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Enough evidence to convict Assad of war crimes: Prosecutor

An internally displaced child is pictured at a camp in Ain Issa, north of Raqqa, Syria. (Reuters)

GENEVA: A UN commission probing Syria rights abuses has gathered enough evidence to convict President Bashar Assad of war crimes, an outgoing member of the commission said in interviews published on Sunday.
Veteran former war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, who is preparing to step down after five years serving in the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, told Swiss media the evidence against Assad was sufficient to secure a war crimes conviction.
"I am convinced of that," she told Le Matin Dimanche and the Sonntagszeitung weeklies, adding though that with no international court or prosecutor tasked with trying the Syria war crimes cases, justice would remain elusive.
"That is why the situation is so frustrating. The preparatory work has been done, but nevertheless, there is no prosecutor and no court," she told Sonntagszeitung.
"It's a tragedy."
Del Ponte, a 70-year-old Swiss national who came to prominence investigating war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, made the shock announcement earlier this month that she would resign from the UN commission because it "does absolutely nothing."
She lamented that "everyone in Syria is on the bad side. The Assad regime has perpetrated horrible crimes against humanity and used chemical weapons. And the opposition is now made up of extremists and terrorists."
In Sunday's interviews, she said she had handed in her resignation letter last Thursday, and that she would officially step down on Sept. 18, after the commission presents its latest report to the UN Human Rights Council.
Antonio Guterres, UN secretary-general, appealed last week for the commission to continue its work despite Del Ponte's departure.
The commission has been tasked with investigating human rights violations and war crimes in Syria since shortly after the conflict erupted in March 2011 with anti-government protests that have evolved into a complex proxy war.
The continued violence has left more than 330,000 people dead and displaced millions.
The commission, which once Del Ponte leaves will count just two members, has repeatedly urged the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, in vain.
"I do not want to be an alibi for an international community that is doing nothing at all," Del Ponte told Le Matin Dimanche, explaining her decision to leave the UN commission.
"My resignation is also meant as a provocation," she said, adding that she hoped it would "put pressure on the Security Council, which must deliver justice to the victims."
Del Ponte, however, said that if an international judicial process is eventually established for Syria, "I am ready to take on the position of international prosecutor."
She stressed that international justice was vital for Syria, where the crimes committed were "far worse" than what she had seen in the former Yugoslavia.
"Without justice in Syria, there will never be peace and thus no future," she said.
On Thursday, a monitor said a commando operation backed by Russian warplanes and helicopters has killed 25 Daesh members in central Syria.
Supported by Russia, Syria's regime has waged a months-long offensive to recapture the vast desert region that stretches from the country's center to the Iraqi and Jordanian borders.
On Saturday, "25 IS (Daesh) members were killed and others wounded in a commando operation by Syrian regime forces with air support from Russian warplanes and helicopters" in the northeast of Homs province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
Six members of the regime forces were also killed, it said.
The raid allowed regime forces to seize control of three villages in the area, official news agency SANA reported a military source said t as saying.
The army has captured swathes of territory from the terrorists in the province. According to the Observatory, Daesh now controls just dozens of villages in the east of Homs.
The Syrian "Badiya" is a large stretch of desert that extends over around 90,000 sq km of territory.
Since 2015, much of the Badiya has been held by Daesh, but Syria's army has been chipping away at it since May.
Last week, the Observatory said regime forces had ousted Daesh from Al-Sukhna, the last Daesh-held town in Homs province.
Syria's army and Russia this weekend confirmed its full recapture.
"The liberation of Al-Sukhna from IS (Daesh) terrorists opens up possibilities for Syrian government forces to launch an assault and free the city of Deir Ezzor," a Russian army statement said.
The terrorists hold the majority of the vast desert province of Deir Ezzor including most of its provincial capital.
The recapture of Deir Ezzor "would largely — if not completely — mark the end of the fight against IS (Deash)," Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Sunday told the Russia 24 television channel.
Regime forces have more than doubled the territory they control in Syria over the past two months, he said.
Forces loyal to President Assad are also fighting the terrorists in the south of neighboring Raqqa province.
A US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance, meanwhile, is battling to retake the provincial capital, Raqqa city, from Daesh.
The terrorists also hold the majority of the vast desert province of Deir Ezzor including most of its provincial capital.

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