime. More than 110,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey since the uprising began in March last year.

In Jordan, which also borders Syria, visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Riad Hijab, the former Syrian prime minister who defected to Jordan in August. It was a rare, high-level contact between the Moscow government and a Syrian opposition figure. Russia is one of the strongest international supporters of Assad's regime.

Lavrov said his talks with Hijab in Amman were meant to get firsthand information from the Syrian opposition on how they view a solution to the civil war.

"The idea of the meeting was to get an agreement or a roadmap on how to deal with opposition forces and save the Syrian people," Lavrov told reporters.

He voiced continued support for Assad's regime, warning that the alternative would dip Syria into further chaos.

In the Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Palestinian group Hamas said the Syrian government has sealed its offices in Damascus, finalizing the break between the Islamic militant group and its former patron.

Ayman Taha said the move had been expected after Hamas openly switched sides to support the armed rebellion against Assad's regime. Speaking from Cairo, Taha said yesterday's move by Syrian authorities was "a result of our siding with the Syrian people in their just struggle."

Hamas moved its headquarters to Syria in the late 1990s. But relations have soured since the regime violently suppressed an uprising that began as mostly peaceful protests. Many top Hamas leaders were based in Damascus until earlier this year when they moved to Qatar, Egypt and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Activists and state media reported clashes, shelling and air raids in different parts of Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said air raids on Houla, a group of villages in central province of Homs, killed seven people. The group also reported air raids on the Damascus suburbs of Douma and Maadamiyeh saying there are casualties without giving numbers.

SANA said six regime supporters were killed when 11 mortars rounds fell near a pro-government demonstration last night in the northern city of Aleppo.

Activists say more than 36,000 people have been killed in 19 months of fighting in Syria.

The Observatory said Syrian troops shelled two villages on the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights adding that government forces have been trying to take over the area for days. 

Yesterday, the Israeli military said a bullet from Syria struck one of its vehicles traveling on the Israeli side of the cease-fire line in the Golan Heights. No one was wounded in the incident. The Israel-Syria border has been quiet since a 1974 armistice agreement. Such incidents have been rare.

Israel is concerned that violence from Syria's civil war could spill into the country. Earlier this week, three Syrian tanks entered a demilitarized zone between the countries. Several Syrian shells, apparently misfired, have exploded inside Israel.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Observatory, said an oil pipeline that carries crude from Al-Amr oil field in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour to a refinery in the central city of Homs blew up during fighting and shelling in the Homs suburb of Sultaniyah. Abdul-Rahman said it was not clear if the pipeline was targeted by a bomb or was hit by a random shell adding that the explosion causes a huge fire.

Oil pipelines have been subjected to sabotage attacks over the past months.

AP

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