Syria in full-scale 'civil war' - UN peacekeeping chief
Syria's 15-month uprising has grown into a full-scale civil war where its president Bashar al-Assad's forces are trying to recapture swathes of urban territory lost to rebels, the UN peacekeeping chief said today.
"Yes, I think we can say that," UN under-secretary general for peacekeeping operations Herve Ladsous said when asked if the Syrian crisis could now be characterised as a civil war.
"Clearly what is happening is that the government of Syria lost some large chunks of territory in several cities to the opposition and wants to retake control of these areas," he said.
His remarks, the first time a senior UN official has declared Syria's conflict is a civil war, came as the International Red Cross said the situation was deteriorating in several parts of Syria simultaneously as fighting intensifies.
Many hundreds of people, including civilians, rebels and members of Mr Assad's army and security forces, have been killed since a ceasefire deal brokered by international mediator Kofi Annan two months ago was supposed to halt the bloodshed.
"Now we have confirmed reports of not only of the use of tanks and artillery but also attack helicopters," Mr Ladsous said in an interview.
"This is really becoming large scale."
Last week, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said the fighting in Syria has been so intense in parts of the country that at times it has qualified as a localised civil war, though he stopped short of saying that it was a full-scale civil war.
An ICRC declaration of the Syrian crisis as an "internal armed conflict," would have legal implications in terms war crimes and compliance with the Geneva Conventions.
Mr Ladsous' declaration may not have any legal implications, though it could carry political weight, possibly making some countries on the UN Security Council less inclined to renew the UN observer mission's mandate next month.
US and European officials have repeatedly said the escalation of the conflict in Syria occurred because Russia used its UN Security Council veto to prevent the 15-nation body from imposing sanctions on Damascus to force it to halt its assault on an uprising that began as a peaceful pro-democracy movement.
Syrian Free Army rebels withdrew today from the besieged Sunni Muslim town of Haffeh under pressure from bombardment by forces loyal to Mr Assad, a rebel spokesman said.
"Heavy shelling by field artillery has forced the remaining 200 rebels defending Haffeh to leave. There are several thousand civilians left without anyone to protect them from the Alawite militias surrounding the town," Selim al-Omar said by phone from the coastal city of Latakia, 30 kms west of Haffeh.