BEIRUT - Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Shara told a Lebanese newspaper that neither the forces of President Bashar Assad nor opposition fighters were able to win the war in Syria.
Al-Shara said the situation in the country was heading from bad to worse and that an "historic settlement", involving the formation of a national unity government "with broad powers", was needed to end the conflict, according to comments carried by al-Akhbar newspaper.
Assad has ultimate power in Syria while Shara, a Sunni Muslim, has a ceremonial role in a power structure dominated by Assad's Alawite minority. He has rarely appeared in public since the revolt against Assad erupted 21 months ago.
The comments, excerpts from a longer interview due to appear in al-Akhbar's Monday edition, were Shara's first public remarks since July last year.
Sources close to the Syrian government say he was among a group of politicians who had pushed for dialogue with the opposition and objected to the military crackdown against an uprising that began peacefully.
Assad's government says it is fighting Islamist extremists backed by the Sunni rulers of Arab Gulf states and Turkey.
Several opposition sources say Shara is believed to be under house arrest, and opposition activists have announced his defection several times this year.
"With every passing day the political and military solutions are becoming more distant. We should be in a position defending the existence of Syria. We are not in a battle for an individual or a regime," Shara was quoted as saying.
"All the opposition cannot decisively settle the battle and what the security forces and army units are doing will not achieve a decisive settlement," he told the paper.
Meanwhile, Syrian rebels launched an operation to take control of the central province of Hama to try to link the northern part of the country under their control to the center, a senior commander said on Sunday.
Qassem Saadeddine, a member of the newly established military command, said that orders have been given to fighters to surround and attack checkpoints across the province. He said forces loyal to President Bashar Assad at these checkpoints were given 48 hours' ultimatum to surrender or face death.
"When we liberate the countryside of Hama province ... then we will have the area between Aleppo and Hama liberated and open for us," he told Reuters.
Rebels in Hama said that clashes in the town of Helfaya earlier on Sunday marked the beginning of the operation. They attacked army checkpoints outside the town. Syrian government forces used artillery and fighter jets in responding and killed at least 25 people.