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Apr 30, 2013 at 07:56am IST

Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi escapes assassination bid

Damascus: Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi escaped an assassination bid when a bomb exploded near his convoy in Damascus. The attack killed at least five people and left several others injured including the country's interior minister.

The Prime Minister was not hurt. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the suicide attack.

The UN has condemned the attack and the civil war, which has claimed more than 70 thousand lives in over two years. The explosion shook the Mezze neighbourhood shortly after 9 am (0600 GMT), sending a plume of thick black smoke into the sky, Internet footage posted by opposition activists showed.

"The terrorist explosion in al-Mezze was an attempt to target the convoy of the prime minister. Doctor Wael al-Halqi is well and not hurt at all," state television said. Syria's Al-Ikhbariya television later broadcast footage of Halqi, who looked and sounded composed and unruffled, chairing an economic committee at the prime ministry.

Mezze is part of a shrinking "Square of Security" in central Damascus, where many government and military institutions are based and where senior Syrian officials live. Sheltered for nearly two years from the bloodshed and destruction ravaging much of the rest of Syria, it has been slowly sucked into violence as rebel forces based to the east of the capital launch mortar attacks and carry out bombings in the once-insulated city centre.

President Bashar al-Assad has lost control of large areas of northern and eastern Syria, faces a growing challenge in the southern province of Deraa, and is battling rebels in many cities. But his forces have been waging powerful ground offensives, backed by artillery and air strikes, against rebel-held territory around the capital and near the central city of Homs which links Damascus to the heartland of Assad's minority Alawite sect in the mountains overlooking the Mediterranean.

Most rebel fighters are from Syria's Sunni Muslim majority. On Sunday, activists said rebels were battling troops near a complex linked to Syria's alleged chemical weapons programme - the Scientific Studies and Research Centre on the foothills of Qasioun Mountain in the northern Barzeh district of Damascus.

The United States said last week Assad's forces had probably used chemical arms in the conflict and congressional pressure has mounted on President Barack Obama to do more to help the rebels. But Obama has made clear he is in no rush to intervene on the basis of evidence he said was still preliminary.

The United Nations says more than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria's civil war. Five million people have fled their homes, including 1.4 million refugees in nearby countries, and war losses are estimated at many tens of billions of dollars.

The Beirut-based UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia estimates that 400,000 houses have been completely destroyed, 300,000 partially destroyed and a further half million suffered some kind of structural damage.

(With Additional Inputs From Reuters)