Russia on Friday played down a top diplomat's remarks that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may lose the war, as Western leaders piled more pressure on the regime and the German parliament approved the deployment of Patriot missiles to Turkey, DPA reported.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov was quoted as saying that al-Assad was losing control and a victory for the opposition rebels was possible.
The Foreign Ministry subsequently said that Russia preferred a political solution to the conflict, in line with the final declaration of an international meeting on the conflict, and that its position had not changed.
"Bogdanov reiterated the principled position of Russia that there is no alternative to the political settlement of the Syrian crisis," the Foreign Ministry said.
Bogdanov's remarks had been interpreted as providing the clearest indication yet that Russia, an ally of al-Assad, was preparing for the possibility that the Syrian leader might lose.
Qadri Jamil, Syria's deputy prime minister for economic affairs, accused the West of using reports that Damascus had used chemical weapons against the rebels as a pretext for a military invasion.
"It's meant to be like in Iraq: The West is looking for an excuse to directly interfere in the affairs of our country," said Jamil, after talks in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, according to Interfax.
While Western powers claimed to be looking for an end to Syria's conflict, they were already part of it, said Jamil.
In Brussels, European Union leaders tasked their foreign ministers with exploring "all options" to buttress the opposition, although they didn't expand on what measures might be considered.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there had been no talk of loosening an EU arms embargo on Syria to the benefit of the rebels, while British Prime Minister David Cameron ruled out any military operation similar to NATO's intervention in Libya.
"This is a desperate crisis that's taking place and it's taking place ... on our watch," Cameron said. "People will ask in the future, in years and generations, what did you do? ... There is no single, simple answer, but inaction and indifference are not options."
The German parliament approved the deployment of up to 400 soldiers and a missile-defence system in Turkey to guard against attacks from Syria.
The United States and the Netherlands are also to take part in the mission, which was supported by an overwhelming majority of the lower house of the German parliament, the Bundestag.
The rebels have been making significant gains in recent weeks, mainly in northern areas near the border with Turkey.
They have also been fighting al-Assad's troops in and around the capital Damascus, raising the possibility that al-Assad could lose his grip on the capital.
"We know the battle for Damascus is not going to be easy but we are prepared for it. We will overthrow the tyrant soon," Abu Islam, a member of the rebel Islam Brigade in the eastern Ghotta region, told dpa by phone.
The opposition Local Coordination Committees reported that rebels had shot down a jet near Damascus airport. Rebels also claimed to have seized a major infantry academy near the northern city of Aleppo.
The surge in violence has prompted Egypt's national carrier, EgyptAir, to suspend its flights to Syria, the country's official news agency said.
The airline had operated several flights earlier in the week to evacuate Egyptians from Syria via neighbouring Lebanon.
In New York, German ambassador Peter Wittig said that UN Security Council members were "frustrated" by their inability to act to stop the conflict in a united way and at an early stage.
Germany is to end its two-year term in the 15-nation council on December 31. Wittig said that the sense of frustration was pervasive as the conflict is in its 21st month.