Russia says rebels may win, jihadists claim Damascus bomb
Moscow acknowledged on Thursday that the Syrian regime, its longtime ally, might lose its battle with Arab- and Western-backed rebels, 21 months into a conflict that has cost tens of thousands of lives.
And jihadists who have been at the forefront of latest rebel advances on the battlefield claimed a deadly attack on the interior ministry at the heart of the Syrian regime on Wednesday.
The Russian comments came a day after Syria's interior minister was lightly wounded in a bold Damascus attack and claims, denied by the government, that an increasingly desperate regime had begun using Scud missiles against its foes.
And car bomb attacks on Thursday at an army residential block in a town southwest of Damascus killed 24 people, state media said, further highlighting the regime's vulnerability even around the capital.
Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov's remarks appeared to be the first public acknowledgement by a senior Russian official that the increasingly bloody conflict in Syria might culminate in a rebel victory.
Bogdanov said Arab and Western recognition of the opposition on Wednesday as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people had emboldened rebels to press their military campaign rather than seek the negotiated solution championed by Moscow.
"They (the rebels) are saying that victory is not far away, 'let's take Aleppo, let's take Damascus,'" the RIA Novosti news agency quoted him as saying.
"The recognition of the opposition, the training with rebel fighters and the weapons from abroad are now only inspiring the opposition."
In recent weeks, rebel capture of a series of key army bases, notably by jihadists, has given them control of large swathes of north and east Syria, and Bogdanov said military defeat for Assad's regime could no longer be ruled out.
"As for preparing for victory by the opposition, this, of course, cannot be excluded," Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency quoted him as saying.
"You need to look the facts in the eyes -- the government regime is losing more and more control over a large part of the country's territory."
Those views were echoed by NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
"I think the regime in Damascus is approaching collapse... it is only a question of time," Rasmussen said in Brussels.
A car bombing on Thursday in the government-held town of Qatana, southwest of Damascus, struck near an elementary school. Children made up seven of the 16 dead and many of the 23 wounded, state media and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
Later the same day, eight civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in another car bombing in the town of Jdaidet Artuz, state television reported.
At least 78 people, including 50 civilians, were killed across Syria on Thursday, said the Syrian Observatory, which relies on activists and medics for its information.
The bomb attacks near Damascus followed a Wednesday bombing of the interior ministry that killed at least five people and put Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar in hospital with a shoulder injury sustained when his office ceiling collapsed, a security source told AFP.
The jihadist Al-Nusra Front on Thursday claimed that two of its men were responsible for the attack on the ministry.
"Thank God, we targeted the interior ministry building in Kfar Sousa district in Damascus at 5:30 pm on Wednesday, December 12," the extremist group Tweeted.
It said two suicide bombers detonated explosives belts, triggering a gun battle within the ministry compound, before two car bombs also exploded.
The security source said a traitor inside the ministry's own protection service had made possible Wednesday's attack, using a booby-trapped car and two other devices.
"It is impossible to get near the ministry gate except in an official vehicle," the source said.
Shaar narrowly escaped death in a spectacular July 18 bombing that claimed the lives of four other top security officials, including the defence minister and Assad's brother-in-law.
The military on Thursday launched air strikes against rebel positions along the Damascus airport road, which was briefly closed by rebel fire late last month, and in the town of Daraya southwest of the capital, the Britain-based Observatory said.
Meanwhile, a US official said the regime has used powerful, unguided Scud missiles on Monday to target rebels in zones now beyond the range of artillery. That was corroborated by a former Syrian officer who served in a surface-to-surface missile battalion and a by a soldier who defected on Tuesday.
The Syrian foreign ministry categorically denied those claims, calling them "biased and conspiratorial rumours."
"It is known that Scuds are strategic, long-range missiles and are not suited for use against armed terrorist gangs," a statement said on Thursday.
The unguided Scud, famously fired into Israel by Iraq's Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War, can deliver a payload of 3,500 kilos (7,700 pounds) or more over a range of 200 kilometres (125 miles) or more, defence analysts say.
© 2012 AFP