AMMAN — Syrian rebels fired mortars at President Bashar al-Assad’s palace in Damascus today but missed, in an attack underlining the growing boldness of forces fighting to end his family’s 42 years in power.
Residents told Reuters the heavy-calibre shells hit a neighbouring residential district that is home to members of Assad’s Alawite sect. State-run media said at least three people were killed and seven wounded in what it described as a “terrorist attack”.
Syria’s war, which has already spilled into neighbouring Lebanon and threatened to spread instability in the Middle East, poses one of the greatest foreign policy challenges for US President Barack Obama as he starts his second term.
Fighters in the mainly Sunni Muslim opposition have stepped up attacks in the capital this week, setting off at least two bombs in areas populated by Alawites and assassinating two figures seen as close to the Assad administration.
The violence highlighted the sectarian dimension of a civil war that is deepening the rift between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims in the region – Assad’s Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.
An Islamist rebel unit said it targeted but missed the palace, a compound which sits on a hill overlooking the city that is mainly used for official functions. It was impossible to verify whether Assad was staying there at the time. He has several residences across the city.
“This operation came in response to the massacres committed in our beloved city,” the Lions of Islam rebel group said in a statement. They said they also attacked a military airport and an intelligence facility in the capital, but there was no independent confirmation of those reports.
State television said a judge, Abad Nadwa, was killed today by a bomb placed under his car.
The attempted mortar strike on Assad’s palace drew comparisons with a bomb attack in a highly guarded district of Damascus in July that killed four of the president’s top lieutenants.
International and regional rivalries have complicated efforts to mediate any resolution to the conflict — Russia and China have vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions that would have put Assad under pressure.
The United States and other Western powers have also grown increasingly frustrated by divisions and in-fighting between Syrian opposition groups. (Reuters)