Syrian President Bashar Assad
Syrian President Bashar Assad Israel news file (photo)

Syrian leaders believe Israel may be to blame in the death of a top aide to Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to U.S. diplomatic cables made public by Wikileaks. The aide in question is Brigadier General Mohammed Sleiman, who was assassinated by a sniper in Tartus, Syria, in August 2008.

Sleiman was known for being close to Assad, and is believed to have been involved in secretive military projects, according to one cable.

His death came less than one year after Israel bombed a secret Syrian nuclear facility. “The most obvious suspects are the Israelis,” a cable said.

Another leaked cable said Syrian reporters “are under instructions not to report the story” of Sleiman's death. The killing may have been kept under wraps in order not to embarrass its security apparatus, which failed to prevent the killing and may not have been sure who carried it out.

However, another possible explanation was offered as well – that Syria downplayed the event in order not to derail indirect peace talks with Israel.

The killing became a subject of debate within the Syrian government, as some argued that Syria should break off talks with Israel, American diplomats said.