19 July 2012 Last updated at 13:46

As it happened: Top Syrian ministers 'killed'

Key Points

  • Syria's Defence Minister Daoud Rajiha and his deputy, President Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, have been killed in a blast in Damascus, state media report
  • Hassan Turkomani, the assistant to the vice-president, also died and other senior officials were injured in the blast at the National Security Building, says state TV
  • The reports come after days of fighting in the capital, and 16 after the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began
  • Syria has vowed to take revenge while at least two groups have claimed responsibility for the deaths, including the Free Syrian Army
  • The UN Security Council was due to vote for a new resolution on Syria but has delayed it until Thursday morning
  • All times are in BST

    Syrian state TV is reporting that the country's Defence Minister Daoud Rajiha has been killed in a suicide bombing at the headquarters of the National Security Bureau in the capital Damascus.


    Stay with us for the latest updates - reports from our correspondents on the ground, expert analysis, and your reaction from around the world. You can contact us via e-mail, text or Twitter. We'll publish what we can.


    Gen Daoud Rajiha was appointed defence minister in August 2011, and remained in the post after a cabinet reshuffle in June.


    The 65-year-old had previously served as chief of staff of the armed forces for seven years. He was promoted to the rank of general in 2005. He specialised in artillery at the Syrian military academy, from which he graduated in 1967.


    State TV says the bomber struck the National Security Bureau in Damascus as ministers and officials were meeting inside. Several people are reported to have been critically injured in the attack.


    The capital has seen large scale violence in the past 24 hours. Fighters opposed to the government of Bashar al-Assad say they are launching a major offensive, but Syrian officials have downplayed the scale of the fighting.


    Syrian officials are calling the bombing the work of "terrorists" - they have consistently referred to fighters in the 16-month rebellion as terrorists and armed gangs.


    For a reminder of the background to the increasingly bloody conflict in Syria, have a look at our click-through guide, which examines the political, economic and social issues involved.

    1156: Mike Wooldridge World Affairs correspondent, BBC News, London

    "The fourth consecutive day of fighting in Damascus has taken on a highly significant new turn with the attack on the national security building. Not only does the target add an entirely new dimension to the conflict it is also close to the presidential residence. Most of the previous fighting has been on the southern side of the centre of the capital."


    The report on Daoud Rajiha, carried on Sana TV, said: "The Minister of Defence was martyred by the terrorist bombing that targeted the national security building."


    Lebanon's Hezbollah-backed Al-Manar TV station is reporting that Assef Shawkat, the brother-in-law of President Assad, was also seriously injured in the blast.


    Reports are coming in that the Syrian interior minister, Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar, is also among those injured in the Damascus explosion. The BBC has not been able to verify these claims.


    For information on figures close to the president, including those who were reportedly caught up in today's blast, see our profile of Bashar al-Assad's inner circle.


    Anti-Assad rebels have been fighting government troops in the capital for three days. They are calling it Operation Damascus Volcano, and say it is their final push to overthrow the government.


    We're bringing you the latest news from Syria, where a major blast has killed the defence minister and injured a number of other officials close to President Assad. Foreign journalists operate under heavy restrictions in Syria so claims made by either side are difficult to verify.

    1207: Jim Muir BBC News, Beirut

    "We're dealing with a very secretive regime and an attack on the heart of its very secretive department. It's a huge blow to the security establishment and the very heart of President Assad's regime."

    1210: Jim Muir BBC News, Beirut

    "Clearly there is a sense of things happening both from the side of the activists, in terms of activities on the ground, and these activities which may have come from inside the regime itself - there are certainly rumours that it could have been Daoud Rajiha's own bodyguard who blew the meeting up, but that's just rumours at the moment."

    1211: Jonathan Marcus BBC Diplomatic Correspondent

    "This attack could mark a symbolic turning point in the struggle to overthrow the Assad regime. The fact that a bomber was able to carry out such an attack against a high security target speaks volumes about the government's ability to protect its own members and raises questions about the broader capacities of Syria's 'security state'."


    Syrian TV is running a caption saying the defense ministry will be issuing a statement shortly.


    The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has described the situation in Syria as "very serious". He was speaking after talks in China, which has twice vetoed UN Security Council resolutions on Syria. Mr Ban is urging Beijing to back collective action.


    Speaking in Beijing, Mr Ban said: "We cannot go on this way. So many people have lost their lives during such a long time. I sincerely hope that members of the Security Council will be united and take action."


