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Reality check

Building damaged by car bomb.

BEIRUT — Syrian rebels are gaining ground and might win, Russia’s deputy foreign minister said today, in the starkest such admission from a major ally of President Bashar al-Assad.

“One must look the facts in the face,” Russia’s state-run RIA quoted Mikhail Bogdanov as saying. “Unfortunately, the victory of the Syrian opposition cannot be ruled out.”

Bogdanov, who is Kremlin’s special envoy for Middle East affairs, said the Syrian government was “losing control of more and more territory” and that Moscow was preparing plans to evacuate Russian citizens if necessary.

Advancing rebels now hold an almost continuous arc of territory from the east to the southeast of Damascus, despite fierce army bombardments designed to drive them back.

A car bomb killed at least 16 men, women and children in Qatana, a town about 25 kilometres southwest of Damascus where many soldiers live, activists and state media said.

The explosion occurred in a residential area for soldiers in Qatana, which is near several army bases, said Rami Abdelrahman, head of the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

He put the death toll as 17, including seven children and two women. State news agency SANA said 16 people had died.

State television blamed the blast on “terrorists” – its term for rebels – and showed footage of soldiers walking by a partly collapsed building, with rubble and twisted metal on the road.

The attack follows three bombs at the Interior Ministry yesterday evening, in which state news agency SANA said five people were killed, including Abdullah Kayrouz, a member of parliament from the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

Apart from gaining territory in the outskirts of Damascus in recent weeks, rebels have also made hit-and-run attacks or set off bombs within the capital, often targeting state security buildings or areas seen as loyal to Assad, such as Jaramana, where twin bombs killed 34 people in November. (Reuters)

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