The Syrian defense minister was killed on Wednesday in a suicide bombing in Damascus, just hours before a crucial UN vote on the violence-plagued Middle Eastern country, state television said.
The blast occurred during a meeting of ministers and security officials at national security headquarters, state television said. The bomber was employed at President Bashar al-Assad’s personal bodyguard unit.
Defense Minister Daoud Rajha and President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law, Deputy Defense Minister Assef Shawkat were fatally injured in the attack, Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV said.
Media reported that Syrian Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar succumbed to his injuries in hospital, but the Interior Ministry later denied the reports. A statement on the national TV says al-Shaar is in "normal and stable condition."
The blast also claimed the life of Hafez Makhlouf, al-Assad's cousin and head of the investigations at the Syrian Intelligence Agency.
Al-Arabiya said the Syrian intelligence chief, Hisham Bekhtyar, who was also injured in the blast, is currently being operated on.
The attack came as heavy fighting raged in the capital. The rebel Free Syria Army said earlier this week it had launched the final battle for Damascus, which had so far seen little of the violence that has claimed thousands of lives across Syria.
Russia said it hoped the masterminds behind the bomb attacks will be found and punished.
“Moscow strongly condemns terrorism in all of its forms and manifestations. We hope that the organizers of the Damascus terrorist act will be found and punished,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.
The 15-strong UN Security Council was scheduled to vote on Wednesday on a new Western-backed resolution on Syria which could lead to tough new sanctions against al-Assad’s regime.
However, the voting was postponed until Thursday morning at the request of UN special envoy Kofi Annan, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said after a meeting of the envoys of the council's five permanent members.
Russia has said it will block the resolution and has called for all sides in the conflict to implement UN special envoy Kofi Annan's floundering peace plan.