    In an online chat with the Chinese public earlier, Mr Ban said the world had a "responsibility to protect those people" in Syria. "We have seen more than 15,000 people killed during the last 16 months. There is no time to waste. We have to do all we can. That is my honest opinion."


    BBC Monitoring has seen a report from Syria's pro-Assad Ikhbariya TV saying the country's interior minister, Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar, is well and "stable".


    Al-Arabiya, citing unnamed sources, is reporting that Assef Shawkat - Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law - is alive but in a critical condition, and has been taken to hospital.


    Gen Rajiha, who was killed in the blast, is believed to be an Orthodox Christian, a rarity in the Alawite-dominated Syrian military and government.


    Syria's state TV is reporting that Assef Shawkat, the brother-in-law of President Assad and a leading military figure, is dead.


    France's foreign ministry has said the situation in Syria is "worsening day by day as the violence intensifies", AFP reports. "Bashar al-Assad must understand that his struggle to retain power is futile and that nothing will stop the Syrian people's march to a democratic futures," said spokesman Bernard Valero.


    Meanwhile, Russia has just rejected a UN resolution on Syria, according to AFP news agency. It quotes Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying that a "decisive battle" is taking place in Syria, but that "adopting the resolution would mean outright support of a revolutionary movement".


    The UN-backed peace plan for Syria, drawn up by special envoy Kofi Annan, expires on Friday. Its 300 observers have supposed to be monitoring a ceasefire but the violence has continued. They have largely been confined to their hotels for the past few weeks.


    Sander Von Hoorn, a Dutch journalist in Damascus, tells the BBC that security has been very high in the capital, especially around government buildings, which gives more credibility to the idea the blast was carried out by an insider.

    Deputy armed forces chief-of-staff

    Gen Shawkat, the deputy defence minister, was married to Bashar al-Assad's sister, Bushra. For more on his life and career, see our profile of key figures in President Assad's inner circle.


    This is live coverage of events in Syria as they unfold. A short time ago, a large suicide blast in the capital, Damascus, killed the Defence Minister Daoud Rajiha and President Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, according to state television. The interior ministry, Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar, and a number of other people have been wounded. The attack came after four days of fighting in Damascus.

    1250: Lina Sinjab BBC News, Damascus

    "Soon after the attack several ambulances headed to the building and most roads leading to the building were blocked. Movement is limited within the town. Many people here believe this attack will change the course of events, especially after rebel fighters moved their operations closer to the centre."

    1251: Lina Sinjab BBC News, Damascus

    "It's hard to tell how the regime is going to react, but it's almost definitely going to retaliate in a much more defiant way to having the rebels, or whoever is behind this attack, getting close to the power circle of the regime."


    The Syrian information ministry is giving a briefing live on state TV.


    Syrian state TV reports that the "terrorist bomb attack" was the work of "hired hands", according to Reuters news agency. It says Syria will pursue the perpetrators and eradicate the "criminal gangs" reponsible.


    Syria's information minister is on state TV. "We have feelings of sadness, pain and anger due to this terrorist blast which we condemn. This is a cowardly blast."


    "It is clear that what is behind harming our army and the soldiers and officers and leadership of the army - and even the honourable civilians and state institutions - is clear - nobody can doubt the hidden agenda, which is to harm Syria from within, so that Syria will bow and kneel, so to serve the American and Israeli mentality," the minister adds.


    "When we know the political significance of this crime and all the preceding crimes, and all the political meaning of the aggression of the sanctions and foreign statements and outside collusion, then we understand why what is happening in Syria is happening now. At the end of the day, these are the last attempts by others which forms another link in their conspiracy," the information minister, Omran Zoabi, adds.


    Mr Zoabi adds: "In the last few days they wanted to terrorise the residents of Damascus and other provinces. They talked about liberating the capital. I would like to assure them that this is a decisive battle, not only in Damascus but throughout Syria."


    The Syrian information minister says Syrian people are living through difficult times but are a "great people" who will not accept "destruction of terrorism".


    According to reports, citing unnamed security sources, Syrian intelligence chief Hisham Ikhtiar was among those wounded in the explosion and is said to be undergoing surgery.

    1312: Jim Muir BBC News, Beirut

    "The dramatic development will reinforce the feeling that, with international diplomacy effectively paralysed by big-power differences, the crisis inside the country is moving onto a new level, and gathering pace."

    1313: Jim Muir BBC News, Beirut

    "Hours before the deadly bombing, an army barracks overlooking the presidential palace was engulfed in flames. And clashes continued in several parts of the Damascus, as rebels kept up what they are calling Operation Damascuas Volcano. Clearly, they believe victory is within sight, and the death of the two top security figures will give them even greater heart."


