Syria is in civil war, says Red Cross
Fighting in Syria has become so widespread that the conflict is now in effect a civil war, says The Red Cross (ICRC).
The change in status means combatants will now be officially subject to the Geneva Conventions, leaving them more exposed to war crimes prosecutions.
Meanwhile, Syrian officials are disputing claims that they used heavy weapons in fighting on Thursday.
Activists initially described fighting in the village of Tremseh near Hama as a massacre of dozens of civilians, but later accounts suggested most of the dead were armed rebels.
The accusations, if proved, would mean Damascus had broken an agreement it made with envoy Kofi Annan.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which oversees the Geneva Conventions, said fighting had now spread beyond the three hotspots of Idlib, Homs and Hama.
Spokesman Hicham Hassan said Syria was now regards as a “non-international armed conflict”, which is the technical term for civil war.
“What matters is that international humanitarian law applies wherever hostilities between government forces and opposition groups are taking place across the country,” he said.
The statement is significant because it is the Red Cross’ job to monitor the conduct of the fighting, and to tell warring parties what their obligations are.
Under the Geneva Conventions, indiscriminate attacks on civilians, attacks on medical personnel or the destruction of basic services like water or electricity are forbidden and can be prosecuted as war crimes.
From now on, all those fighting in Syria are officially subject to the laws of war, and could end up at a war crimes tribunal if they disobey them.
Last month, the UN’s head of peacekeeping Herve Ladsous also said Syria was in a state of civil war.
And Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has previously said the country is in a state of war.
Some 16,000 people are thought to have been killed since the uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s regime began in March 2011.
UN diplomats are attempting to agree a way forward for the organization’s monitoring mission in the country.
The mission’s mandate runs out on Friday, and Western nations are trying to get Russia and China to agree to a beefed-up resolution authorizing sanctions.
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