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Syrian prime minister escapes bomb

Published: Monday, July 6 2015 3:00 p.m. MDT

Syrian fire fighters extinguishing burning cars after a car bomb exploded. The prime minister escaped.  (Associated Press) Syrian fire fighters extinguishing burning cars after a car bomb exploded. The prime minister escaped. (Associated Press)

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria's prime minister narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in the heart of the heavily defended capital Monday, state media said, laying bare the vulnerability of President Bashar Assad's regime.

The bombing, which killed several other people, highlights an accelerating campaign targeting government officials, from mid-level civil servants to the highest echelons of the Syrian regime.

State television said Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi was not hurt in the bombing, which struck his convoy as it drove through the posh Mazzeh neighborhood — home to embassies, government officials and business elites with close ties to the regime. Footage of the scene broadcast on state TV showed the charred hulks of cars and the burnt-out shell of a bus in a street littered with rubble.

The attack on al-Halqi punctuated a series of attacks on government officials in recent weeks. On April 18, gunmen shot dead the head of public relations at the Ministry of Social Affairs while he dined at a Mazzeh restaurant. A day later, a Syrian army colonel was killed in Damascus, and five days after that a bomb killed an official from the Electricity Ministry.

This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian fire fighters extinguishing burning cars after a car bomb exploded in the capital's western neighborhood of Mazzeh, in Damascus, Syria, Monday, April. 29, 2013. State-run Syrian TV says the country's prime minister has escaped an assassination attempt when a bomb went off near his convoy. The TV says Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi was unhurt in the attack in the capital's western neighborhood of Mazzeh. (AP Photo/SANA) (Associated Press) This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian fire fighters extinguishing burning cars after a car bomb exploded in the capital's western neighborhood of Mazzeh, in Damascus, Syria, Monday, April. 29, 2013. State-run Syrian TV says the country's prime minister has escaped an assassination attempt when a bomb went off near his convoy. The TV says Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi was unhurt in the attack in the capital's western neighborhood of Mazzeh. (AP Photo/SANA) (Associated Press)

Then there are the larger attacks that have shaken the regime to its core.

Last month, a suicide bombing at a Damascus mosque killed Sheik Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti, a leading Sunni Muslim preacher and outspoken supporter of Assad. That followed a blast last July that killed four top regime officials, including Assad's brother-in-law and the defense minister, at the Syrian national security building in the capital.

Eager to assure the public that al-Halqi survived Monday's attack, the state-run Al-Ikhbariya station said the prime minister attended a regular weekly meeting with an economic committee immediately after the bombing. The station broadcast video of al-Halqi sitting at a table with several other officials.

Later, in its evening news program, state TV showed video of al-Halqi denouncing the attack, calling it a "terrorist and criminal act" and wishing the wounded a speedy recovery.

A government official said two people were killed and 11 wounded in the blast, while the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group put the death toll at five, including two of al-Halqi's bodyguards and one of the drivers in his convoy.

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi, who his convoy attacked by bomb, speaks to journalists after an economic meeting, in Damascus, Syria, April 29, 2013. Syria's prime minister escaped an assassination attempt Monday when a bomb went off near his convoy in Damascus, state media reported, the latest attack targeting a top official in President Bashar Assad's regime. Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi was unhurt in the bombing in the capital's western neighborhood of Mazzeh, state TV said. (AP Photo/SANA)  (Associated Press) In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi, who his convoy attacked by bomb, speaks to journalists after an economic meeting, in Damascus, Syria, April 29, 2013. Syria's prime minister escaped an assassination attempt Monday when a bomb went off near his convoy in Damascus, state media reported, the latest attack targeting a top official in President Bashar Assad's regime. Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi was unhurt in the bombing in the capital's western neighborhood of Mazzeh, state TV said. (AP Photo/SANA) (Associated Press)

The government official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give official statements to reporters.

The bombings and assassinations are part of the wider violence wracking Syria as the nation's conflict enters its third year. The crisis began with largely peaceful anti-government protests in March 2011, but has since morphed into a civil war that has killed more than 70,000 people, according to the United Nations.

State TV quoted Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi as saying that targeting al-Halqi, who is in charge of carrying out a political program to end the nation's crisis, shows that some in the opposition "reject a political solution."

Al-Halqi, who was appointed prime minister in August after his predecessor defected, heads a ministerial committee charged with holding a dialogue with opposition groups.

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