Syrian defense minister killed in bombing

(CNN) Syria’s defense minister, Dawood Rajiha, was killed Wednesday in a suicide bombing at a national security building in Damascus, state-run media reported.

The bombing took place during a meeting of ministers and security officials, state-run TV said.

The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said initial reports indicate a car bomb caused an “intense explosion” in Damascus.

The explosion marks a pivotal point in the 16-month Syrian crisis and comes days after heavy violence reached the seat of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Rajiha is the highest-ranking known member of the Syrian regime to be killed.

Chaos ensued elsewhere in Damascus when loud explosions and heavy gunfire echoed through the city, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.

Meanwhile, in the besieged city of Homs, “regime forces have intensified the shelling by using helicopter gunships, artillery and mortars in the city,” the LCC said.

By midday Wednesday, at least 15 people had been killed across the country, the opposition network said.

Halfway across the world, the U.N. Security Council could vote Wednesday on the fate of 300 U.N. monitors as a Friday deadline looms.

The observers’ work has been largely curtailed due to relentless violence that has surged in recent weeks and has moved into the capital of Damascus.

Security Council diplomats in New York are wrangling this week over dueling draft resolutions on the Syrian crisis.

Western countries are pushing for a resolution that threatens sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime if government forces don’t stop attacks. That draft also calls for renewing the U.N. observer mission for 45 days.

But throughout Syria’s 16-month crisis, Russia has opposed any international effort that seeks to blame, punish or change the Syrian government. Russia – along with China – has vetoed two previous draft resolutions in the U.N. Security Council, leading to accusations that Russia is protecting the Syrian regime.

Russia, meanwhile, has put forth its own draft, which “strongly urges all parties in Syria to cease immediately all armed violence in all its forms.” The Russian draft also calls for renewing the U.N. observer mission for three months.

On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague visited the Syrian-Jordan border and said his visit “brought home to me the full extent of the human tragedy unfolding in Syria.”

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~ by Rafael Martel on July 18, 2012.

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