    Russia has said it will not support UN diplomatic action against Syria. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the push for a UN resolution was "a dead-end policy to support the opposition". He added: "Assad will not go on his own and our Western partners don't know what to do about that."


    The UN has until Friday to renew the mandate for the some 300 observers currently in Syria, although a vote is expected in New York on Wednesday afternoon. Western nations want a new resolution threatening measures short of the use of force, but Russia believes this amounts to supporting the opposition.


    A Syrian rebel commander claims responsibility for the Damascus blast, the Associated Press reports.


    More explosions have been heard in Damascus, close to an army base, reports say.


    The rebel commander who has claimed responsibility for the attack has been named by AP as Riyad al-Asaad. He says his forces planted a bomb inside a room where senior government officials were meeting. But he denies it was a suicide bombing.


    Syria's information minister has denied that explosions have hit the headquarters of unit responsible for guarding the presidential palace.


    Meanwhile, Damascus has now appointed a new defence minister, state TV reports. He is Gen Fahad Jassim al-Freij, who was previously the chief of staff of the armed forces.


    This is the scene close to the site of the blast in Damascus. The area, which was already under tight security, has been sealed off by police.

    Police in Damascus, Syria (18 July 2012)
    1338: Olexiy Solohubenko, Editor at BBC Global News

    Russia's news agencies say the Damascus bombing will not change Moscow's position of vetoing a UK-sponsored draft resolution at the UN Security Council. The agencies, however, quote Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying Russia won't be propping up President Assad.


    BBC Arabic has been collecting comments on its Facebook page and through Twitter. Here is a selection - they cannot be verified. Sayed Abdilgalil says: "This event will shake the Syrian regime from inside, especially that whoever did it managed to penetrate into its inner circles." Victor Leader says :"The operation shows that there are wide divisions within the Syrian army and that they are coming closer to the inner circle close to the President and his ministers. It also shows the regime is about to be toppled."


    UK Foreign Secretary William Hague says the Damascus bombing shows the need for a UN resolution to end the crisis. "This incident, which we condemn, confirms the urgent need for a Chapter Seven resolution of the UN Security Council on Syria," he says.


    @n_curious: tweets: "Unbelievable! I'm watching live through my window a helicopter shelling #Damascus suburbs. It's been shelling for at least 15 mins #Syria"


    We now have new profiles of Assef Shawkat and Daoud Rajiha, the two senior officials killed today.


    The BBC's social media team are monitoring Twitter accounts from within Syria. Currently, tweets are saying that security and army forces have withdrawn from Al-Midan and Al-Qaboun in Damascus.


    The command of the Free Syrian Army "announces the good news of the outstanding operation this morning that targeted the National Security headquarters and the killing" of the officials "responsible for barbaric massacres", the AFP news agency reports.

    Randa Habib, journalist in Jordan

    tweets: #Syria‬: people already whispering that operation was orchestrated by the regime to get rid of a leadership who was ready to jump ship...

    1349: Abo Emad, activist in Homs

    in Syria has told the BBC via Skype that some soldiers laid down their weapons and "ran away" in the Midan area of Damascus. This has not been independently verified.

    Javier Espinosa, El Mundo Middle East Correspondent in Beirut

    tweets: Syrian army already talking about "to clean" the country from "terrorists" #Syria


    More claims are emerging about the attack on the National Security Building. Speaking to BBC Arabic, Free Syrian Army spokesman Mustafa Abdulkareem says the FSA carried out the bombing.

    1401: Abo Emad, an activist in Homs,

    is speaking to the BBC on Skype. He says the Tadamoun [Damascus] police department chief has defected. We have not been able to confirm this.

    Samsom Homs,

    a Syrian activist, tweets: Many asked for the Yemeni solution, others the Libyan solution. But we are undergoing the Syrian solution. Congratulations #Syria


    This is an archive picture from last October, showing Daoud Rajiha (left) being sworn in as defence minister by President Assad.

    Daoud Rajiha is sworn in as defence minister by President Assad. Photo: October 2011

    More international reaction to the reports of a Damascus blast. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says the attack shows "urgent" need for "political transition" in Syria.


    US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta tells a Pentagon press briefing that the situation in Syria is "rapidly spinning out of control" after "a real escalation in fighting". Mr Panetta says President Assad must step down to pave the way for a peaceful transition.


