Russia says Syrian rebels might win

Syrian rebels are gaining ground and might win, Russia’s Middle East envoy said, in the starkest such admission from a major ally of president Bashar al-Assad in 20 months of conflict.

“One must look the facts in the face,” Russia’s state-run RIA quoted Mikhail Bogdanov as saying. “Unfortunately, the victory of the Syrian opposition cannot be ruled out.”

Bogdanov, a deputy foreign minister and the Kremlin’s special envoy for Middle East affairs, said the Syrian government was “losing control of more and more territory” and Moscow was preparing to evacuate Russian citizens if necessary.

Advancing rebels now hold an almost continuous arc of territory from the east to the southeast of Damascus, despite fierce army bombardments designed to drive them back.

The head of Nato said he thought Assad’s government was nearing collapse and the new leader of Syria’s opposition said the people of Syria no longer needed international forces to protect them.

“The horrific conditions which the Syrian people endured prompted them to call on the international community for military intervention at various times,” said Mouaz al-Khatib, a preacher who heads Syria’s National Coalition.

“Now the Syrian people have nothing to lose. They handled their problems by themselves. They no longer need international forces to protect them. The international community has been in a slumber, silent and late [to react] as it saw the Syrian people bleeding and their children killed for the past 20 months,” he added.

He did not specify whether by intervention he meant a no-fly zone that rebels have been demanding for month, a ground invasion — which the opposition has warned against — or arms shipments.

He said the opposition would consider any proposal from Assad to surrender power and leave the country, but would not give any assurances until it saw a firm proposal.

In the latest blow to the government, a car bomb killed at least 16 men, women, and children in Qatana, a town about 25km southwest of Damascus activists and state media said.

The explosion occurred in a residential area for soldiers, which is near several army bases Rami Abdelrahman, head of the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. He put the death toll as 17, including seven children and two women. State news agency SANA said 16 had died.

State television blamed the blast on “terrorists” — its term for rebels. The attack followed three bombs at the Interior Ministry on Wednesday evening, in which SANA said five people died, including Abdullah Kayrouz, a member of parliament from the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.


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