Syria's President Bashar al-Assad
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad Reuters

Israeli intelligence officials said reports that Syrian rebels have tried to assassinate close aides of President Bashar al-Assad four days ago are “credible,” as the violent quagmire in Syria has dragged on for more fifteen months with no resolution in sight.

According to a report in the Haaretz newspaper, Israeli government figures believe that the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) successfully poisoned Assad's brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, who is the chief of Syrian intelligence, as well as five other senior officials. Their lives were saved by quick medical intervention.

The other targets were defense minister Daoud Rajha; interior minister Mohammed al-Shaar; Hassan Turkmani, an aide to the vice president; national security chief Hisham Bakhtiar; and Mohammed Said Bakhtian, national secretary of the ruling Baath Party.

The FSA had earlier announced that the poisoning of senior Syrian officials was carried out by Bakhtian’s own bodyguard, who apparently switched sides. Damascus has officially denied that there were any poisoning attempts.
Indeed, two of the alleged victims made rare appearances on TV or called the state media to prove they are still alive.

Shaar himself told state-controlled TV: “I’m speaking from my office at the Interior Ministry. All my colleagues are on duty.”

The other Syrians apparently targeted have, however, not been seen in public since.

Israel believes this development marks a significant turning point in the Syrian crisis, namely that opposition groups have somehow crossed into Assad’s inner sanctum, raising grave doubts about the regime’s sustainability.

A senior Israeli official told Haaretz: The Syrian revolt is no longer in faraway cities; it's reached the leaders of the regime. An assassination on a similar scale in the future could accelerate the regime's collapse. The opposition has the tools to reach the heads of Assad's regime, and in this case, it's been proven.

He added: All those [Syrian officials] who ate the food were rushed to the hospital and saved at the last minute by medical attendants. The bodyguard who slipped the poison in was smuggled out of Syria.

Separately, a former high-ranking Syrian army officer, told lawmakers in Britain that he would like to see international military intervention in his homeland – similar to the NATO bombing campaign in Libya last year -- to prevent what he describes as a barbaric genocide committed by Assad’s forces.

Former Brig-Gen Aqil Hashem said the only chance to save Syria now is through foreign force. He suggested the formation of a safe zone in north-west Syria –somewhat similar to the military-protected zone created for the Kurds in northern Iraq in 1991.

“I believe it is the utmost evil genocide in Syria,” Hashem told his audience.

“The regime is killing its own people.”