UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - 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 U.N. peacekeeping chief said on Tuesday.
“Yes, I think we can say that,” U.N. 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.
“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.
It is the first time a senior U.N. 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.”
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.
While Ladsous’ declaration does not carry any specific legal implications, it could carry political weight. Last week, U.N. 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 U.N. 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.”
Three U.N. 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.
Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Will Dunham