    Lena, a member of the rebel Damascus Revolutionary Council, tells the BBC that "there is fear and anticipation among people in the capital". She adds: "Damascus is the last step in the Syrian revolution."


    If you're just joining us, we're bringing you live coverage of events in Syria, where state TV is reporting that a blast at the National Security headquarters in Damascus has killed Syrian President Assad's brother-in-law - the country's security chief - and the defence minister. It came after four straight days of clashes between government troops and the opposition Free Syrian Army.

    Salman Shaikh, Middle East Expert for Brookings Doha Centre

    tweets: Being reliably told that soldiers deserting in Midan. Watch out for big number of defections in Damascus area and rest of country. #Syria


    UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, who is visiting Washington, tells the Pentagon press briefing the situation in Syria is becoming more unpredictable. He says there is concern about the potential use of the chemical weapons in the conflict.

    Jenan Moussa ‏@jenanmoussa,

    a TV reporter in Dubai, tweets: Is it possible that there was actually a coup attempt in #Syria today?


    In neighbouring Lebanon, the news of the deaths of senior Syrian officials was met with celebratory gunfire on the streets of the city of Tripoli.

    A man fires into the air during celebrations in Tripoli

    The BBC's Lina Sinjab in Damascus has been to the scene of the reported blast and says there are no signs of extra security.


    There are unconfirmed reports that General Hassan Turkomani, a former defence minister and senior military official, also died in today's reported explosion.


    Gen Turkomani is "assistant to the vice-president" (with the rank of minister). He is in his late seventies.


    In mid-May 2012, opposition activists claimed that Gen Shawkat had died and been buried in his hometown of Madhala after being poisoned by rebels. Gen Shaar, Gen Rajiha, Gen Ikhtiar and Gen Turkomani were also allegedly killed. Gen Turkomani subsequently appeared on TV to dismiss the report, while Mr Shaar denied them in a telephone interview, but Gen Shawkat did not do so, fuelling the rumours about his death.

    Maya Naser,

    a pro-government Syrian who appears to be in Damascus, tweets: heavy gun shots have been heard In Baghdad St #Damascus‬

    1510: Ali, a resident of Damascus, spoke to the BBC:

    "I have seen these terrorists myself in the suburbs of Damascus and they threatened me, but the centre of Damascus remains calm. I have asked my aunt who lives in the Qaboun area of Damascus to come and live with us at our home as the violence is much worse where she is living. My uncle has refused to come with her, saying he will fight for Syria with the army. He works as a civil engineer. "


    More from the BBC's Lina Sinjab in Damascus, who has been to the scene of the reported bombing. She says she saw no broken windows in the area, and the roads were open. She says there was "no sign of any explosion".


    Our correspondent says residents on the street near the National Security Building said they had not heard an explosion or seen any emergency vehicles at the scene.

    Ian Pannell BBC News, Washington,

    says: "The truth of the matter is that events on the ground in Syria are moving rapidly, but the response of the international community is slow."


    Al-Jazeera is now reporting that Syrian Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar was also killed in the bombing. Earlier reports said he was wounded. The BBC cannot verify the report.

    1530: Gaber has told the BBC he is in Damascus:

    "Some places in Damascus look like a war zone, whilst others seem to be fine but you can see the fear on people's faces. Assad's forces started shelling some districts in Damascus three days ago. What you hear and observe all the time in Damascus is the helicopters firing day and night almost non-stop. Tanks shelled Qaboun, Barzeh and Midan last night."

    1534: Lina Sinjab BBC News, Damascus

    says: "There are signs that things have been rapidly changing in the last couple of days here. After 16 months of the uprising, the rebels are saying it's time to move forward. City residents say they've seen burnt government tanks."


    The activist network, LCC Syria, is reporting on Twitter of defections from the army in Damascus (Qaboun) as well as Homs and Hama. There is no verification of these reports.


    Syrian State TV has just confirmed the death of Hassan Turkomani, who was assistant to the vice-president.


    State TV said Gen Turkomani died of injuries sustained during the explosion at the security building.


    Gen Hassan Turkomani, who Syrian state TV says was killed in Damascus today, was appointed assistant to the vice-president in 2009. He had the rank of minister and was also said to been made a special envoy of President Assad. He was a long-standing senior member of the ruling Baath Party.


    UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has asked that a vote on a UN resolution on Syria be delayed, British diplomats have said. The vote had been scheduled for Wednesday.


    Russia has demanded that those behind the attack in the capital be brought to justice. "We expect the organisers of the act of terror in Damascus to be identified and for them to face their deserved punishment," the Russian foreign ministry said, in a statement carried by AFP news agency.

