Leading Christian Syrian Official, Assad Kin Among Suicide Blast Victims

Syria's defense minister, President Bashar Assad's brother-in-law, and other government officials were killed by a suicide blast at the National Security building in Damascus on Wednesday, with the country's embattled regime vowing it would not be shaken by such an attack.

"This attack could mark an important 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," BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus offered in an analysis on the incident.

Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha, 65, a former army general, died in the blast, but Interior Minister Mohammed Shaar was said to be in stable condition, The Associated Press reported. Rajha was appointed to his position last year, and was identified as the highest-ranked Syrian Christian official in the country.

Assef Shawkat, Rajha's deputy and President Assad's brother-in-law, was also killed in the blast, which happened while the senior officials were attending a cabinet meeting. The area outside the building was immediately sealed off and journalists were barred from approaching, the BBC reported. The total number of dead and injured was not released.

The official Syrian response came shortly after the incident was reported on, with the armed forces insisting on state TV that it was "more determined than ever" to fight the rebels, whom were referred to as "criminal gangs." The government forces added that anyone who thinks such an attack on Syria's top officials can twist its arm is "delusional."

Rebels in Syria have been stepping up their efforts to oust President Assad, who they claim is responsible for the bombings of several Syrian cities, which have caused hundreds of civilian casualties, in his efforts to suppress government unrest.

Although many Christians have lost their lives in the midst of the conflict, particularly in the city of Homs, they have generally stood by the government due to fears of what changes hard-line Muslim rebels may bring to the country.

While no group has yet claimed responsibility for the latest attack, the Syrian capital of Damascus has been embroidered in four straight days of clashes between rebel forces and government troops. Figures suggest that close to 17,000 people have been killed in the clashes since they began back in March.

The U.N. Security Council was scheduled to vote Wednesday on a new resolution they hope will pressure Syria to agree to a peace plan that will put an end to the violence gripping the Middle East nation.

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