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17 April 2024

Assad confident of winning war

Men stand close to an exposed water main, only recently replaced, at the site of a massive bomb allegedly dropped by pro-government war planes. (AFP)


President Bashar al-Assad said he is confident his troops will win the conflict ravaging Syria, as new calls were made on Monday for the International Criminal Court to launch a probe into war crimes.

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 more "non-lethal" and technical support to help protect civilians.

As-Safir said Assad had met unidentified Lebanese politicians in Damascus and 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," Assad was quoted as telling them, the Lebanese newspaper said.

"We are convinced that the future is ours... Syria has the willpower to defeat the conspiracy," As-Safir quoted Assad as saying and adding that those "loyal" to his regime "represent the absolute majority of Syrians."

Since the outbreak of anti-regime protests in March 2011 that later morphed into an insurgency, Assad has 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.

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

At a news conference, commission member Carla del Ponte renewed calls for the International Criminal Court to probe war crimes in Syria.

"The international community - and the UN Security Council - must take the decision to refer this to justice," said 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."

Any 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 Damascus ally, and China.

Beijing has backed Moscow in vetoing Security Council resolutions that would have put greater pressure on Assad's regime.

In Brussels, EU foreign ministers agreed to renew sanctions on Syria 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 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.

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

The coalition on Monday slammed the alleged intervention of Hezbollah and its Iranian backers in the Syria conflict, after claiming three members of Lebanon's powerful Shiite group where killed last in Syria week.

"Iran's intervention through Hezbollah is an unjustifiable and undeniable violation of international law as well as national sovereignty," the group said.

On the battlefront, rebel fighters pressed an assault launched last week to seize strategic airports in northern Aleppo province, and captured a checkpoint near Nayrab military airport, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Fierce fighting broke out around Aleppo international airport as rebels mounted a raid on the airport's fuel storage area before being repulsed by the army, a military source told AFP.

Monday's advance was the latest in a series by the rebels since their capture last week of air bases at Al-Jarrah, Hassel and Base 80 in Aleppo province.

The Britain-based Observatory, which collects its reports from a network of activists and medics on the ground, gave a provisional toll of 94 people killed across Syria on Monday.

The nearly two-year conflict has caused damage to infrastructure costing an estimated $11 billion (8.2 billion euros), a Syrian government official told parliament.