    Ian Black and Martin Chulov,

    writing in the Guardian, say that "prospects for any kind of negotiation between the government and rebels ... have now disappeared".


    Al-Arabiya TV is showing what it says is live footage of dozens of Syrian rebels storming a security post in southern Damascus. Al-Jazeera has also been broadcasting live footage, which it says shows clashes in Damascus suburbs.

    1618: Jonny Dymond BBC News, Washington

    was at a news conference with US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and his British counterpart. He reports: "Looking grave, Mr Panetta spoke of the increasing violence and what he called the tremendous loss of lives in Syria; both Mr Panetta and the British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond emphasised the United Nations, and the Annan Plan, as the route forward. Both sides said Mr Hammond needs to understand that the international community is determined to see an orderly and peaceful transfer of power in Syria."

    Razan Ghazzawi, blogger and activist

    Prominent activist Razan Ghazzawi says she is blogging live from the Midan neighbourhood of Damascus and writes: "According to leaked information coming from a soldier in the regime sympathetic with the revolution, the regime is planning to fire ... toxic gases against the residents in Midan neighborhood that resulted in shortness of breath and heartburn in the respiratory tract." Her comments cannot be verified.

    Tony Karon,

    writing for Time.com, says Wednesday's killings are "a signal that the (Syrian) regime's ability to protect even its inner core is crumbling".


    For those who are just joining us, here is a summary of today's events so far. Syrian state TV has reported the deaths of three senior figures in the Assad government - Defence Minister Daoud Rajiha, the president's brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, and Gen Hassan Turkomani, assistant to the vice-president. Two other officials - the interior minister and national security chief - are believed to have suffered injuries.


    The circumstances of the deaths remain unclear. Syrian TV says the men were killed in an explosion on the National Security Headquarters in Damascus, but it has not broadcast footage of the attack, and a BBC correspondent who visited the area says there is no visible sign of damage.


    Diplomatic sources have told the BBC there is a strong possibility that the UN vote scheduled for today will be delayed. The Security Council had been due to vote on a resolution calling on non-military sanctions against the Syrian government, which Russia had opposed.


    Speaking on Syrian TV earlier, Information Minister Omran Zoabi said responsibility for the attacks "falls directly in the hands of the Arab and Western governments, their intelligence agencies and their spies". He said all countries which have sent "even one bullet to Syria" are responsible. "Even those countries who send even one dollar are responsible... and they will all be punished."

    Lina Sinjab BBC News, Damascus

    tweets: We are invited on a government tour to visit some sights. We are not sure where we are going or what we will see. Will let you know.

    Jonathan Marcus BBC Diplomatic Correspondent

    says: "Conspiracy theorists may have a field-day, but there is one inescapable fact. The news put out by the Syrian government of a rebel attack against the very heart of the regime cannot be interpreted as anything other than a disaster for President Assad and his supporters." Damascus 'attack': A turning point?


    British Foreign Minister William Hague has said today's killings underline the need for action by the UN to end the conflict. "All such events increase the arguments for a strong and decisive resolution from the United Nations," Mr Hague said during an official visit to Lithuania.


    Mr Hague said the situation in Syria was "deteriorating rapidly," and that the country faced "chaos and collapse". He urged Russia and China to support a stronger resolution in the Security Council.


    The uprising against the Assad government began in March 2011. We've put together a timeline of the crisis, charting the major attacks on government targets as well as the worst cases of killings of civilians.


    The AFP news agency reports that after their meeting in Moscow, Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan "appeared guarded... offering little detail on whether progress was achieved to reconcile their dispute over the violence" in Syria.


    The United States Treasury has increased its pressure on Syria, adding 29 officials to its sanctions list. Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S Cohen said the move reflected the "unwavering commitment of the United States to pressure the Assad regime to end the carnage and relinquish power".


    Russia's Foreign Ministry has condemned the reported attack in Damascus, in a press release seen by BBC Monitoring. According to spokesman AK Lukashevich, it was "a villainous crime" designed to bring about "the long-term destabilisation of the situation in Syria".


    Gen Fahd al-Furayj, Syria's new defence minister, has vowed to punish the perpetrators of the bomb attack. "We count those who died for the sake of this country and its dignity as martyrs. We confirm that this terrorist bombing will not stop our armed forces from their duty to find the culprits and cut every hand that threatens the security of this nation and its civilians. Glory and eternity for the righteous martyrs," he said.

