The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced on Sunday that the conflict that has wracked Syria since March 2011 and claimed more than 10,000 lives is now a full-blown civil war throughout the entire nation.
“We are now talking about a non-international armed conflict in the country,” ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said, using standard Red Cross language for ‘civil war.’ Previously, ICRC had designated areas in and around Homs, Hama and Idlib as areas where civil war existed. But “hostilities have spread to other areas of the country,” Hassan stated.
Hassan stressed that the Geneva Conventions and other international law were now applicable throughout Syria.”International humanitarian law applies to all areas where hostilities are taking place,” he said.
Violence increased in and around the capital city of Damascus over the weekend, with rebel leaders fighting against the ruling Bashar al-Assad regime predicting a major fight ahead. “The battle for Damascus is coming,” Abdulhameed Zakaria, a Syrian army colonel and doctor who defected from Assad’s forces to the Free Syrian Army, told CNN in Istanbul, Turkey.
Indeed, video shot in the capital on Monday showed regime tanks rolling through the streets and fighting with rebels. At least 50 people were reportedly killed on Monday, says the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition group.
The Red Cross announcement comes just days after more than 200 people were killed in the town of Tremseh, the single deadliest day of the 16-month-old conflict. Citing “indisputable evidence,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton slammed the Assad regime for “deliberately murder[ing] innocent civilians.”
But it has emerged that what happened in Tremseh was more likely an uneven battle between heavily armed regime forces and outgunned local rebels. United Nations observers on the ground investigated the alleged massacre and concluded that the government attack appeared to target “specific groups and houses, mainly of army defectors and activists.”
Also on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Western diplomats of blackmailing his country to coerce support for a new British draft resolution against the Assad regime in the UN Security Council that would be enforceable through sanctions or military action. Russia and China, both of which have economic and strategic ties to the Assad regime, have wielded their veto power on the UN Security Council to thwart anti-regime resolutions, much to the chagrin of Western powers like the US and Britain which favor tougher action against Assad.
Additionally on Monday, Morocco became the latest nation to expel its Syrian ambassador, prompting Damascus to retaliate in kind.