x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Al Assad 'confident' regime will win conflict

Syrian president's comments come as news calls are made for the International Criminal Court to launch an investigation into war crimes by government officials.

Free Syrian army fighters take cover on a roof near Al Neirab airport in Aleppo on Sunday. Hamid Khatib / Reuters
Free Syrian army fighters take cover on a roof near Al Neirab airport in Aleppo on Sunday. Hamid Khatib / Reuters

DAMASCUS // The Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, said he is confident his troops will win the conflict ravaging his country, as new calls were made yesterday for the International Criminal Court to launch an investigation into war crimes.

Mr Al Assad's comments, published in Lebanon's pro-Damascus newspaper As Safir, came as the European Union renewed sanctions against Syria while amending them to enable nations to provide more "non-lethal" and technical support to help protect civilians.

As-Safir said that Mr Al Assad had met with unnamed Lebanese politicians in Damascus during which he assured them that Syria's future belonged to his camp.

"We are sure we will win, we are reassured by the political and military developments," Mr Al Assad was reported to have told the visiting politicians.

"We are convinced that the future is ours ... Syria has the willpower to defeat the conspiracy," he said, according to As-Safir. He said those "loyal" to his regime "represent the absolute majority of Syrians".

Since the outbreak of a revolt against his regime in March 2011 that later morphed into an insurgency, Mr Al Assad has systematically labelled opponents and rebels alike as "terrorists" he says are funded and backed by the West, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The United Nations says that nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far, many in massacres, bombardments, under torture and through summary executions.

A report by a UN-mandated commission of inquiry on the Syria conflict released in Geneva yesterday said that Syrian state forces and opposition rebels were each committing war crimes, though it said the government camp carried the greater blame.

At a news conference where the report was released, commission member Carla del Ponte renewed calls for the International Criminal Court to look into the matter of war crimes in Syria.

"The international community - and the UN Security Council - must take the decision to refer this to justice," said Ms del Ponte, a former UN prosecutor.

"We suggest the International Criminal Court. We can't decide, but we are pressuring the international community to act, because it's time to act," she said.

The decision to refer the conflict to the court lies with the UN Security Council, where there are deep splits between western members and Russia, a long-standing ally of Syria's regime, plus China.

China has backed Russia in vetoing Security Council resolutions that would have put greater pressure on Mr Al Assad's regime.

Meanwhile, a statement agreed by EU foreign ministers said the bloc's sanctions were renewed for three more months until the end of May, while "amending them so as to provide greater non-lethal support and technical assistance for the protection of civilians".

The ministers' talks on Syria largely focused on a request by Britain, backed by Italy and a handful of EU allies, to lift an EU arms embargo barring the supply of weapons to the rebel coalition battling Mr Al Assad's regime.

Though the arms embargo was maintained, the agreement to boost non-lethal support and technical assistance went some way to meeting Britain's calls for more support for the opposition Syrian National Coalition.

On the battlefront, rebel fighters yesterday pushed on with an assault launched last week to seize key airports in northern Aleppo province, and captured a checkpoint near Nayrab military airport, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Rebels also clashed with troops along the strategic Aleppo international airport road, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

The rebels are determined to seize airports in their attempt to capture large stocks of ammunition from regime forces and put out of action the air force's deadly firepower.

Yesterday's advance was the latest in a series by the rebels since last week when they captured airbases at Al Jarrah, Hassel and Base 80 in Aleppo province.

* Agence France-Presse