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Syrian vice president: No one can win civil war

  • A mosaic of Hafez Al Assad is seen after being shot at by FSA soldiers after heavy clashes with government forces at a military academy besieged by the rebels in Tal Sheer, Syria, Sunday, Dec 16, 2012 (AP Photo / Manu Brabo) A mosaic of Hafez Al Assad is seen after being shot at by FSA soldiers after heavy clashes with government forces at a military academy besieged by the rebels in Tal Sheer, Syria, Sunday, Dec 16, 2012 (AP Photo / Manu Brabo)
  • In this Thursday, Sept. 6, 2007 file photo, Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa talks to journalists during a joint press conference with Italian Premier Romano Prodi at Chigi palace, in Rome. Syria's longtime vice president said the army cannot defeat the rebels fighting to topple the regime, the first admission by a top government official that a victory by President Bashar Assad is unlikely. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File)In this Thursday, Sept. 6, 2007 file photo, Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa talks to journalists during a joint press conference with Italian Premier Romano Prodi at Chigi palace, in Rome. Syria's longtime vice president said the army cannot defeat the rebels fighting to topple the regime, the first admission by a top government official that a victory by President Bashar Assad is unlikely. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File)
  • Free Syrian Army fighter looks at the body of a Syrian Army soldier after heavy clashes with government forces at a military academy besieged by the rebels in Tal Sheer, Syria, Sunday, Dec 16, 2012. (AP Photo / Manu Brabo) Free Syrian Army fighter looks at the body of a Syrian Army soldier after heavy clashes with government forces at a military academy besieged by the rebels in Tal Sheer, Syria, Sunday, Dec 16, 2012. (AP Photo / Manu Brabo)
  • Machine gun rounds are seen near to a Syrian Army trench after heavy clashes with government forces at a military academy besieged by the rebels in Tal Sheer, Syria, Sunday, Dec 16, 2012. (AP Photo / Manu Brabo) Machine gun rounds are seen near to a Syrian Army trench after heavy clashes with government forces at a military academy besieged by the rebels in Tal Sheer, Syria, Sunday, Dec 16, 2012. (AP Photo / Manu Brabo)
  • In this Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012 photo, people help a wounded Free Syrian Army fighter during heavy clashes with government forces at a military academy besieged by rebels north of Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/Narciso Contreras)In this Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012 photo, people help a wounded Free Syrian Army fighter during heavy clashes with government forces at a military academy besieged by rebels north of Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/Narciso Contreras)
  • In this Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 photo, Syrian rebels listen to their trainer while teaching them how to use the RPG during a training session in Maaret Ikhwan, near Idlib, Syria. The training is part of an attempt to transform the rag-tag rebel groups into a disciplined fighting force. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)In this Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 photo, Syrian rebels listen to their trainer while teaching them how to use the RPG during a training session in Maaret Ikhwan, near Idlib, Syria. The training is part of an attempt to transform the rag-tag rebel groups into a disciplined fighting force. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
  • ** FILE ** Syrian rebels attend a training session in Maaret Ikhwan, near Idlib, Syria, Dec. 2012. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)** FILE ** Syrian rebels attend a training session in Maaret Ikhwan, near Idlib, Syria, Dec. 2012. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
  • In this Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, photo, people gather by the window of a makeshift post where Free Syrian Army fighters sell bread, in Maaret Misreen, near Idlib, Syria. The town is broke, relying on a slowing trickle of local donations. The rebels, a motley crew of laborers, mechanics and shopowners, have little experience in government. President Bashar Assad's troops still control the city of Idlib a few miles away, making area roads unsafe and keeping Maaret Misreen cut off from most of Syria. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)In this Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, photo, people gather by the window of a makeshift post where Free Syrian Army fighters sell bread, in Maaret Misreen, near Idlib, Syria. The town is broke, relying on a slowing trickle of local donations. The rebels, a motley crew of laborers, mechanics and shopowners, have little experience in government. President Bashar Assad's troops still control the city of Idlib a few miles away, making area roads unsafe and keeping Maaret Misreen cut off from most of Syria. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
  • In this combination of photos made of nine photos taken on Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, Syrian rebel fighters pose for a picture, following a training session in Maarret Ikhwan, near Idlib, Syria. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)In this combination of photos made of nine photos taken on Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, Syrian rebel fighters pose for a picture, following a training session in Maarret Ikhwan, near Idlib, Syria. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
  • A Syrian man holds his children as they warm themselves at a refugee camp in Azaz, Syria, Monday, Dec. 17, 2012. Thousands of Syrian refugees who fled their homes due to fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and government forces, face cold weather as temperatures dropped to 2 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit) in Azaz. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)A Syrian man holds his children as they warm themselves at a refugee camp in Azaz, Syria, Monday, Dec. 17, 2012. Thousands of Syrian refugees who fled their homes due to fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and government forces, face cold weather as temperatures dropped to 2 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit) in Azaz. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)
  • Syrian woman near a fire at a refugee camp in Azaz, Syria, Monday, Dec. 17, 2012. Thousands of Syrian refugees who fled their homes due to fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and government forces, face cold weather as temperatures dropped to 2 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit) in Azaz. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)Syrian woman near a fire at a refugee camp in Azaz, Syria, Monday, Dec. 17, 2012. Thousands of Syrian refugees who fled their homes due to fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and government forces, face cold weather as temperatures dropped to 2 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit) in Azaz. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)
  • The body of a Syrian Army soldier lies on the ground after heavy clashes with government forces at a military academy besieged by the rebels in Tal Sheer, Syria, Sunday, Dec 16, 2012. (AP Photo / Manu Brabo) The body of a Syrian Army soldier lies on the ground after heavy clashes with government forces at a military academy besieged by the rebels in Tal Sheer, Syria, Sunday, Dec 16, 2012. (AP Photo / Manu Brabo)

