Why the attempt on a Prime Minister's life hardly matters

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It is a mark of the depth, scope and seriousness of Syria's civil war that the failed attempt to kill the Prime Minister hardly matters.

I don't say this lightly.

Today's explosion in Damascus is not an insignificant attack.

It's just that compared to the titanic struggle being waged across the whole country and the relative unimportance of the target himself, one failed bid to assassinate an Assad official hardly makes for a front page headline.

The target of the assassination attempt, Wael al-Halqi is, to all intents and purposes, a nobody.

He was an obscure Health Minister until nine months ago. His predecessor defected.

Many senior Assad loyalists made it clear they did not want the Prime Minister's job.

Al-Halqi had his arm twisted and took it.

But he is not like a British Prime Minister; he has almost no power.

His role, and indeed the attempt to kill him, is significant only because of its symbolism.

Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi
Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi Credit: Reuters

He was targeted at around nine this morning. A small to medium sized bomb placed in a car was detonated as his convoy passed.

Several people appear to have been killed but he escaped unhurt. He was later shown on state TV at a economic committee meeting.

It's not absolutely clear that this was filmed just after the attack as the TV network claimed, but he appears none the worse for his ordeal.

Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi survived a bomb attack in central Damascus,
Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi survived a bomb attack in central Damascus. Credit: SANA

The bombing is significant for only two reasons.

Number one, it took place in what the government says is a secure area. The Mazzeh district is heavily guarded and home to many senior regime officials.

But someone was able to place a bomb there undetected and to detonate it, almost certainly by remote control, undetected.

The regime says central Damascus is "a square of security". But the square is being punctured regularly.

Rebels boast that it's already a triangle that's shrinking.

State television reported that Mr al-Halqi survived and later attended a meeting Credit: APTN

Secondly, the attack is important because someone knew exactly when the Prime Minister was leaving and when and where he was likely to pass.

There is the strong possibility there was inside information about his movements.

There was certainly inside information when President Assad's brother in law and the Defence Minister were killed in an explosion at a supposedly secure building in Central Damascus last year.

And someone got a bomb inside army headquarters in Damascus some months later.

President Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat was killed in a bombing last July.

Rebels have proved once again that they can strike almost whenever and wherever they want. And that Damascus is slowly becoming less and less secure.

But the same goes for Aleppo, where the government now controls less than half of the city.

And in other cities and the countryside the regime is fighting an increasingly tougher battle to hold onto power.

There may be a stalemate, but the men who rule Damascus cannot say with any confidence that they are winning this war.

Watch how long Wael al-Halqi stays in his post. It may tell us a lot about how confident President Assad's men are about his ability to stop the "Damascus square" shrinking to nothing.