Al-Assad is confident he will defeat Syrian rebels

Reuters, BEIRUT

Fri, Aug 02, 2013 - Page 7

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said yesterday he is confident of victory against rebels in a devastating 28-month-old civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people and sent nearly 2 million fleeing abroad.

Insurgents have seized large swathes of territory, but al-Assad’s forces have staged a counteroffensive in recent weeks, pushing them back from around the capital Damascus and retaking several towns near the border with Lebanon.

“If we were not sure that we were going to win in Syria, we would not have the ability to resist and the ability to continue fighting for more than two years against the enemy,” state news agency SANA quoted al-Assad as saying.

Al-Assad has framed the revolt against four decades of his family’s rule as a foreign-backed conspiracy fought by Islamist “terrorists.” When pro-democracy protests started in March 2011, a military crackdown eventually led to an armed insurrection.

Addressing officers on the 68th anniversary of the Syrian army’s creation, al-Assad said soldiers had shown “courage in the face of terrorism ... and the fiercest barbaric war in modern history.”

UN investigators say al-Assad’s forces have carried out war crimes, including unlawful killing, torture, sexual violence, indiscriminate attacks and pillaging in what appears to be a state-directed policy. They say rebels have also committed war crimes, including executions, but on a lesser scale.

Meanwhile, the UN announced on Wednesday that experts would travel to Syria as soon as possible to investigate three alleged incidents of chemical weapons attacks.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky in New York said the green light for the investigation followed “the understanding reached with the government of Syria” during last week’s visit to Damascus by UN disarmament chief Angela Kane and the head of the chemical weapons investigation team, Ake Sellstrom.