ANTAKYA, Turkey - Syrian army defectors and rebel commanders based in Turkey said on Thursday a bomb that killed three top military officials in Damascus would hasten the end of President Bashar Assad's rule, predicting more defections and divisive internal feuding.

Brigadier Fayez Amr, a senior member of defectors' group, the Joint Leadership of the Higher Council, said the attack was a turning point in the 16-month-old uprising.

Intense clashes were reported late on Wednesday in center of the capital and the army was shelling its own capital from the surrounding mountains as night fell.

"The regime might now resort to more lethal weapons in retaliation but the biggest loser will ultimately be the regime. The strength of the regime no longer matters when it faces the will of a people against soldiers who have lost their will to fight and when a soldier knows he is fighting his own people. Victory is closer than ever now," Amr told Reuters.

Syria's defense minister and Assad's brother-in-law were killed in the attack, the biggest blow to Assad's high command.

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