DAMASCUS: A car bomb killed 16 people outside the Syrian capital on Thursday hours after a bombing wounded the interior minister as Damascus ally, Moscow acknowledged that the regime may lose the fight against rebels.
The latest bombing struck outside an army housing complex and near an elementary school, and children made up seven of the dead and many of the 23 wounded, state media and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported.
It followed a triple bomb attack on the interior ministry on Wednesday that killed at least five people and put Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar in hospital with a shoulder injury sustained when his office ceiling collapsed, a security source told AFP.
The increased attacks on government targets came after Arab and Western governments recognised the armed opposition as sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people and as Washington said an increasingly desperate military was resorting to longer-range missiles and incendiary bombs against the rebels.
The state SANA news agency blamed “terrorists” for the bombing in a residential area of Qatana, an army-controlled town southwest of Damascus.
“This morning, terrorists targeted the residential area of Ras al-Nabaa with a vehicle loaded with explosives, blowing it up in front of the Mikhael Samaan School,” the news agency said.
The security sources said that a betrayal within the interior ministry's own protection service had made possible Wednesday's attack, using a booby-trapped car and two other devices.
“It is impossible to get near the ministry gate except in an official vehicle,” the source said, adding that the minister was not seriously wounded. “He was taken to hospital but his condition gives no cause for concern and he should be discharged rapidly.”
It is the second time Shaar has been wounded in an attack. He narrowly escaped being killed in a spectacular July 18 bombing that claimed the lives of four other top security officials, including the defence minister and President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law.
The attacks so near the capital, coming on top of the rebels' seizure of key bases in recent weeks that have given them control of large swathes of the northwest and the east, prompted an admission from a top Russian diplomat that defeat of Moscow's long-time ally could not be ruled out.
“As for preparing for victory by the opposition, this, of course, cannot be excluded,” Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov was quoted as saying by the ITAR-TASS news agency. “You need to look the facts in the eyes – the government regime is losing more and more control over a large part of the country's territory.”
The RIA Novosti news agency also quoted Bogdanov as saying that the recognition of the opposition Syrian National Coalition by the United States and other states had only emboldened the opposition.
“They (the rebels) are saying that victory is not far away, 'let's take Aleppo, let's take Damascus',” he said.
The rebels' capture of the Sheikh Suleiman base on Monday gave them full control of a belt of territory running from the outskirts of second city Aleppo to the Turkish border.
Late last month they made a major push up the Euphrates valley, giving them control of territory in the east from the Iraqi border to the outskirts of the provincial capital of Deir Ezzor.
An airbase just east of the city came under rebel mortar fire early on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory said.
The military launched air strikes against rebel positions along the Damascus airport road, which was briefly closed by rebel fire late last month, and in the town of Daraya southwest of the capital, the Britain-based watchdog added.
The army has also been resorting to Scud missile strikes against rebel targets in zones now beyond the range of artillery, a US official confirmed on Wednesday.
The unguided Scud, famously fired into Israel by Iraq's Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf war, can deliver a payload of 3,500 kilograms or more over a range of 200 kilometres or more, defence analysts say.
An AFP correspondent reported repeated missile firings into the rebel-held northwest since the fall of the Sheikh Suleiman base on Monday, but was unable to say if they were Scuds.