Panetta says situation in Syria "rapidly spinning out of control"
U.S. officials said that the bombing could mark a turning point in the 16 month conflict. The Obama administration has responded by slapping financial sanctions on many top members in Syrian President Bashar al Assad's government. The Treasury Department announced the sanctions in the hours following the bombing in Damascus, the Washington Post reports.
Through the sanctions, any U.S. assets that the ministers hold will be frozen and Americans will be barred from doing business with them.
David S. Cohen, the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury said that the actions "reflect the unwavering commitment of the United States to pressure the Assad regime to end the carnage and relinquish power," according to the Washington Post.
British Defense Minister Philip Hammond suggested that the violence indicates that the rebels feel emboldened and that the Assad government is suffering "probably some fragmentation around the edges," the Washington Post reports. Hammond added that, "there is a sense that the situation is deteriorating and is becoming more and more unpredictable."
Killed in the bombing were Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha, Gen. Assef Shawkat and Hassan Turkmani, a former defense minister. Assad's brother-in-law was also killed. The bombing marks the harshest blow to the government's inner circle since the uprising began last year.
A senior U.S. defense official who spoke on a condition of anonymity said that there may be new cracks in the Assad regime, but it was too soon to say with certainty that the attack was perpetrated or facilitated by Assad insiders, according to the Washington Post.
Anthony Cordesman, a Mideast expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the attack demonstrated the growing capability of the rebels, though the attack does not necessary mean the regime is on the verge of collapse.
Hammond and Panetta both called on other nations to assist in putting pressure on Assad's exit.
"It's extremely important that the international community, working with other countries that have concerns in that area, ... bring maximum pressure on Assad to do what's right to step down and to allow for that peaceful transition," Panetta said, the Washington Post reports.
Hammond suggested that Russia and China take a more active role in finding a peaceful solution.
"The regime exists at the moment because it receives tacit support from other powers in the world," Hammond said, the Washington Post reports. "If those powers are sending clear messages about the limits of their tolerance for the activities of the regime, that will be an effective constraint on the activities of the regime."