BEIRUT - A car bomb killed a judge in Damascus on Wednesday, the second assassination in the capital in two days targeting high-ranking supporters of President Bashar Assad.
The state-run SANA news agency said a "terrorist group" planted explosives under the car of Judge Abad Nadhwah when it was parked in front of his house. The bomb was detonated remotely, killing the judge instantly. Assad's government often refers to the opposition fighters as "terrorists."
The regime stronghold of Damascus has seen an upswing in violence this week with some of the fiercest clashes in months.
The new challenge from rebels in the capital comes as the U.S. and Britain take steps to bolster the fragmented Syrian opposition. British Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday that the U.K. planned to change its policy and deal directly with opposition military leaders. Previously, Britain has had contacts only with exile groups and political opposition figures inside Syria.
He urged newly re-elected President Barack Obama to join the U.K. in opening direct talks with rebel fighters and said they must do more to end the civil war that has killed more than 36,000, according to activists' tallies.
In the Turkish capital Ankara, a Foreign Ministry official said Turkey and its allies, including the United States, have discussed the possibility of using Patriot missiles to protect a zone inside Syria. The missiles are one of a number of scenarios being considered as a way to stop regime attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians, the official said. Planning was put on hold pending the U.S. election, but the issue is likely to be taken up now that Obama has won a second term, he added, saying any missile deployment might happen under a "NATO umbrella."
The assassination in Damascus was the second in two days.
The brother of Syria's parliament speaker was gunned down on Tuesday. A prominent actor, a Syrian-born Palestinian who was an outspoken supporter of Assad, was found dead on Sunday. The family of Mohammed Rafeh said his body bore gunshot wounds to the head, neck and shoulder.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Rafeh was kidnapped Friday night in the tense neighborhood of Barzeh, which has been hit by fighting between rebels and government troops. The Observatory said Rafeh was killed for apparently giving information to the regime about rebels and anti-government protesters.
In other violence, three people were killed and seven were injured in a separate attack in Damascus when a mortar round hit Al-Mazzeh district, SANA said. Al Mazzeh neighborhood is predominantly populated by Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam that Assad and many in his regime belong to.
The opposition and rebel forces are mostly Sunni Muslims.