THE REBEL bomb in Damascus that killed three of Bashar al-Assad's top security aides yesterday has pushed the Syrian uprising into "uncharted territory", according to The Guardian, and has led to warnings from the US that the country is now spinning out of control.
The audacious attack took place at the National Security headquarters, one of the most heavily guarded buildings in Damascus, where the regime's high command meet to plan their strategy against the uprising. The Free Syrian Army claimed responsibity for the bomb in a video posted on Youtube (pictured above).
"The tentacles of the rebellion have now moved towards the heart," noted Robert Fisk in The Independent.
Syrian state TV confirmed the deaths of Assef Shawkat, Assad's brother-in-law and deputy head of the army; Dawoud Rajha, the minister of defence and the most high-profile Christian in the regime; and Hassan Turkmani, his crisis management chief.
"The attack dealt a grave blow to the leadership of the government's war machine and struck an even bigger psychological one to its ability to project a sense of power and cohesion," says the New York Times.
"The opposition has hit the jackpot," Nadim Shehadi, a Middle East analyst at Chatham House in London, told the Guardian. "The consequences are too big to digest."
In the aftermath of the explosion, rumours swirled around Damascus and it is still unclear whether it was a suicide attack or a different kind of bomb.
There were reports that Assad himself was injured and had left the capital, that his wife Asma had fled to Russia, and that troops had been issued with gas masks, suggesting that the regime was preparing to fight the rebels with chemical weapons.
And although the attack is likely to prompt more defections, The Times notes that the fight is not over and the regime will not be overrun. "Though resourceful and better equipped than at any stage of the revolution, the Free Syrian Army is as yet too lightly armed and disorganised to defeat the Syrian Army in head-on fighting," it notes.
There are also fears of sectarian violence like that seen after the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. "The appalling scenes from Syria do now begin to reflect the barbarism of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia," says Fisk. He points out that the Alawite Muslim minority which runs the country fears it will come under attack if the regime collapses and is unlikely to let its leader Bashar leave the country.
"For the outside world, the critical question is how Russia reacts," says The Financial Times. And the stakes could not be higher. "What we may be about to witness is the collapse of a heavily militarised Middle Eastern state with a huge stock of conventional and chemical weapons."
Meanwhile King Abdullah II of Jordan added his voice to warnings that those weapons might fall into the hands of al-Qaeda. He told CNN that he feared what would happen if "some of those chemical stockpiles were to fall into unfriendly hands". ·