- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 18, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — The bombing in Damascus that killed two top Syrian defense officials is evidence that violence there is “rapidly spinning out of control,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Wednesday.

Appearing with Mr. Panetta at a Pentagon news conference, British Defense Minister Philip Hammond said the escalating violence indicates that the rebels feel emboldened and that the government of President Bashar Assad is suffering “probably some fragmentation around the edges” as it struggles to keep a grip on power.

A bomb ripped through a high-level security meeting Wednesday in Damascus, the Syrian capital, killing the defense minister as well as Mr. Assad’s brother-in-law in the harshest blow to the government’s inner circle in the 16-month uprising.

“The violence there has only gotten worse, and the loss of lives has only increased,” Mr. Panetta said, “which tells us that this is a situation that is rapidly spinning out of control.” He said that is all the more reason for the international community to bring “maximum pressure” on Mr. Assad to step down and permit a stable transfer of power.

Mr. Hammond said he agreed with Mr. Panetta’s assessment.

“I think what we’re seeing is an opposition which is emboldened, clearly an opposition with access increasingly to weaponry, (and) probably some fragmentation around the edges of the regime as well,” Mr. Hammond said.

Mr. Panetta and Mr. Hammond both cautioned the Assad regime not to lose control of its chemical weapons.

“We will not tolerate the use or the proliferation of those chemical weapons,” Mr. Hammond said.