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The Syrian government has foiled an attempted coup some four months ago, the German daily newspaper Die Welt reported on Saturday.

The paper reported that Assef Shawkat, President Bashar Assad's brother-in-law and head of Syria's military intelligence had tried, assisted by hundreds of officers, to drive the president from power.

It emerges that Hezbollah official Imad Mughniyah, who was assassinated in Damascus a few days after the botched coup, brought the conspiracy to the president's knowledge. After a governmental investigation, Shawkat and his associates were arrested in connection with Mughniyah's killing.

Shawkat was immediately removed from his prominent position after his arrest, but has not been indicted since, apparently due to Assad's desire to save his sister, who is married to Shawkat, from harm.

Syria has blamed Israel for Mughniya's assassination, but it now emerges that Shawkat and his co-conspirators may be behind it.

The Syrian Embassy in Berlin declined the report.

A Damascus source said that "coups d'etat are behind the times. Syria is a stable country, playing a central role in securing stability and peace in the Middle East."

"Little wonder, then, that some people will try to undermine Syria's devotion to this mission," the source added.