BEIRUT -- 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."
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 in the capital Damascus. On Sunday, an Islamist faction took an infantry base in Aleppo, a second army base that was captured from the 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.
Al-Alkhbar said al-Sharaa was speaking in Damascus.
The Syrian 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 as the civil war took increasing sectarian overtones.
Most rebels are members of Syria's Sunni Muslim majority while the Assad regime is dominated by Alawites, an offshoot group of Shiite Islam.