BEIRUT (AP) — Gunmen killed the brother of Syria’s parliament speaker as he drove to work in Damascus on Tuesday, the state-run news agency reported, as the international envoy for Syria warned the country could become another Somalia.
Mohammed Osama Laham, brother of Parliament Speaker Jihad Laham, was killed in the Damascus neighborhood of Midan, the SANA news agency said.
It was the latest in a wave of assassinations targeting Syrian officials, army officers and other prominent supporters of President Bashar Assad’s regime. Four of the president’s top security aides were killed in a rebel bombing of state security headquarters in Damascus on July 18.
The killing came a day after some of the most intense fighting in Damascus in months as rebels wage a civil war to unseat Assad.
U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said what is happening in Syria is a “big catastrophe.” In remarks published Tuesday in the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, he said the 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,” 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 war lords and militias.”
The east African nation of Somalia has been mired in war 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.
In another blow to the regime, Turkey’s state-run news agency reported Tuesday that seven Syrian generals defected to Turkey. The Anadolu Agency said they arrived in the Turkish border province of Hatay seeking refuge. Their identities were not disclosed.
The agency said they were taken to a refugee camp in Hatay that shelters defected soldiers under tight security. They join dozens of other generals who have abandoned the regime. More than 110,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey since the uprising began in March last year.
In Jordan, which also borders Syria, visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Riad Hijab, the former Syrian prime minister who defected to Jordan in August. It was a rare, high-level contact between the Moscow government and a Syrian opposition figure. Russia is one of the strongest international supporters of Assad’s regime.
Lavrov said his talks with Hijab in Amman were meant to get firsthand information from the Syrian opposition on how they view a solution to the civil war.
“The idea of the meeting was to get an agreement or a roadmap on how to deal with opposition forces and save the Syrian people,” Lavrov told reporters.
In the Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Palestinian group Hamas said the Syrian government has sealed its offices in Damascus, finalizing the break between the Islamic militant group and its former patron.
Ayman Taha said the move had been expected after Hamas openly switched sides to support the armed rebellion against Assad’s regime. Speaking from Cairo, Taha said Monday’s move by Syrian authorities was “a result of our siding with the Syrian people in their just struggle.”