Syria's Farouk al-Sharaa says neither Damascus nor rebels can win civil war
Vice-president urges Assad to seek accord with rebels to stop the nation crumbling into oblivion
Syrian Vice-President Farouk al-Sharaa has said neither his government nor the rebels fighting to overthrow it can achieve a decisive victory in the conflict - a rare admission by a top official that the outcome sought by President Bashar al-Assad is unlikely.
Sharaa, a Sunni Muslim in a power structure dominated by Assad's Alawite minority, has rarely been seen since the revolt erupted in March last year and is not part of the president's inner circle directing the fight against Sunni rebels.
He is the most prominent figure to say publicly that Assad will not win the conflict.
"No opposition can end the battle militarily, just as the security forces and army cannot achieve a decisive conclusion," he told the pro-Damascus Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar.
"Every day that passes, we are moving further away from a military or political solution," added Sharaa. "We must position ourselves to defend Syria's existence; we are not in a battle for an individual or a regime.
"The various opposition forces - whether armed or civilian, or linked to foreign powers - cannot claim they are the sole legitimate representatives of the Syrian people."
Sharaa was referring to the decision of Arab and Western governments last week to recognise the armed opposition. He called for confidence-building measures between the warring parties and said "the solution must be Syrian, but through a historic settlement including key regional countries and [UN] Security Council member states".
"This accord must first bring about an end to all forms of violence and establish a national unity government with broad powers," he added.
Sharaa, 74, has served the regime for decades, under Assad and his father Hafez al-Assad. In October, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu suggested he would be a suitable pick to lead a transition government, calling him "a man of reason" who could stop the civil war.
Last week, more than 100 countries including the United States recognised the new Syrian opposition council as the nation's legitimate representative - a boost for the opposition forces that have been bombing regime targets in and around Damascus.
Residents of the capital said yesterday the army had told people to evacuate the Palestinian district of Yarmouk, suggesting an all-out military offensive was imminent there. 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.
Meanwhile, an Italian and two other people were kidnapped near Syria's main port city of Latakia, Italy's Foreign Ministry said. It would not provide any details on when the kidnapping took place or on the nationalities of the two others, saying only that all three worked at a steel plant.
Additional reporting by Associated Press, Reuters