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December 13, 2012

16 Killed in Damascus Car Bombing

by VOA News

A car bomb has killed 16 people in a suburb outside the Syrian capital, Damascus, while a senior Russian diplomat says Syria's opposition may win in its battle against President Bashar al-Assad.

The bombing Thursday in Qatana comes a day after an explosion targeting the main entrance of Syria's interior ministry in Damascus killed five people.

In Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov acknowledged for the first time that Assad is increasingly losing control of the country's territory, and that an opposition victory cannot be ruled out.

Quoted by Russian media, he also accused Western nations of distorting Russia's position on Syria in order to weaken its influence in the Middle East.

Moscow opposes Western demands to impose regime change on the Syrian president, a longtime Russian ally.

On Wednesday, a senior U.S. official said the Syrian government recently fired Scud missiles at insurgents.  There was no indication as to whether the missiles carried chemical weapons.  

The use of Scud missiles could be seen as an escalation of the nearly two-year conflict in Syria.

Meanwhile, a group of more than 100 nations calling for Assad to step down formally recognized a newly formed opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

The director of the Brookings Doha Center, Salman Shaikh, told VOA from Morocco that the new coalition's leadership was "satisfied" with the outcome of the so-called Friends of Syria meeting.

"It's safe to say this is the most significant Friends [of Syria] meeting there's been.  In fact, it's probably the first significant Friends [of Syria] meeting there has been," Shaikh said.

He said various countries taking part pledged $143 million in aid for the Syrian opposition, including a $100-million aid package from Saudi Arabia.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said in Morocco the sooner the Syrian president "steps aside, the better for all Syrians."