x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Syrian PM survives Damascus bomb attack on convoy

Syrian Prime Minister Wael Al Halki survived a bomb attack on his convoy in Damascus's Mezze neighbourhood, state TV reports, as rebels strike in the heart of the capital.

BEIRUT // Syrian Prime Minister Wael Al Halki survived a bomb attack on his convoy in Damascus today, state media and activists said, as rebels struck in the heart of President Bashar Al Assad's capital.

The explosion shook the Mezze neighbourhood shortly after 9am (10am UAE), sending a plume of thick black smoke into the sky, internet footage posted by opposition activists showed.

The Britain-based Syria Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of sources across Syria, said one person accompanying the prime minister had been killed. State television reported casualties, but gave no details.

"The terrorist explosion in Al Mezze was an attempt to target the convoy of the prime minister. Doctor Wael Al Halki is well and not hurt at all," state television said.

Syria's Al Ikhbariya television later broadcast footage of Mr Al Halki, who looked and sounded composed and unruffled, chairing an economic committee at the prime ministry.

Mezze is part of a shrinking "Square of Security" in central Damascus, where many government and military institutions are based and where senior Syrian officials live.

Sheltered for nearly two years from the bloodshed and destruction ravaging much of the rest of Syria, it has been slowly sucked into violence as rebel forces based to the east of the capital launch mortar attacks and carry out bombings in the once-insulated city centre.

Mr Al Assad has lost control of large areas of northern and eastern Syria, faces a growing challenge in the southern province of Deraa, and is battling rebels in many cities.

But his forces have been waging powerful ground offensives, backed by artillery and air strikes, against rebel-held territory around the capital and Homs.