Syria shells rebels in Damascus


Syrian government forces are shelling a number of neighbourhoods in and around the capital Damascus, anti-regime activists say, a day after a bomb killed three members of president Bashar Assad's inner circle.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported shelling in a number of areas.

It said residents are fleeing parts of the Mezzeh neighbourhood after troops surrounded it and clashed with local rebels.

The group says rebels damaged one helicopter and disabled three military vehicles.

The whereabouts of Assad, his wife and three young children remain unknown after yesterday's bombing struck at the heart of his power, with some commentators predicting it could mark a turning point in Syria's 16-month crisis.

Rebels claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they had been planning it for two months and finally decided to plant the bomb in the room where the senior government security officials in charge of crushing the revolt were holding the meeting.

Syrian TV yesterday confirmed the deaths of defence minister Dawoud Rajha, 65, a former army general and the most senior government official to be killed in the rebels' battle to oust Assad; General Assef Shawkat, 62, the deputy defence minister who is married to Assad's elder sister, Bushra, and is one of the most feared figures in the inner circle; and Hassan Turkmani, 77, a former defence minister who died of his wounds in hospital.

Also wounded were interior minister Mohammed Shaar and Major General Hisham Ikhtiar, who heads the National Security Department.