Syrian prime minister uninjured after bomb targets motorcade in Damascus

Story highlights

  • U.N. condemns attack, calls for immediate end to violence
  • Syrian opposition group reports deaths
  • The blast takes place in Mezzeh, near President Bashar al-Assad's palace
  • No one immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion

Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi survived a bombing targeting his motorcade on Monday in an upscale Damascus neighborhood, but the government and the opposition each reported casualties.

"The premier is safe," the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said, citing an official government source. The incident occurred in a leafy swath of the Mezzeh district in southwest Damascus.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group opposed to President Bashar al-Assad's government, also reported that the prime minister survived.

The observatory said one of al-Halqi's escorts and five civilians were killed. Another escort and a driver were badly injured, the group said.

SANA, which called the blast a "terrorist explosion" targeting al-Halqi's convoy, reported casualties but did not list details. The agency's website cited material damage and posted images of badly damaged cars and a person being carried away on a stretcher.

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No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack, saying all violence in Syria must end.

    "The targeting of civilians and civilian objects by anyone is unacceptable," a spokesman for his office said in a written statement. "The secretary-general remains extremely worried at the continued escalation of violence in Syria, where civilians continue to be killed, injured, detained and abducted every day."

    Mezzeh is strategically important because it is along a highway that connects to a major Syrian air force base.

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    It is also near Mount Mezzeh, the home of al-Assad's palace. For months, Syrian rebels have been trying to infiltrate Damascus in their attempt to oust al-Assad and end four decades of family rule.

    The civil war in Syria has killed more than 70,000 people, mostly civilians, over the past two years.

    Syria and chemical weapons

    Russia sounded another warning Monday about the West's consternation about allegations that Syria has used chemical weapons.

    Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov maintained it's "unacceptable" for countries to use the weapons of mass destruction issue in Syria to topple the al-Assad government.

    "Perhaps there are some states that believe any methods are good as long as they can help overthrow the Syrian regime. However, the subject of the use of weapons of mass destruction is far too serious," he said, according to state-run RIA Novosti. "I think it is unacceptable to use it, to speculate on it for geopolitical purposes."

    RIA Novosti said Lavrov was commenting on American and British statements that chemical weapons may have been used in Syria.

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    The foreign minister previously warned against a repeat of the "Iraqi scenario" in which claims that Saddam Hussein's government possessed so-called weapons of mass destruction were the basis of the U.S.-led invasion. He also said that international investigators were asking "too much" by demanding access to all facilities in Syria and to have the right to interview any Syrians.

    In a letter sent to lawmakers before Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced there was evidence that sarin was used in Syria, the White House said that intelligence analysts have concluded "with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin."

    President Barack Obama has said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a "red line" threshold for greater U.S. action in the country.

    The White House cautioned that the "chain of custody" of the chemicals was not clear and that intelligence analysts could not confirm the circumstances under which the sarin was used, including the role of al-Assad's regime.

    British Prime Minister David Cameron said that he supported Obama and that the use of chemical weapons should constitute a "red line," the UK Press Association reported.

    But if a red line has been crossed, Cameron was less clear on what the next steps should be.

    Syria denies that it has used, or even possesses, chemical weapons, accusing the United States and Britain of lying in order to pressure the embattled Damascus government.

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