Syrian rebels target Assad palace
Syrian rebels fired mortars at President Bashar al-Assad's palace in Damascus today but missed, in an attack underlining the growing boldness of forces fighting to end his family's 42 years in power.
As violence flared in other parts of the country, Turkey said it was about to ask Nato to station Patriot missiles along its border with Syria to guard against violence spilling onto its territory.
Syria's war, which has already destabilised neighbouring Lebanon and raised the spectre of wider Middle East turbulence, poses one of the greatest foreign policy challenges for US president Barack Obama as he starts his second term.
Damascus residents told Reuters heavy-calibre shells apparently aimed at the palace hit the nearby residential Mezze 86 district that is home to members of Dr Assad's Alawite sect.
State-run media said at least three people were killed and seven wounded in what it described as a terrorist attack.
Rebels have focused efforts on high-profile attacks against symbols of Dr Assad's rule, such as his palace. A July bomb that killed four of Assad's top lieutenants was shortly followed by an advance into Damascus by rebels who were then partially beaten back by Dr Assad's forces.
Fighters in the mainly Sunni Muslim opposition have stepped up attacks in the capital this week, setting off bombs in at least two areas populated by Alawites and assassinating two figures seen as close to the Assad administration.
The violence has highlighted the sectarian dimension of a civil war that is deepening the rift between Sunni and Shia Muslims in the region - Assad's Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shia Islam.
An Islamist rebel unit said it targeted but missed the palace, a compound mainly used for official functions which sits on a hill overlooking the city. It was not possible to verify whether Dr Assad was staying there at the time. He has several residences in the city.
"This operation came in response to the massacres committed in our beloved city," the Lions of Islam rebel group said in a statement. They said they also attacked a military airport and an intelligence facility in the capital, but there was no independent confirmation of those reports.
State media said a judge, Abad Nadwa, was killed in Damascus today by a bomb placed under his car. The brother of the speaker of parliament was killed in Damascus yesterday.
International and regional rivalries have complicated efforts to mediate any resolution to the conflict - Russia and China have vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions that would have put Dr Assad under pressure.
The conflict has also started to drag in neighbouring countries. Turkey has been responding in kind to mortar bombs hitting its territory from fighting between Syrian rebels and Syrian government forces.
A senior Turkish foreign ministry official told Reuters today the government would make an "imminent" request to Nato to protect its 910-km (560-mile) border with Patriot missiles.
The official said there was a potential missile threat to Turkey from Syria and Turkey had a right to take steps to counter such a threat. He gave no further details.
The United States and other Western powers say a resolution to the conflict has also been frustrated by divisions and in-fighting between Syrian opposition groups.