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Syria

Russia acknowledges Syrian rebels could defeat Assad

Russia, a staunch ally of Syria, has said for the first time that President Bashar Assad's regime could face defeat against the rebels. Meanwhile, bomb attacks outside Damascus have killed at least 24 people.

In Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the Itar-Tass news agency about Syria that "[President Bashar Assad's] regime is losing more and more control in the country."

"We cannot rule out that the Syrian opposition can get a victory," he was quoted as saying.

Blast hits town near Damascus

It was the first acknowledgement by a Russian senior official that Assad's regime could be defeated in the civil war.

Syria, a major buyer of Russian arms, has been one of Moscow's most important footholds in the Middle East since the Soviet era.

Bogdanov also said Russia was working on plans to evacuate its citizens from Syria if necessary, of which there are 5,300 registered.

Russia, along with China, has protected Assad's government from UN Security Council sanctions, resisting Western pressure to join efforts to remove him from power.

On Wednesday the United States, along with 120 other countries, formally recognized the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

The opposition coalition - a council made up of rebel groups in and outside of Syria who oppose Assad's regime - signed a unity agreement in Qatar on November 11. Since then, it has gained endorsements from Western and Arab powers.

The violence rages on

Earlier, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the defense alliance had intelligence that the regime was using Scud-type missiles against the rebel army.

"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's Foreign Ministry has denied the claims.

Meanwhile, at least 24 civilians were killed in two separate car bombings southwest of Damascus on Thursday, state media reported.

The attacks follow several explosions at the Interior Ministry on Wednesday evening, which killied at least five people and slightly injured Syria's interior minister. On Thursday, the jihadist Al-Nusra Front claimed responsibility for the attack via their official Twitter account.

hc/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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