Syrian V.P. suggests unity talks

DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Syria's vice president, in an interview to be published Monday, calls for an end to the country's civil war with negotiations to form a unity government.

"The solution has to be Syrian, but through a historic settlement, which would include the main regional countries and the members of the U.N. Security Council," the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar quoted Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa as saying in excerpts posted on its website Sunday.


In the exclusive interview, which was al-Sharaa's first public statements since July 2011, the vice president said "military and political solutions get further away" every day.

"The way events are heading will lead to an uncomfortable place where things will definitely go from bad to worse," he said.

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"We must be in the position of defending Syria's existence. We are not in a battle for the survival of an individual or a regime."


Al-Sharaa said neither side can achieve outright victory.

"The opposition with its different factions, civilian, armed, or ones with external ties, cannot claim to be the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people, just as the current rule with its ideological army and its confrontation parties lead by the Baath, cannot achieve change without new partners," he said.

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"The opposition forces combined cannot decide the battle militarily, meanwhile what the security forces and the army units are doing will not reach a conclusive end."

CNN said Syrian rebels have said they were open to the idea of al-Sharaa leading an interim government. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu floated the concept in October.

The vice president's interview came as The Sunday Times of London reported Syrian President Bashar Assad is drawing up contingency plans to flee Damascus and make a last stand on the Mediterranean shores.

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A Russian source who met with the Syrian leader a number of times, told the newspaper the Syrian leader's army could fight on for months because of the support from the local population and the inhospitable mountain terrain.

Assad, a member of the Alawite minority sect in a country of predominantly Sunni Muslims, is preparing for the worst-case scenario and is ready to "fight to his last bullet," the source said. The same source added Russia would not send troops to support either side in the conflict that began in March 2011 and has claimed more than 40,000 lives.


Middle East intelligence sources told the newspaper at least seven Alawite battalions and one missile battalion, some equipped with chemical munitions, were deployed in the Alawite territories earlier this month.

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Unconfirmed reports said Assad may have already moved members of his family to his ancestral home of Qardaha where they are being guarded by special forces loyal to the Alawites, the British newspaper said.

Meanwhile, dozens of Palestinians were killed and wounded when a Syrian warplane fired a rocket into a crowded refugee camp, videos from the scene indicated.

Media reports said at least 25 people were killed in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus; some were seeking shelter in a mosque that was directly hit by a rocket.

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Images of casualties were quickly posted on the Internet, Britain's The Guardian said.

The reported airstrike could have significance beyond the number of lives lost. The Guardian noted the Yarmouk camp had long been a center of political support for Assad.

That support has been frayed in the 21 months since the ongoing rebellion broke out. Assad is a Shiite Muslim while the Palestinians and the opposition groups seeking his overthrow are Sunni, The Guardian said.

Analysts told the newspaper it appeared about half of the Palestinians in Syria still support Assad while the other half has turned its back on their longtime protector.


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