A member of Liwa (Brigade) Salahadin, a Kurdish military unit fighting alongside rebel fighters, aims at Syrian Army forces in the besieged district of Karmel al-Jabl in eastern Aleppo, December 6, 2012. / Javier Manzano/AFP/Getty Images
Syria's longtime vice president said the army cannot defeat the rebels fighting to topple the regime, the first admission by a top government official that a victory by President Bashar Assad is unlikely.
In an interview with Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar published on Monday, Farouk al-Sharaa offered the unusually bleak public assessment of the civil war.
"All these opposition forces can only conclude the battle to topple the regime if their goal is to push the country into chaos, a cycle of violence that has no end," al-Sharaa said in the interview. "I don't see that what the security forces and army units are doing will lead to a definitive victory."
Al-Alkhbar said al-Sharaa was speaking in Damascus.
Also notable in the vice president's remarks was his reference to "opposition forces," rather than the Assad regime's usual term for the rebels, "terrorists."
Syrian rebels have made significant tactical advances in the past weeks, capturing air bases and military installations near Syria's largest city of Aleppo and the capital Damascus.
On Sunday, an Islamist faction took an infantry base in Aleppo, the second army base captured from troops in the northern city in a week.
Also, Western nations are talking of stepped-up aid to the rebels. And there were mixed messages last week from Assad's key international ally Russia, which tried to backpedal after a top diplomat said Assad is losing control of his country.
Syria's U.N. ambassador is warning that extremist groups could use chemical weapons against the Syrian people and blame the government.
Bashar Ja'afari reiterated in letters, circulated Monday, to the U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the Syrian government is "genuinely worried" that foreign countries could provide chemical weapons to armed groups "and then claim they had been used by the Syrian government."
Although the West has shown little desire to intervene in Syria, President Barack Obama has said the regime's use of chemical weapons against the rebels would be a "red line" and change his "calculus" about a conflict.
As the prospect of intervention gains traction, the Syrian government has been careful to never actually confirm it has chemical weapons and is instead trying to raise fears it may be framed by rebels using such weapons to spur an outside attack.
Recent U.S. intelligence reports, however, showed the Syrian regime may be readying its chemical weapons and could be desperate enough to use them.
Ja'afari in his letter reiterated that "Syria will not under any circumstances use any chemical weapons that it may have."
He said instead the Syrian government is defending its people "from terrorists backed by well-known states, at the forefront of which is the United States of America." The Syrian regime and state media refer to rebels fighting to oust the government of President Bashar Assad as terrorists.
Ja'afari recalled that when U.N. monitors were in Syria, the government asked that a U.N. team visit a privately owned chlorine laboratory east of Aleppo "to inspect and secure the contents, which terrorist groups were planning to bring under their control."
U.N. monitors were unable to visit, however, because they came under fire, he said.
He expressed regret that no action has been taken to address these developments and hold rebel groups accountable.
The Syria uprising started in March 2011 as peaceful protests but quickly turned into a civil war after the government's brutal crackdown on dissent. Activists say more than 40,000 people have been killed.
On Sunday, fighter jets screamed over Damascus to bomb two areas in the southern part of the capital. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighter jets carried out six airstrikes in the Hajar Aswad area and the neighboring Yarmouk Palestinian camp, where the rebels have been advancing.
The U.N. secretary-general spoke to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem on Monday morning to express concern about the escalation of violence in recent days and especially the attack on Yarmouk, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.