Russia admits Syria's Assad may lose civil war

Syria's state news agency said Thursday that a bomb blast near a school in a Damascus suburb killed 16 people, at least half of them women and children.

Russia acknowledges Syrian opposition may topple unstable Assad regime

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, left, sits with senior Russian envoy Mikhail Bogdanov. Bogdanov acknowledged Thursay that Assad is increasingly losing control of the country, and that it may be time to prepare for a scenario in which the opposition wins the civil war. (Associated Press/SANA)

Russia, Syria's most important international ally, said for the first time that President Bashar al-Assad is increasingly losing control and the opposition may win the civil war.

The statement by Russia's deputy foreign minister comes as opposition groups make gains across the country and on the international stage.

World powers have remained deadlocked on how to end Syria's crisis, with the U.S., Europe and many Arab nations calling on Assad to stand down, while Russia, China and Iran continue to back him.

But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov offered the first suggestion yet from a top Russian official that Assad's regime may be in trouble.

"We must look at the facts: There is a trend for the government to progressively lose control over an increasing part of the territory," Bogdanov said during hearings at the Kremlin advisory body, the Public Chamber. "The opposition victory can't be excluded."

A Wednesday photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA shows people standing near a damaged car after explosions hit the main gate of the Syrian Interior Ministry in Damascus. On Thursday, another blast near a school killed at least 16 people, SANA said. (SANA/Associated Press)

He didn't suggest that Russia would immediately change its stance toward Assad and called for a political solution, saying continued war would be tragic.

"The fighting will become even more intense, and you will lose tens of thousands and, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of people," he said. "If such a price for the ouster of the president seems acceptable to you, what can we do? We, of course, consider it absolutely unacceptable."

Chemical weapons

His statements came the day that Syria's state news agency, SANA, reported a bomb blast Thursday near a school in a Damascus suburb killed 16 people, at least half of them women and children.

Freelance journalist Irris Makler, reporting to the CBC from Jerusalem, said Russian President Vladimir Putin had expressed concern about what comes after Assad. 

"He says that our question is different — our question as Russians is what happens on the day after," she said.

 "And he feels that the West mishandled Libya, that what we see [there] now are militant gangs that no one can control. And he's scared that's what we'll see here.

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"And if you're worried about chemical weapons now, you'll really be worried about about chemical weapons if you don't know who's controlling them."

Opposition groups have seized large swaths of territory in north Syria and appear to be expanding their control outside of Damascus, pushing the fight closer to the seat of Assad's power. On Wednesday, the U.S., Europe and their allies recognized the newly reorganized opposition leadership, giving it a stamp of credibility and possibly paving the way for greater international aid to those fighting Assad's forces.

Thursday's blast in the suburb of Qatana, southwest of the capital, is the latest in a string of similar bombings in and around Damascus that the government says have killed at least 25 people in the last two days.

The government blames the bombings on what it calls terrorists, its shorthand for opposition forces.

While no one has claimed responsibility for the bombings, some have targeted government buildings and killed officials, suggesting that opposition forces who don't have the firepower to engage Assad's forces in the capital are resorting to other measures to weaken his regime.

Thursday's attack, however, killed civilians and could add to a growing wariness of the opposition among many Syrians.

Syria's SANA news agency said a car packed with explosives blew up near a school in a residential part of Qatana. The report quoted medics from a nearby hospital as saying 16 people were killed, including seven children and "a number" of women. It said nearly two dozen people were wounded.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the blast killed 17 people, including seven children and two women, adding that it was near a military residence. It did not say who carried out the attack.

Similar attacks hit four places in and around Damascus on Wednesday. Three bombs collapsed walls of the Interior Ministry building, killing at least five people. One of the dead was Syrian parliament member Abdullah Qairouz, SANA reported.

Other explosions Wednesday hit near the Palace of Justice, in the suburb of Jermana and in the upscale Mezzeh 86 district, heavily populated by members of Assad's minority Alawite sect. One of the three killed in that that bombing was a state TV journalist named Anmar Mohammed, SANA said.

The Observatory also reported the deaths of Qairouz and Mohammed and said the number of those killed in the Interior Ministry bombing had risen to nine.

The Observatory, which is based in Britain and relies on contacts inside Syria, also reported clashes between opposition members and regime forces in a number of areas south of the city as well as government airstrikes on rebellious suburbs to the city's east and south.

Anti-regime activists say more than 40,000 people have been killed since the start of the anti-Assad uprising in March 2011.