Syrian President losing control: Russian envoy

International

ELLEN BARRY

Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia's top envoy for Syria, Thursday said President Bashar al-Assad's government was losing control of the country and may be defeated by rebel forces.

"Unfortunately, it is impossible to exclude a victory of Syrian opposition," he said, the clearest indication to date that Russia believed Assad, a longtime strategic ally, could lose in a civil war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

"We must look squarely at the facts and the trend now suggests that the regime and the government in Syria are losing more and more control and more and more territory," said Bogdanov, in remarks to Russia's Public Chamber carried by Russian news agencies.

Russia, Bogdanov said, is preparing to evacuate its citizens — a complex task, since for decades, Russian women have married Syrian men sent to study in Russia.

It was the first time an official at Bogdanov's level had announced plans for an evacuation, which sent a clear message to Damascus that Russia no longer holds out hope that the government can prevail.

As the official spoke, Syrian state media and anti-government activists reported that at least 16 people, including seven children, had been killed when a car bomb exploded near a school in Qatana, southwest of the capital, Thursday.

The bomb wounded over 20 people, leaving some in critical condition, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Agence France-Presse reported. Later in the day, at least 24 civilians, including many children, were killed in two separate car bombings southwest of Damascus, state media reported.

Agence France-Press also reported that Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim al-Shaar was wounded in a bomb attack on his ministry on Wednesday. He was not seriously hurt, the agency said, quoting an unidentified source who said the bombing was believed to have been carried out by a saboteur as only official vehicles can approach the building.

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