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Prime minister survives bombing of convoy

Published: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
Caption
(AP)
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian firefighters extinguishing burning cars after a car bomb exploded Monday in the capital’s western neighborhood of Mazzeh, in Damascus, Syria.

BEIRUT – Syria’s prime minister survived a bomb attack that targeted his convoy Monday in Damascus, the capital, state media reported, in the latest apparent assassination attempt against a top official in President Bashar Assad’s government.

Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi “is safe and he survived the explosion,” said the official Syrian Arab News Agency. There were unconfirmed reports that the prime minister’s bodyguard and several others were killed in the blast.

Meanwhile, Russian officials said they were investigating reports that a Russian passenger jet flying over Syrian airspace Monday faced an unspecified threat from combat on the ground.

No one on board the aircraft was hurt, and the plane, carrying 159 passengers, continued on to its destination, the city of Kazan in the Russian republic of Tatarstan, Russian media reported.

A Foreign Ministry statement said the crew observed “combat activities on the ground” that may have posed a “threat” to the aircraft. But the ministry did not confirm some early reports that the plane may have been targeted by a pair of surface-to-air missiles. Further details were not available.

The plane belonged to a Russian charter air carrier and was flying to Kazan from the Egyptian resort city of Sharm-al-Sheikh, Russian media said.

Some commercial airlines have avoided Syrian airspace because of the ongoing conflict between forces loyal to Assad and opposition fighters. Russia is a key ally of the Assad government.

Monday’s attack targeting al-Halqi took place in Damascus’ Mazzeh district, an upscale neighborhood that is home to many senior officials and diplomats. Footage on state television showed several heavily damaged vehicles and debris scattered along a major street.

The state media reported “casualties and material damage,” but there was no official word on how many people were injured or killed. Some media reports indicated at least 10 people were killed in the blast.

The attack appeared to be a car bomb, though official accounts did not provide specifics.

Al-Halqi, a senior figure in the governing Baath Party, was appointed prime minister last year after his predecessor, Riyad Farid Hijab, defected to the opposition and fled to Jordan.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. The government blamed “terrorists,” its standard term for the armed opposition.

Rebels fighting to oust Assad have regularly deployed car bombs and have been blamed for several such attacks in the capital, including a devastating explosion in February on a busy roadway in central Damascus that killed more than 50 people.

The heavily guarded capital is largely under tight government control, but rebels have been able to stage a number of attacks in the heart of the city.

Rebels based in suburbs have shown the ability to set off bombs in the city and shell the capital from positions on the outskirts.

The military has thwarted several rebel attempts to storm the city from strongholds east of the capital. In recent days the government has been mounting a major counteroffensive against rebels based outside the capital.

Senior government figures have often been targeted for assassination during the two-year uprising against Assad’s rule.

Last summer, four top security officials were killed by what the government called a bomb planted in a security building in the capital. A bombing attack at the Interior Ministry in December reportedly wounded Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar.

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