    The defence minster Gen Fahd al-Furayj

    Gen Furayj, formerly the chief of staff of the armed forces, was appointed swiftly after the death of Gen Rajiha. Gen Furayj comes from Homs, which has been at at the centre of opposition protests.


    In the US, the White House says it is clear that President Assad is losing control of Syria, and that the international community must work urgently toward a political transition.


    Russia's envoy to the United Nations says the Security Council has postponed its vote on a new Syria resolution until tomorrow. It was due to vote this afternoon. Russia had already said it would vote against a resolution.

    Jonny Dymond, BBC News, Washington

    tweets: Alarm bells ringing at the White House over #Damascus, talk now of how to and need to avert sectarian war.


    Residents and activists say army helicopters have fired machine-guns and rockets at residential areas in Damascus, Reuters reports. Helicopters reportedly fired rockets at the central Midan district, the suburb of Kfar Batna and at the Palestinian Yarmouk camp in the south of the capital. Helicopter-mounted machine-guns were used in the southern district of Hajar al-Aswad and the neighbourhood of Jobar in the east, the news agency adds.


    This file image, dating from 2005, shows Gen Hassan Turkomani, one of the officials killed in the Damascus attack. Activists say he became head of the security forces' crisis management office after the protests broke out last year.

    Gen Hassan Turkomani, file image

    Iran's foreign minister has condemned the explosion, in a conversation with his counterpart in Damascus, Walid Muallem, Iranian state TV reports. Ali Akbar Salehi called for "an immediate end... to foreign interference and arms shipments... to Syria and the support of some regional and international parties for terrorist action," Irna news agency said. The minister said dialogue was the only answer to the violence.

    1731: A Time magazine reporter in Idlib

    writes that Syrian rebels in the province are celebrating the blasts in Damascus and sending reinforcements to the capital.


    The news of the suicide attack on a security building in central Damascus that killed Syria's defence minister and President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law and other security officials has dominated all pan-Arab TV stations, BBC Monitoring reports. The first report was broadcast by Syrian state TV, which said that there had been an explosion outside a security building in the central Al-Rawdah district, and soon all pan-Arab TV channels were reporting the news.


    Shashank Joshi, of the Royal United Services Institute, tells the BBC the attack is a sign that recent defections to the Syrian opposition are having a impact on the government. "Regardless of whether this was a suicide bombing or a remote controlled bombing, which the Free Syrian Army claims, it would have required information as to the whereabouts of this meeting... and it would of course have required access - and this is not confirmed - to the office of the national security council chief," he says. "That would only have been possible with a really impressive degree of insider information."

    Lina Sinjab BBC News, Damascus

    is being taken on an official tour around Damascus. She tweets: "We can hear gunfire close to where we are standing in ‪#babtouma‬ ‪#Syria."


    The Free Syrian Army has said it carried out today's attack. Speaking to AP news agency, the head of the FSA, Riyad al-Assad, said he hoped it was "the beginning of the end of the regime". "Hopefully Bashar will be next," he said.


    The BBC's Laura Trevelyan at the UN in New York says there has been an intensification of diplomatic efforts to reach an agreement over Syria before the mandate for observers runs out on Friday. But while the US and others say today's events underscore the need for stronger action against the government, such as sanctions, Russia has said any such move would amount to supporting the "revolutionary movement" and has accused the West of inciting the opposition.

    Frank Gardner BBC security correspondent

    says: "In Damascus the rumours are rife but the conclusion is clear: the rule of President Bashar Al-Assad is now under more serious threat than ever before. That does not mean it is on the point of immediate collapse, but the death of Assef Shawkat, the president's brother-in-law, is a triple blow for the ruling family."

    Frank Gardner BBC security correspondent

    "There are numerous conspiracy theories circulating that Shawkat was killed by poisoning some time ago, or that the defence minister was killed by his own regime because he was supposed to be plotting a coup. There is no proof for any of this but the uncertainty is a measure of how opaque the situation in Syria is, and how hard it is to report the truth with restricted media access."


    We're bringing this live coverage of Syria to a close now, after a dramatic day of events. State media is reporting that three key figures close to President Bashar al-Assad have been killed in a blast at the security headquarters, but no pictures of footage have yet emerged of the attack and there is no clear news on the condition of officials reported to have been injured.


    The UN Security Council has decided to delay its planned vote for a resolution on Syria - it will now take place on Thursday.


    Thank you for following this live page. You can get all the latest news from Syria, along with extensive background and analysis, images and video, on the BBC News website.


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