The 15-month-old conflict in Syria has grown into a full-scale civil war in which the government is attempting to recapture large swathes of urban territory it has lost to the opposition, the UN peacekeeping chief said on Tuesday.
"Yes, I think we can say that," UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous said in an interview with Reuters and one other reporter when asked if the Syrian crisis could now be characterized as a civil war.
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"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.
UN monitors in Idlib
It is the first time a senior UN official has declared that the Syrian conflict is a civil war.
"Now we have confirmed reports of not only of the use of tanks and artillery but also attack helicopters," Ladsous said. "This is really becoming large scale."
Opposition protest in Syria (Photo: AP)
Last week the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the fighting in Syria has been so intense in parts of Syria that at times it has qualified as a localized civil war, though he stopped short of saying that it was a full-scale civil war.
If the ICRC were to declare the Syrian crisis as an "internal armed conflict," it would have legal implications regarding war crimes and compliance with the Geneva Conventions.
'Full of admiration.' Clinton (L) with Peres (Photo: AFP)
The Red Cross also said that due to increasingly deteriorating situation in Syria, the agency is now unable to respond to all humanitarian needs at once. "The Situation in several parts of Syria is deteriorating simultaneously", An ICRC spokesman said.
While Ladsous' declaration does not carry any specific legal implications, it could carry political weight. Last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that the risk of the Syrian crisis becoming a civil war was imminent.
Ladsous also spoke of a shooting attack on UN monitors in Syria on Tuesday, which occurred they were trying to reach the Syrian town of Haffeh but were turned back by angry crowds who threw stones and metals rods at them.
"One of our observers was almost injured," he said. "We thought he was injured, but in fact the bullet did not penetrate (him) but hit his boot."
"There were many impacts in the car," he added. "So it was deliberate."
Fighting inside villages (Photo: AP)
On Tuesday, three UN vehicles were fired upon, though it was not clear who was responsible for the shooting. Ladsous said the shots appeared to come from a crowd of civilians.
United Nations monitors trying to reach the Syrian town of Haffeh on Tuesday were turned back by angry crowds who threw stones and metal rods at them, and three UN vehicles were fired upon as they left the area, a UN spokeswoman said.
"UN observers trying to reach the town of al-Haffeh today were confronted with angry crowds that surrounded their vehicles, stopping them from proceeding any further," spokeswoman Sausan Ghosheh said in a statement.
Ghosheh said the monitors had been trying since June 7 to reach Haffeh, where activists say President Bashar al-Assad's force have been battling hundreds of rebel fighters and the United States has warned of a potential massacre.
"The crowd, who appeared to be residents of the area, then hurled stones and metal rods at the UN vehicles," Ghosheh said.
The observers turned back and as they were leaving three vehicles were fired at, she added.
The shots were fired deliberately, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous told Reuters in an interview.
Russia may send Syria helicopters
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday that the United States is worried Russia may be sending Syria attack helicopters and views Russian claims that its arms transfers to Syria are unrelated to the conflict there as "patently untrue.""We have confronted the Russians about stopping their continued arms shipments to Syria. They have, from time to time, said that we shouldn't worry - everything they are shipping is unrelated to their (the Syrian government's) actions internally. That's patently untrue," Clinton said at an appearance organized by a think tank.
"And we are concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically," she said.
Clinton spoke at a luncheon in Washington hosted by the Brookings Institution in honor of Haim and Cheryl Saban, founders of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy.
President Shimon Peres, who also attended the event, said he was full of admiration for the Syrian people, adding that Israel wants to help them with food and "morale."
The Israeli president called on for the Arab League's intervention in the Syrian crisis.
"Let the Arabs do it. They are ready; let them take responsibility; let's not accuse anybody that we are intervening; let us support them in any way we can," he said.
Reuters, AP and Yitzhak Benhorin contributed to the report
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