BEIRUT – Gunmen assassinated an army general in Damascus on Saturday in the first killing of a high-ranking military officer in the Syrian capital since the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime began in March, the country’s state-run news agency said.
The attack could be a sign that armed members of the opposition, who have carried out attacks on the military elsewhere in the country, are trying to step up action in the tightly controlled capital, which has been relatively quiet compared to other cities.
SANA news agency reported that three gunmen opened fire at Brig. Gen. Issa al-Khouli on Saturday morning as he left his home in the Damascus neighborhood of Rukn-Eddine. Al-Khouli was a doctor and the chief of a military hospital in the capital.
Capt. Ammar al-Wawi of the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group that wants to bring down the regime by force, denied involvement in the assassination, which came a day after two suicide car bombers struck security compounds in Aleppo.
Such assassinations are not uncommon outside Damascus and army officers have been killed in the past, mostly in the restive provinces of Homs and Idlib.
Violence in other parts of the country left at least 17 people dead as regime troops pushed into rebel-held neighborhoods in the central city of Homs and seized parts of the mountain town of Zabadani, north of Damascus.
The U.N. estimates that 5,400 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began in March. But that figure is from January, when the world body stopped counting because the chaos in the country has made it all but impossible to check the figures. Hundreds are reported to have been killed since.
Syria’s turmoil began with peaceful protests against Assad’s rule, sparking the fierce regime crackdown. But it has since grown more militarized as army defectors and armed protesters formed the Free Syrian Army.