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Syrian VP: War will not be won

Syrian rebels on the move on the outskirts of Damascus.

BEIRUT — Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa said that neither the forces of President Bashar al-Assad nor rebels seeking to overthrow him can win the war which is now being fought on the outskirts of Assad’s powerbase in Damascus.

Sharaa, a Sunni Muslim in a power structure dominated by Assad’s Alawite minority, has rarely been seen since the Syrian revolt erupted in March 2011 and is not part of the president’s inner circle directing the fight against Sunni rebels.

But he is the most prominent figure to say in public that Assad will not win. He was speaking to the pro-Assad al-Akhbar paper in an interview from Damascus which is now hemmed in by rebel fighters to the south.

Assad’s forces have used jets and artillery to try to dislodge the fighters from around Damascus but the violence has crept into the heart of the capital and rebels announced on Sunday a new offensive in the central province of Hama.

Sharaa said the situation in Syria, where more than 40,000 people have been killed, was deteriorating and a “historic settlement” was needed to end the conflict, involving regional powers and the U.N. Security Council and the formation of a national unity government “with broad powers”.

“With every passing day the political and military solutions are becoming more distant. We should be in a position defending the existence of Syria. We are not in a battle for an individual or a regime,” Sharaa was quoted as saying.

“The opposition cannot decisively settle the battle and what the security forces and army units are doing will not achieve a decisive settlement,” he told the paper, adding that the insurgents fighting to topple Syria’s leadership could plunge it into “anarchy and an unending spiral of violence”.

Sources close to the Syrian government say Sharaa had pushed for dialogue with the opposition and objected to the military response to an uprising that began peacefully.

In Damascus, residents said today the army had told people to evacuate the Palestinian district of Yarmouk, suggesting an all-out military offensive on the southern district was imminent.

The centre of the city, largely insulated from the violence for 21 months, is now full of army and vigilante checkpoints and shakes to the sound of regular shelling, residents say.

Queues for bread form at bakeries hours before dawn, as people seek out dwindling supplies, power cuts are increasing and fears are growing that Damascus could descend into chaos. (Reuters)

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