Syrian state TV denied reports Sunday that Syrian opposition forces had killed top regime officials in an overnight operation near Damascus, Israel Radio reported. Two of the men who were allegedly killed gave a live phone interview on the TV channel’s news show.
Syrian rebels claimed in an Internet statement that they carried out a sophisticated attack that killed top political and security officials meeting in the capital.
Rebel leaders reported on Sunday that among those dead were President Bashar Assad’s brother-in-law and former head of military intelligence Assef Shawkat and Defense Minister Dawoud Rajiha.
According to an al-Jazeera report, a special team of the Free Syrian Army killed six officials including Rajiha, Shawkat and former defense minister Hasan Turkmani.
But the Syrian interior minister denied the reports in a phone call to state-run Syrian TV, saying they were “laughable.”
“I am speaking to you from my office at the interior ministry,” he said.
Turkmani also called the station and said the reports were proof of “media bankruptcy.”
“My colleagues and I are well and carrying out our duty to serve the country… these are blatant lies,” he said.
Syrian officials rarely respond to claims and statements issued by the opposition and their quick denials on Sunday were unusual.
Clashes in the heart of the Syrian capital have become more common recently but are still rare compared to other opposition strongholds in Syria that witness deadly violence almost daily.
The Local Coordination Committees said “huge reinforcements” were brought in to Kfar Souseh in the wake of the overnight fighting.
A cease-fire that was supposed to start last month has never really taken hold, undermining the rest of international envoy Kofi Annan’s plan, which is supposed to lead to talks to end the 15-month crisis.
World powers remain divided on how to end Syria’s crisis. The US and other Western and Arab nations have called for Assad to leave power, and the US and European Union have placed increasingly stiff sanctions on Damascus. But with Russia and China blocking significant new UN punishments, US officials are trying to get consensus among other allies about ways to promote Assad’s ouster.