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Fourth Syrian official dies from bombing

July 20, 2012 at 8:41 AM  |  Updated July 20, 2012 at 9:31 AM   |   Comments

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DAMASCUS, Syria, July 20 (UPI) -- Isham Ikhtiar, Syria's national security chief, died of injuries he received in a suicide bombing in Damascus this week, state-run television said Friday.

Ikhtiar is the fourth key person in President Bashar Assad's regime to die as a result of the attack on the national security offices Wednesday, the BBC reported.

Fighting was reported across Syria Friday, with rebels seizing several border posts. Activists said the posts along Syria's southern border with Iraq and the country's northern border with Turkey were under rebel control Friday.

The other three high-profile victims of Wednesday's attack were the defense minister, his deputy, who is also Assad's brother-in-law, and a former defense minister.

The bombing of the National Security Bureau came shortly after rebels declared an assault on the capital, Operation Damascus Volcano.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency's Web site has been inaccessible since at least early Thursday.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights and the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies said they documented 204 casualties across Syria Thursday.

Seventy-seven deaths were reported in and around Damascus, followed by 42 in Idlib, 21 in Homs, 20 in Deir Ezzor, 15 in Aleppo, 14 each in Hama and Daraa, and 1 in Lattakia.

The deaths in the Damascus area were mainly from sniper fire and "indiscriminate mortar shelling," the report said.

The rights organizations said a 3-year-old child was killed in a car bomb near Damascus International Airport. The list of the dead also included several teenagers.

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to France touched off controversy in Damascus after he suggested Assad was ready to step down. Alexander Orlov said Assad effectively agreed to step down last month during a conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on resolving the crisis in Syria and planning for the country's democratic transition.

"Assad nominated his representative to lead the negotiations with the opposition for this transition. That means he accepted to leave, but in a civilized way," Orlov said.

His comments prompted an angry response from Syria, where the Information Ministry said the claims were bogus and baseless.

One of the two crossings to Turkey captured by opposition fighters is at Bab al-Hawa, gateway to northwestern Syria's Idlib province, opposition leaders said and video posted online indicated.

"Idlib province will be Syria's Benghazi," an opposition activist told the British newspaper The Guardian -- referring to Libya's second-largest city, which was the temporary capital of the Libyan rebel National Transitional Council during its successful ouster of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi last year.

As rebel forces claimed victories at the borders, troops loyal to the Assad regime intensified their bombardment of Damascus Friday, using assault helicopters and army tanks to attack rebel fighters still working predominately with small-caliber weapons.

The Syrian military said its determination to "clear the homeland of the armed terrorist groups" -- the term it uses for insurgents seeking Assad's ouster -- had been fortified by the rebel bombing Wednesday.

Witnesses reported seeing regime artillery, high-arcing ballistic trajectories and indirect-fire mortar attacks on several neighborhoods.

Panicked residents fled the growing chaos, with an estimated 20,000 traveling 25 miles to the closest crossing into neighboring Lebanon -- already home to nearly 30,000 Syrian refugees -- a Lebanese border official told The Wall Street Journal.

The Lebanese minister of social affairs said 4,500 cars crossed into the country at the border crossing on the highway from Damascus.

Israel put its military on alert to stop refugees crossing into its territory.

Iraqi residents of Damascus fled the city in the other direction to the Iraqi border.

More than 1,000 made their way into Iraq, but many others were unable to cross the rebel-controlled border due to heavy clashes that led Iraqi authorities to tighten border security, a top Iraqi official said.

Baghdad said in a statement on state TV it would send planes to Damascus to bring Iraqis -- many of whom fled the war in Iraq -- back home.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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