Red Cross declares Syria in a civil war
DAMASCUS, Syria -- The 16-month bloodbath crossed an important symbolic threshold yesterday as the International Red Cross formally declared the conflict a civil war, a status with implications for potential war crimes prosecutions.
The Red Cross statement came as UN observers gathered new details on what happened in a village where dozens were reported killed in a regime assault. After a second visit to Tremseh yesterday, the team said Syrian troops went door-to-door in the small farming community, checking residents' IDs, killing some and taking others away.
According to the UN, the attack appeared to target army defectors and activists.
Syria denied UN claims that government forces had used heavy weapons such as tanks, artillery and helicopters during the attack Thursday. Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said the violence was not a massacre, as activists and many foreign leaders have alleged, but a military operation targeting armed fighters who had taken control of the village.
"What happened wasn't an attack on civilians," Makdissi told reporters yesterday in Damascus. He said 37 gunmen and two civilians were killed, a far lower death toll than the one put forward by anti-regime activists, some of whom estimated the dead at more than 100.
"What has been said about the use of heavy weapons is baseless," Makdissi added.
The UN has implicated President Bashar Assad's forces in the assault. The head of the UN observer mission said Friday that monitors stationed near Tremseh saw the army using heavy weaponry and attack helicopters.
Violence continued yesterday, with more clashes reported around Damascus. The bloodshed appeared to be escalating. The Red Cross declaration that it now considers the conflict a civil war means international humanitarian law applies throughout the country.