Syria is now in a state of civil war, a top United Nations official has said. An escalation in the status of the conflict might mean the observer mission’s days are numbered.
The conflict in Syria has grown into a civil war, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous said in an interview on Tuesday. Ladsous had been asked if the crisis has become a civil war.
"Yes, I think we can say that," he said.
"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.
"Now we have confirmed reports of not only the use of tanks and artillery but also attack helicopters," Ladsous said. "This is really becoming large scale."
While the UN has issued several warnings that the conflict could become a civil war, it is the first time an official at such a senior level within the organization has said that it has reached that level.
War crimes implications
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) last week said that fighting in some areas was so intense that at times it qualified as a localized civil war, while stopping short of saying it is a full-scale one.
Any declaration by the ICRC that the Syrian crisis is an "internal armed conflict," would have legal implications with regard to war crimes and adherence to the terms of the Geneva Convention.
Ladsous referred to "an observer mission which cannot observe a ceasefire because there is no ceasefire."
The declaration may make some countries on the Security Council less likely to renew the UN observer mission's mandate next month.
The unarmed observer's 90-day mandate is to be renewed in late July, but US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has said the Security Council might not agree to an extension if the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad does not cooperate with peace efforts.
On Tuesday, a group of observers was attacked with stones, metal rods and gunfire as they tried to enter the besieged rebel-held town of Haffeh. They were forced to turn away from the town where civilians are reported to be trapped amid government shelling. None of the observers were injured.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights at least 51 civilians and 12 soldiers were killed across the country on Tuesday.
rc/ccp (AFP, AP, Reuters)