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Russia says Assad may be losing hold

Diplomat says Syrian opposition could prevail

BEIRUT – A top Russian official conceded Thursday that time may be running out for Moscow’s close ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, as the latest in a series of car bomb attacks reportedly killed 16 outside the Syrian capital.

“We must face the facts: The possibility exists that the (Syrian) government may progressively lose control over an increasing part of the territory,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said in Moscow. “An opposition victory can’t be excluded.”

The diplomat’s remarks appeared to be the first time that a high-level Kremlin functionary publicly acknowledged that Assad’s days may be numbered after an almost 21-month uprising that has seen tens of thousands killed, caused vast damage and left large swaths of territory in rebel hands.

Bogdanov’s comments came as a string of car bomb attacks struck this week in and around Damascus, where government troops have been battling rebels. Syrian state media reported that Thursday’s car bomb detonated near a school in the Damascus suburb of Qatana, killing 16 people, at least half of them women and children.

Both sides in the bloody conflict have been accused of indiscriminate attacks.

Syrian rebels, outgunned by government artillery and air power, are making extensive use of car bombs and other improvised explosives. The blasts have killed and injured hundreds of civilians, but insurgent leaders insist that the devices target government infrastructure and personnel.

The Syrian government, meanwhile, has been engaged in what human rights groups call wholesale bombardment of civilian areas harboring rebels.

Though some Syrian rebels are predicting that Assad’s beleaguered government may only last for weeks or months more, the Russian diplomat outlined a bleak scenario of protracted combat that will inevitably lead to further mass casualties.

“The fighting will become even more intense, and (Syria) will lose tens of thousands, and perhaps hundreds of thousands, of civilians,” Bogdanov warned, according to the Russian RT network.

Moscow has called for Syrian peace negotiations that do not exclude Assad, whose family has ruled the country for more than 40 years. The armed opposition calls Assad a murderer who must go and cannot be part of any peace talks.


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