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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Tuesday, October 16, 2018

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Syrian prime minister escapes assassination bid

This is the latest attack targeting a top official in President Bashar

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DAMASCUS - Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi escaped an assassination bid on Monday, when a bomb went off near his convoy in Damascus, state media reported.

This is the latest attack targeting a top official in President Bashar Assad's regime.

Halqi was unhurt in the bombing in the capital's western neighborhood of Mazzeh, state TV said.

The TV showed footage of heavily damaged cars and debris in the area of the blast as firefighters fought to extinguish a large blaze caused by the explosion.

The daring attack in the upscale neighborhood, which is home to many embassies and officials, was another blow to the government, exposing its vulnerability in the very seat of Assad's powerbase.

Halqi was quoted as condemning the attack as a sign of "bankruptcy and failure of the terrorist groups," a reference to the rebels battling to overthrow Assad.

The blast shook the Mazzeh district soon after 9 a.m. (0600GMT) and sent thick black smoke into the sky. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said one man accompanying Halqi was killed as well as five passersby.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the blast killed al-Halqi's bodyguard and that one of his drivers was in critical condition. The group relies on a network of activist around the country.

State television showed firemen hosing down the charred and mangled remains of a car. Close by was a large white bus, its windows blown out and its seats gutted by fire. Glass and debris were scattered across several lanes of a main road.

"The terrorist explosion in Mazzeh was an attempt to target the prime minister's convoy and Dr. Wael al-Halqi was unharmed," state television al-Ikhbariya reported.

It later broadcast footage of Halqi, who appeared composed and unruffled, chairing what it said was an economic committee.

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

The Observatory reported that a car bomb targeted Halqi's convoy as it passed through the Mazzeh district of Damascus.

Director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that the bomb appeared to have been detonated from a distance.

"Children cried and immediately hid under their desks as I rushed to lock the classroom door," Bassel Laham, a teacher at a school near where the bomb went off, told Al Arabiya.

Another resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: "I was in my car heading to work when I heard a loud noise and looked in my rear view mirror and saw a large cloud of smoke."

Mazzeh is an upscale neighborhood in western Damascus, home to a number of senior regime figures.

Halqi was appointed prime minister in August 2012 after his predecessor Riad Hijab defected to the opposition.

The last major attack in Damascus was on April 9, when a massive blast killed at least 15 people in the center of the capital.

Some of the groups fighting with the opposition have resorted increasingly to the use of car and suicide bombs to target senior government figures.

In July 2012, a suicide bomb attack killed Syria's defense minister and deputy defense minister and left the country's interior minister seriously wounded.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday that a team to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria was currently in Cyprus awaiting Damascus' permission to enter, Al Arabiya correspondent reported.

The United Nations said in February that around 70,000people had been killed in Syria's conflict. Since then activists have reported daily death tolls of between 100 and 200.

Five million people have fled their homes, including 1.4 million refugees in nearby countries, and war losses are estimated at many tens of billions of dollars.

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