The embattled Syrian regime is nearing collapse, the head of NATO said on Thursday, condemning the use of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of Scud missiles to attack rebels.
“I think the regime in Damascus is approaching collapse ... it is only a question of time,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, adding that Assad should “initiate a process that leads to the accommodation of the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.”
“I urge the regime to stop violence, to realise what the actual situation is,” he said, as Moscow signalled for the first time that its long-time ally in Damascus could be losing a bloody conflict which has so far cost more than 42,000 lives.
Rasmussen said the alliance had detected the launch of a number of unguided, short-range Scud-type missiles inside Syria earlier this week.
“The use of such indiscriminate weapons shows utter disregard for the lives of the Syrian people. It is reckless and I strongly condemn it,” he said.
Across Syria on Thursday, the Syrian Network for Human Rights announced that 80 people had been killed across the country by security force gunfire.
Rasmussen's comments came amid a growing perception that the tide has turned, with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov saying the rebels had made important gains after getting increased external support.
“As for preparing for victory by the opposition, this, of course, cannot be excluded,” the ITAR-TASS news agency quoted Bogdanov as saying.
“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.”
Asked if the reported use of Scud missiles was a sign of Assad’s desperation, Rasmussen said he could not judge the motive but “the use of such indiscriminate weapons shows utter disregard for the lives of the Syrian people.
“It is reckless and I strongly condemn it,” Rasmussen added.
The Scud, fired into Israel and Saudi Arabia by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War, can deliver a payload of 3,500 kilos (7,700 pounds) over a range of 200 kilometers (125 miles) or more, defense analysts say.
The allegations were met by denials from Syria on Thursday, refuting the firing of Scud missiles, as claimed by a U.S. official and rebels, state television reported.
“The Syrian foreign ministry categorically denies rumors that the Syrian army has fired Scud missiles,” a statement said.