Syrian premier escapes bombing
Minister’s convoy attacked in upscale neighborhood
BEIRUT – Syria’s prime minister survived a bomb attack that targeted his convoy Monday in Damascus, the capital, state media reported, in the latest apparent assassination attempt against a top official in President Bashar Assad’s government.
Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi “is safe and he survived the explosion,” said the official Syrian Arab News Agency. There were unconfirmed reports that the prime minister’s bodyguard and several others were killed in the blast.
Meanwhile, Russian officials said they were investigating reports that a Russian passenger jet flying over Syrian airspace Monday faced an unspecified threat from combat on the ground.
No one on board the aircraft was hurt, and the plane, carrying 159 passengers, continued on to its destination, the city of Kazan in the Russian republic of Tatarstan, Russian media reported.
A Foreign Ministry statement said the crew observed “combat activities on the ground” that may have posed a “threat” to the aircraft. But the ministry did not confirm some early reports that the plane may have been targeted by a pair of surface-to-air missiles. Further details were not available.
The plane belonged to a Russian charter air carrier and was flying to Kazan from the Egyptian resort city of Sharm-al-Sheikh, Russian media said.
Some commercial airlines have avoided Syrian airspace because of the ongoing conflict between forces loyal to Assad and opposition fighters. Russia is a key ally of the Assad government.
Monday’s attack targeting al-Halqi took place in Damascus’ Mazzeh district, an upscale neighborhood home to many senior officials and diplomats. Footage on state television showed several heavily damaged vehicles and debris scattered along a major street.
The state media reported “casualties and material damage,” but there was no official word on how many people were injured or killed. Some media reports indicated at least 10 people were killed in the blast.
Al-Halqi, a senior figure in the governing Baath Party, was appointed prime minister last year after his predecessor, Riyad Farid Hijab, defected to the opposition and fled to Jordan.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. The government blamed “terrorists,” its standard term for the armed opposition.