Brother of Syria’s parliament speaker assassinated

Shooters gun down victim; international envoy warns of Somalia situation

BEIRUT — Gunmen killed the brother of Syria’s parliament speaker in a hail of bullets as he drove to work in Damascus on Tuesday, the state news agency said, as the international envoy for Syria warned the country could become another Somalia.

Mohammed Osama Laham, the brother of Parliament Speaker Jihad Laham, became the latest victim of a wave of assassinations targeting Syrian officials, army officers and other prominent supporters of President Bashar Assad’s regime. Four of the leader’s top security officials were killed in a rebel bombing on the state security headquarters in Damascus in July.

Mr. Laham was gunned down in the Damascus neighborhood of Midan, the SANA state news agency said. The killing came a day after some of the most intense fighting in Damascus in months as rebels wage a civil war to unseat Mr. Assad.

The government and activists said a series of explosions Tuesday evening rocked the northwestern edge of Damascus. At least 13 people were killed and 30 wounded, according to a government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media. SANA said the three blasts occurred in the al-Wuroud district near the town of Qudsaya, causing significant destruction.

Activists said the bombs were placed in a main square near housing for the country’s elite troops from the Republican Guards, which is led by Mr. Assad’s brother Maher and is charged with protecting the capital.

U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who, like his predecessor Kofi Annan has been unable to put an end to the 19-month-old civil war, called the events in Syria a “big catastrophe.” In remarks published Tuesday in the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, he said international efforts now are focused on getting a “binding resolution by the [U.N.] Security Council” to start a political process that will lead to change.

“I don’t want to go too far in pessimism, but the situation in Syria is very dangerous. The Syrian people are suffering a lot,” Mr. Brahimi said.

“I believe that if the crisis is not solved in a right way, there will be the danger of Somalization. It will mean the fall of the state, rise of warlords and militias.”

The east African nation of Somalia has been mired in conflict for two decades after warlords overthrew a longtime dictator in 1991 and then turned on each other. The government, backed by African Union troops, is currently battling Islamist extremist rebels linked to al Qaeda.

If the Syrian regime collapses, the country could fast shatter along multiple fault lines, leading to a protracted and bloody conflict.

The predominantly Sunni country is a patchwork of religious and ethnic groups. The regime is led by Mr. Assad’s Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, but there are also considerable Kurdish and Christian populations in the country.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 100 people were killed in violence across Syria on Tuesday, including air raids on Houla, a group of villages in the central province of Homs, that killed seven people. The group also reported air raids on the Damascus suburbs of Douma, Kfar Batna and Maadamiyeh and the northern province of Idlib.

SANA said six regime supporters were killed when 11 mortar rounds fell near a pro-government demonstration Monday night in the northern city of Aleppo.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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