BEIRUT: Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa said that neither his government nor the rebels fighting to overthrow it are capable of a decisive victory, in the first public admission of its kind by the regime since the outbreak of civil war.
“No opposition can end the battle militarily, just as the security forces and army cannot achieve a decisive conclusion,” he told the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar.
His comments came as Syrian fighter jets bombed the area of Yarmouk in Damascus, which houses a Palestinian refugee camp, killing at least 25 people sheltering in a mosque, opposition activists said. They added that Syrian rebels have been trying to advance from the area into the capital.
Opposition activists said the deaths in Yarmouk, to which refugees have fled from other fighting in nearby suburbs, resulted from a rocket fired by a warplane hitting the mosque.
It was the first reported aerial attack on Yarmouk since a popular uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad erupted 21 months ago and evolved, after he tried to smash it with military force, from peaceful street protests into an armed insurgency.
Clashes flared anew after Sunday’s airstrike between Palestinians from the pro-Assad Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and Syrian rebels together with other Palestinian fighters, according to the opposition-aligned Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
Sharaa said the situation in the country was heading from bad to worse and that a “historic settlement,” involving the formation of a national unity government “with broad powers,” was needed to end the conflict, according to comments due to be published in full Monday.
Assad has ultimate power in Syria while Sharaa, a Sunni Muslim, has a ceremonial role in a power structure dominated by Assad’s Alawite minority. He has rarely appeared in public since the revolt against Assad erupted 21 months ago.
“Every day that passes, we are moving further away from a military or political solution. We must position ourselves to defend Syria’s existence – we are not in a battle for an individual or a regime,” he said.
“The various opposition forces – whether armed or civilian, or linked to foreign powers – cannot claim they are the sole legitimate representatives of the Syrian people,” said Sharaa.
“The current governing power, with its army possessing its own ideology, as well as its political parties, with the Baath party at the forefront, cannot alone create changes without new partners,” he said.
He called for confidence-building measures between the warring parties and said “the solution must be Syrian, but through a historic settlement including key regional countries and [U.N.] Security Council member states.”
“This accord must first bring about an end to all forms of violence and establish a national unity government with broad powers,” he added.
His comments to Al-Akhbar were his first published statements since July last year. Sources close to the Syrian government say he was among a group of politicians who had pushed for dialogue with the opposition and objected to the military crackdown against an uprising that began peacefully.
In Paris, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he believed the Syrian ruler would fall soon. “I think the end is nearing for Bashar Assad,” Fabius told RFI radio.
He described the attack on Yarmouk as scandalous. “You have to ask yourself whether President Assad is not trying to enflame the region [through it],” the minister said.
Also Sunday, Iran put forward a six-point plan to end the Syria civil war, including negotiations, presidential elections and a halt to arms shipments. This came during a two-day meeting of 200 representatives of Syrian communities, but no prominent rebels. The rebels are unlikely to relate to the plan, as they refuse to talk to Assad and consider Iran unqualified to mediate because of its support of the regime.
The plan, described by state media and Iranian news agencies, also calls for efforts to halt the flow of weapons into Syria and to hold talks that include the government of Assad.
Iran’s foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi said planned deployment of U.S.-made Patriot missiles in Turkey was a “provocative” action which could bring about “uncalculated” results.
“The deployment of Patriot missiles will achieve nothing but to provoke and, God forbid, result in being forced into an uncalculated action,” Ali Akbar Salehi said in remarks reported by the official IRNA news agency.
At the request of Turkey, NATO has agreed to provide Patriot missiles to bolster its member’s border defenses amid tensions with the regime of Assad.
Violence continued across the country Sunday. Syrian troops withdrew from a key infantry academy outside second city Aleppo Sunday, after rebels seized most of the complex the previous day, the Observatory said.
Fierce clashes have raged around the sprawling military school since Tuesday, when the insurgents attempted to storm it following a three-week siege.
The base was the second major army installation taken by rebels in a week in Aleppo. Its fall is the latest blow to the Assad regime.
Syrian forces killed 25 people in the town of Helfaya in Hama province when they shelled it with warplanes and artillery for the first time since February, opposition activists said.