Syrian Judge Killed in Renewed Fighting in Damascus


A series of rebel mortar attacks rocked Damascus on Wednesday as a bomb killed a judge in the second assassination of a senior official in as many days.

Judge Abad Nadhwah died instantly when a remotely detonated bomb exploded under his car, the state-run SANA news agency said. Gunmen assassinated the brother of the Syrian Parliament speaker in broad daylight on Tuesday in a central neighborhood, according to SANA. Mohammad Osama al-Laham, was felled by bullets fired into his car in the Midan neighborhood while en route to work.

SANA attributed both attacks to terrorists, the government’s standard description for the opposition. Mr. Laham was the brother of Jihad Laham, the speaker of the People’s Assembly. Four mortar attacks, claimed by the Free Syrian Army, shook government strongholds in Damascus, the Syrian capital, on Wednesday in what was seen as a significant escalation.

Fierce shelling and airstrikes by regime forces were also reported by rebel groups in several areas of the Damascus suburbs while clashes raged between the Free Syrian Army and government troops.

The Houran Freemen Brigade claimed responsibility for mortar attacks that targeted Mezze 86, a Damascus neighborhood near the official palace that houses the offices of President Bashar al-Assad. The Mezze military airfield and the prime minister’s administrative complex also were hit.

Activists said the palace remained intact, because of mistakes in coordinating the attack, and that Mezze 86 was hit by mistake.

Mezze 86, a hilltop district mostly populated by members of Mr. Assad’s minority Alawite sect, had also been targeted on Tuesday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group based in Britain with contacts inside Syria, reported on Wednesday that three civilians were killed and more than two dozen wounded by shelling in the Hajar al-Aswad district in the Damascus suburbs where clashes have been raging between rebel fighters and regime forces helped by fighters from pro-government Palestinian groups. Two rebel fighters also were killed, the observatory said.

“The situation inside Syria is turning grimmer every day, and the risk is growing that this crisis could explode outward into an already volatile region,” Jeffrey D. Feltman, the United Nations under secretary general for political affairs, told a meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday.

Underscoring that threat, Israel accused Syria of moving tanks into a demilitarized zone of the disputed Golan Heights region captured by the Israelis in the 1967 war and asked the Security Council to address “this alarming development.” Mr. Feltman, who answered questions from reporters at the United Nations, said he was concerned about the new Golan tension and called it “another example of spillover from areas that had been previously immune from fighting.”

Mr. Feltman also quoted activists as saying that 250 people had died across Syria on Monday. “We continue to hope that the Security Council can come together and act in a unified fashion on Syria, as this would be critical to any peace effort,” he said.

There was no sign of that.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, held talks in Jordan with the highest-ranking defector from the Syrian government, former Prime Minister Riyad Farid Hijab, who attacked Moscow’s enduring support for Mr. Assad as unworkable for a political transition.

Remarks by David Cameron, the British prime minister, that Mr. Assad might be granted safe passage out of his country as a means to end the fighting also caused a stir, with his office quickly stressing that he did not mean Mr. Assad should avoid prosecution.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the international envoy to the conflict, warned that unless there was a greater international effort, Syria risked descending into becoming another Somalia — which as a failed state became a font of international piracy and other terrorist problems for 20 years. In an interview with the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat, Mr. Brahimi said the main effort should be a binding Security Council resolution on a political transition.

Other mayhem in the capital and throughout the country on Tuesday included three bombs that exploded late in the day in Qudsiya, a working-class suburb of Damascus, according to SANA and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

At least 10 people died and 40 were wounded, the group said. The bombs exploded in crowded Zahra Square, near an area heavily populated by the Republican Guards, an elite military unit whose members are drawn from Mr. Assad’s minority Alawite sect, which controls Syria. The guards are among the main units used to suppress the opposition.

On Monday, opposition members vowed to step up attacks in the city center to try to draw government units away from extended assaults on other outlying neighborhoods.

“We are planning to escalate our attacks on the areas of the government thugs,” said one member of the Jundullah Battalion, a unit of the Free Syrian Army full of Sunni Muslim fundamentalists.

In Amman, Jordan, Mr. Lavrov held a rare meeting between a senior Russian official and the opposition, saying he wanted to glean their thoughts on ending the conflict.

“The idea of the meeting was to get an agreement or a road map on how to deal with opposition forces and save the Syrian people,” Mr. Lavrov told a news conference. At the same time, he warned that any alternative to the Assad government might visit further chaos on Syria.

Mr. Hijab rejected that assessment, saying that replacing Mr. Assad was the sole way out of the uprising, which started as a peaceful protest movement in March 2011.

“Russia is searching for a political solution in which Bashar al-Assad stays,” he said in an interview with Al Arabiya, an Arabic satellite television station. “We told Lavrov frankly that there could be no political solution at all with the presence of Bashar al-Assad.”

On a visit to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, Mr. Cameron told Al-Arabiya in an interview that if safe passage and possibly immunity for Mr. Assad would end the bloodshed, it might be negotiated.

“I am certainly not offering him an exit plan to Britain, but if he wants to leave he could leave, that could be arranged,” said Mr. Cameron. “Of course I would favor him facing the full force of international law and justice for what he’s done.”

Mr. Assad has shown no intention of going anywhere. Indeed, analysts have long said that the fact that he inherited the presidency from his father prompted him to destroy Syria rather than abandon his legacy.

The lack of a cohesive Syrian opposition has been blamed for preventing a more robust international effort on Syria. Efforts to create a more unified coalition sputtered along Tuesday in Doha, Qatar, where a meeting was scheduled for Thursday to try to implement an American-backed plan to broaden the opposition to include more factions, including more representatives of the military units doing the fighting.

On that front, news agencies in Turkey reported that seven Syrian Army generals arrived with their families through the border town of Reyhanli in Hatay Province, escorted under tight security.

The generals were sent to the Apaydin military camp, home to high-ranking military officers and their families who have fled Syria.

The Turkish newspaper Zaman reported on its Web site that the latest defections brought the total number of Syrian generals who have defected to 42.

NY Times