Syrian PM escapes bomb attack

DAMASCUS — Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi escaped an assassination bid on Monday, surviving a blast against his convoy in Damascus, in the latest attack on top members of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Soon after, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported an air raid on Halqi’s hometown of Jassem, in the country’s south, killed 11 people including eight rebel fighters.

The attacks came as UN chief Ban Ki-moon issued a new plea to Damascus to stop blocking an international inquiry into the alleged use of chemical weapons and Republican lawmakers in the United States stepped up calls for American action on the claims.

Syrian state television said Halqi was unharmed in the blast in the upmarket Damascus neighbourhood of Mazzeh.

“The terrorist explosion in Mazzeh was an attempt to target the prime minister’s convoy and Dr. Wael al-Halqi was unharmed,” the television reported, adding the blast had caused casualties.

The Observatory said the blast killed six people including one of Halqi’s bodyguards.

“A second bodyguard and the driver are in critical condition,” its director Rami Abdel Rahman said, adding the convoy appeared to have been targeted by a remotely-detonated car bomb.

State television said the explosion happened near a public garden and a school in Mazzeh, a well-secured district home to embassies, government buildings, intelligence facilities and politicians.

The official Al-Ikhbariya television station aired footage of Halqi attending a government meeting and giving a statement afterwards, but it was unclear whether the footage was from before or after the attack.

A news bulletin quoted Halqi as saying “these types of attacks are nothing but proof of the discouragement and despair of the terrorist groups as a result of the actions of the Syrian army”.

Halqi, who was appointed prime minister in August 2012 after his predecessor Riad Hijab defected to the opposition, is the latest in a growing list of regime officials to be targeted for assassination.

In July 2012, a suicide bomb attack killed Syria’s defence minister and deputy defence minister and seriously wounded the interior minister

The capital has also been targeted in major bombings, including one in the centre of the city which killed at least 15 people on April 9.

Assad’s forces also clashed on Monday with rebels near Damascus international airport and in surrounding villages, said the Observatory.