Syria's embattled regime is showing signs of a willingness to ditch President Bashar Assad and seek a political solution to the 21-month-old civil war, which has claimed 40,000 lives, officials and analysts say.

Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa appeared to hint at this in an interview published Monday, saying neither side can win the conflict.

"We are not in a battle for the survival of an individual or a regime," Mr. al-Sharaa told the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar.

His comments signal that the Assad regime's core is "beginning to see the writing on the wall," said a Western official who spoke on background.  

Mr. al-Sharaa said "opposition forces combined cannot decide the battle of overthrowing the regime militarily, unless they aim to pull the country into chaos and an unending circle of violence."

"With every passing day, the solution gets further away, militarily and politically," the vice president said, adding that any settlement must include an end to violence and the creation of a "national unity government with wide powers."

Mr. al-Sharaa’s comments suggest the Assad regime may be contemplating an exit strategy as the rebels tighten their grip on Damascus, analysts said.

"It might be an indication that people in the inner core of the regime are beginning to contemplate some kind of political solution that they had not been willing to contemplate earlier," said Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University.

"It may very well be too late [to reach a compromise] … because the opposition feels the wind in its sails and what the regime could obtain a year ago it cannot obtain now," Mr. Rabinovich said.

The Assad regime, which has been unable to defeat rebel forces, could be seeing support among its allies and its standing among the international community both slipping.

Mr. al-Sharaa’s comments were published a day after Iran — a longtime backer of Mr. Assad — offered a six-point plan for ending the violence in Syria that includes frees elections that very likely would put a new leader in power.

In addition, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said last week that the Assad regime was losing control and the rebels might win the civil war.

Russia has provided military and political support key to the Assad regime’s survival. The Russian Foreign Ministry promptly clarified Mr. Bogdanov’s assessment as saying that Moscow’s position on Syria will not change.

And last week, the United States and more than 100 other countries recognized the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

However, the Assad regime has shown no sign of letting up its offensive against the rebels and their supporters.
On Monday, a day after the Syrian air force bombed Palestinian refugees living in Damascus' Yarmouk neighborhood, the regime warned the Palestinians not to support the rebels.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the bombardment marked a "significant and alarming escalation" of the conflict.

Meanwhile, the rebels have made significant advances on the ground over the past couple of weeks as they have overrun air bases and military installations in and around the northwestern city of Aleppo and in the capital, Damascus.

"Assad is losing his grip," a Turkish official said on background. "We see an arc controlled by the opposition, from the east of Damascus to the southwest of Damascus."

The effects of the civil war are likely to be felt in Syria and the region long after the Assad regime falls, analysts said.

"The opposition has at best limited unity, and elements of the regime might fight on even if Assad goes," said Daniel Byman, deputy director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

But Marina Ottaway, a Middle East analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, warned: "There is a real danger that the international community is backing a [rebel group] that does not have much acceptance inside Syria."

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About the Author
Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.

Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.

 

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