Syria’s ‘Rapidly Spinning Out of Control,’ Panetta Says

The killing of Syria’s defense minister and President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law indicates the government may not be able to control the outcome of escalating warfare, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.

Assad has ignored repeated calls by the U.S. and its allies to step down and make way for a peaceful transition of power, Panetta said today in a news conference at the Pentagon after meeting with U.K. Secretary of State for Defense Philip Hammond.

“By ignoring those appeals by the international community the violence there has only gotten worse and the loss of life has only increased, which tells us that this is a situation that’s rapidly spinning out of control,” Panetta said of fighting that has escalated in the capital, Damascus.

A bomb attack against Syria’s national security headquarters killed Defense Minister Dawoud Rajhah and Assad’s brother-in-law Major General Assef Shawkat, core members of the military establishment battling insurgents.

Panetta and Hammond also said the Assad regime was responsible for ensuring the safety of Syria’s chemical weapons.

“It is something that we made very clear to them -- that they’ve a responsibility to safeguard their chemical sites, and we’ll hold them responsible should anything happen to those sites,” Panetta said.

The rising violence indicates that the Syrian opposition is “emboldened” and has “access increasingly to weaponry,” Hammond said at the news conference.

Both the Syrian regime and the opposition need to “understand that the international community is determined to see an orderly and peaceful transition of power, not least because of the presence of chemical weapons stocks in the country, which we don’t want to see a situation that’s out of control,” Hammond said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gopal Ratnam in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at

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