Syrian officials attended the funeral on Sunday of a senior security officer whose killing has shaken the tightly controlled country.
Brigadier General Mohammad Suleiman, 49, was killed on Saturday at a beach resort near the port city of Tartous, residents said. It was the first known assassination in Syria since the killing of Hezbollah commander Imad Moughniyah in Damascus in February.
A Syrian opposition Web site said Suleiman, a confidant of President Bashar al-Assad, had been shot in the head in his seaside villa. Another site said the shots had been fired by a sniper from a boat. The resort was cordoned off for hours and local media did not report the killing.
Assad was visiting Iran on Saturday. His brother Maher al-Assad, head of the Republican Guards, and other senior officers were at Suleiman's funeral in the town of Dreikish, east of Tartous, sources said.
The presence of Maher al-Assad, one of the most powerful figures in Syria, indicated Suleiman's pivotal role in the Syrian hierarchy and the high regard he enjoyed among members of the ruling class.
The sources said Suleiman was also involved in efforts to upgrade Syria's military readiness. Bashar al-Assad said in a letter to the army this week that Syria must not shy away from improving its arsenal. "This is earth-shattering. Since when do we hear of assassinations taking place like this in Syria? Suleiman was privy to many things," one of the sources told Reuters.
Syrian Albawaba reported yesterday Suleiman also served as Syria's liaison officer to Lebanon's Hizbullah movement."
There was no immediate comment from the Syrian authorities on the reports.