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Syrian rebels and Islamists claim Damascus attack that killed defense minister and other top officials: report

Rebels claim to have led a high-profile attack in Damascus today.

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Graphic. (Kyle Kim/GlobalPost)

Amid conflicting accounts, members of both the Free Syrian Army and the Islamist rebel group Liwa al-Islam claimed responsibility for a blast in Damascus that killed the nation's defense minister, Daoud Rajha, as well as Assef Shawkat, President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law, and other top officials, Reuters reports.

The news agency notes that Liwa al-Islam stated on its Facebook page that "the cell called the crisis room ... has been targeted with an explosive device by the Sayyed al-Shuhada brigade of Liwa al-Islam."

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The group, whose name translates as The Brigade of Islam, denied that the attack involved a suicide bomber. Instead, a source indicated that a bomb had been planted to coincide with a meeting of officials, in a plot that required more than a month of planning.  

Meanwhile, a Free Syrian Army spokesperson also claimed responsibility for the attack, telling Reuters, "This is the volcano we talked about, we have just started."

BBC News, citing state television, said the government has already replaced the deceased Rajha with General Fahad Jassim al-Freij, former chief of staff of the armed forces.

The news comes in the fourth day of heavy violence in the capital, which marks a fresh elevation in the over year-long conflict, according to the Associated Press.

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Clashes between government forces and rebels have increased dramatically since unrest began over a year ago. The violence has left more than 10,000 people dead.

Separately, at least 600 Syrians escaped to neighboring Turkey overnight Tuesday, reported ABC News

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Activists told AP on Tuesday things are near breaking point with the embattled Syrian regime, referring to the situation in the capital as the "Damascus Volcano." The UN is set to vote on the Syria situation later today. 

Syrian journalist Thabet Salem has more on today's bombing in Damascus: 

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According to Tweets by Andy Carvin and Anthony De Rosa, the following is a live stream video of the Free Syrian Army in Damascus. 

 

For GlobalPost's complete coverage of Syria visit our series page Inside Syria

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/syria/120718/syrian-rebels-claim-damascus-attack-killed-defense-mi