Syrian Premier escapes bomb blast
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria’s prime minister escaped an assassination attempt Monday when a bomb exploded near his convoy in Damascus, state media reported, in the latest attack to target a top government official.
Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi was not hurt in the explosion in the capital’s western neighborhood of Mazzeh, state TV said. The TV showed video of heavily damaged cars and debris in the area as firefighters fought to extinguish a large blaze set off by the blast.
A government official said two people were killed and 11 wounded, while the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group said the explosion killed at least five, including two of al-Halqi’s bodyguards and one of the drivers in his convoy.
The government official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give official statements to reporters.
As evidence that the prime minister was unhurt, the state-run Al-Ikhbariya station said al-Halqi went into a regular weekly meeting with an economic committee just after the bombing. The station broadcast video of the prime minister sitting around a table in a room with several other officials.
But in the recorded comments after the meeting, al-Halqi made no reference to the bombing, nor was he asked about it by reporters, leaving doubt as to whether the video was shot before or after the bombing.
The state news agency quoted al-Halqi as saying that the assassination attempt exposed how armed groups “are bankrupt” after the latest advances made by Syrian troops around the country.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Monday’s suicide attack. Such bombings have been a trademark of Islamic extremists fighting in the rebel ranks, raising concerns about their role in Syria’s civil war.
Syria’s conflict started with largely peaceful anti-government protests in March 2011 but eventually turned into a civil war that has so far killed more than 70,000 people, according to the United Nations.
State TV quoted Syria’s Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi as saying that targeting al-Halqi, who is in charge of carrying out the political program to end Syria’s crisis, shows that some in the opposition “reject a political solution.”
In January, al-Halqi formed a ministerial committee for dialogue with opposition groups. The dialogue is part of a peace plan, including a national reconciliation conference, that Assad outlined in a speech that month.