Meanwhile, the violence continued, with reports of two car bombings on Thursday. One blast killed at least 16 people and injured 23 in the town of Qatana in Damascus province, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency. Opposition activists reported a second bombing in a Damascus suburb called Jdeidet Artouz, with 17 people feared killed.
Opposition groups estimate that at least 40,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict.
On Tuesday, President Obama announced U.S. recognition of the recently formed Syrian Opposition Coalition, and on Wednesday, more than 100 governments met in Morocco and threw their support behind the group. “Bashar al-Assad has lost legitimacy and should stand aside to allow a sustainable political transition,” a declaration issued at the meeting said.
At the same time, the United States and other Western powers remain wary about some armed factions within the rebel movement. The Obama administration this week designated one of the rebel military groups, the al-
Nusra Front, also known as Jabhat al-Nusra, as a global terrorist organization with links to al-Qaeda in neighboring Iraq.
Change of heart
Over the course of Assad’s bloody crackdown on protesters and rebel fighters over the past 20 months, Russia and China have vetoed three tough sanctions resolutions at the U.N. Security Council that were intended to punish the Syrian government.
The United States has been trying to get Russian support for an international transition plan for Syria. At the State Department, Nuland called on Russia “to withdraw any residual support for the Assad regime, whether it’s material support, financial support.”
At the same time, she said, the Russians can “help us to identify people who might be willing, inside of Syria, to work on a transitional structure. . . . They have a lot of contacts in Syria.”
At least one anti-government activist appeared to scoff at the change in message from the Russian government on Thursday.
“ ‘Finally, you’re waking up to the truth?’ ” the activist, who uses the nom de guerre Majd al-Shami, said via Skype.
“Russia has been standing on the side of the regime since the very first day of the revolution in Syria,” the activist added. “Logically, they cannot let go of the regime that easily or even fight against it, regardless of the international political situation.”
Dehghanpisheh reported from Beirut. Anne Gearan and Karen DeYoung in Washington and Ahmed Ramadan in Beirut contributed to this report.