An attack on a meeting of top military and security officials has claimed the life of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law Assef Shawkat.
Shawkat was also deputy Defence Minister and died alongside his boss, Daoud Rajha.
State television has also confirmed the head of the crisis unit Assad set up to deal with the rebellion, General Hassan Turkmani, has died of wounds sustained in the blast and several people were badly injured.
The Free Syrian Army has claimed the attack. It says it planted explosives in the room in the National Security Building where the meeting was held.
Assad has already named a new defence minister – former armed forces Chief of Staff Fahad Jassim Al-Freij. He went on television vowing the government would not be bowed.
But there is no doubt this attack has reached the very heart of Assad’s powerbase. Shawkat in particular was one of the pillars of the family rule although widely seen as wielding his power away from the limelight.
In 2006 Washington imposed sanctions on Shawkat who they suspected of orchestrating the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister.