— A senior Russian diplomat says Syria's opposition may win its battle against President Bashar al-Assad, marking the first time the powerful Syrian ally has acknowledged the Syrian government is crumbling due to internal and external pressure from the nearly two-year uprising.
In comments reported by Russian media, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that “the regime is losing more and more territory,” and that the “victory of the Syrian opposition cannot be ruled out.”
Bogdanov accused Western nations of distorting Russia's position on Syria in order to weaken its influence in the Middle East. Moscow and Beijing have repeatedly blocked efforts by the United Nations Security Council to address the Syrian crisis.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday that the Assad regime was “approaching collapse,” adding that he thinks it is “only a matter of time” before it crumbles.
Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, said that the regime has been losing military control of the capital Damascus in recent days, which could hasten its demise.
“If you noticed the pattern of events during the past two or three days, the number of bombings has increased rather dramatically and this is an indicator of the strengthening of the opposition around Damascus and the decline of the ability of the state's machinery of coercion to stop them," he said.
Khashan said that the Syrian “troops loyal to the regime have become combat fatigued.” He said that many troops are “no longer interested in fighting” and that the unending combat has started “getting to them.”
Deadly car bomb
Meanwhile, a car bomb on Thursday killed at least 16 people in a suburb of the Syrian capital.
Residents of Qatana picked through twisted metal, chunks of concrete and other debris after the attack near a Christian school.
A girl who witnessed the blast said she and her friends were going to school in the morning when the explosion hit. She said many were hurt by the force of the blast.
"What did we do to deserve this?" she asked.
On Wednesday night, a bombing outside Syria's interior ministry killed five people. Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim Sha'ar was reported to have been lightly wounded and a member of parliament killed in the blast which shattered the facade of the ministry.
Rebel fighters traded machine-gun fire in the Damascus suburb of Daraya Thursday, as government artillery shelled a wide swath of rebel held territory. Amateur video also showed government warplanes bombing several suburbs of the capital.
The Syria government, meanwhile, denied reports that short-range missiles fired by government forces hit an area of northern Syria close to the Turkish border on Wednesday.
NATO sources announced that “allied intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets detected the launch” this week.
On Wednesday, a grouping of more than 100 nations formally recognized the newly re-organized opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
The director of the Brookings Doha Center, Salman Shaikh, told VOA from the conference site in 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," he said. "In fact, it's probably the first significant Friends [of Syria] meeting there has been."
VOA's Carla Babb contributed to this story.