Syrian ally Russia said Thursday that President
Bashar al-Assad's regime was losing control to rebel forces and could
face defeat, while NATO accused Damascus of using Scud short-range
missiles in the conflict.
In Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the Itar-Tass news agency that "the regime is losing more and more control in the country ... We cannot rule out that the Syrian opposition can get a victory."
It was the first acknowledgement by Russia - which has vetoed several UN Security Council resolutions condemning al-Assad - that its ally could be defeated.
In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the defence alliance had intelligence that indicated the regime was using Scud missiles against the rebels.
"We detected the launch of a number of unguided short-range missiles inside Syria earlier this week," said Rasmussen. "Some of the information indicates they were Scud-type missiles."
Syria dismissed the accusation as baseless rumours aimed at distorting its international image.
The rebels have recently stepped up attacks on state institutions in Damascus, prompting the authorities to tighten security around key
facilities, opposition activists said.
At least 17 people were killed in a car bombing apparently targeting a military facility near a school in the outskirts of Damascus, an opposition group said.
Seven children and two women were among the dead and at least 20 people were wounded in the attack in Katna town, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights added.
A second car bomb exploded in the area of Jebidet al-Fadel in the outskirts of Damascus, killing at least eight people, said activists.
The attacks came a day after at least nine people were killed in three explosions outside the Interior Ministry in Damascus.
The opposition hardline Al-Nousra Front claimed late Thursday that two of its fighters were responsible for the suicide attacks on the ministry.
The group said two suicide bombers detonated their explosives-laden belts inside the ministry, followed by two car bomb explosions outside.
The United States on Tuesday designated al-Nousra Front as a terrorist organization with alleged ties to al-Qaeda.
Activists said Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar was wounded in the attack but had not suffered life-threatening injuries. The ministry said al-Shaar and his aides were safe.
The escalating conflict has prompted Pakistan, the Philippines and Egypt to start evacuating their citizens from Damascus via Lebanon, reported regional media.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry also announced it was withdrawing its diplomatic staff because of the deteriorating security situation.
The US has officially invited leaders of the new National Coalition of Syrian Opposition and Revolutionary Forces to visit Washington, a member of the bloc said.
Opposition sources said the coalition leaders would ask the US to reconsider its decision to blacklist al-Nousra Front, which is fighting alongside other rebels to oust al-Assad's regime.
The US this week formally recognized the opposition alliance that was formed in November. Another 120 countries and organizations Wednesday endorsed the coalition, significantly raising its global profile.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mokdad criticized the international support for the anti-regime group.
He told Britain's Independent newspaper that these countries were "recognizing an artificial structure, a structure that will help promote the objectives of the US and European countries in Syria."
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