ICRC says Syrian conflict is now full-blown civil war
Published Sunday, July 15, 2012 8:20AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, July 15, 2012 4:47PM EDT
An aid agency has deemed the ongoing bloodshed in Syria to be a civil war, a distinction that could change the situation on the ground by making international humanitarian law applicable.
International humanitarian law, also known as the “law of war,” establishes boundaries for armed conflict and allows opposite sides to battle within certain limits.
The International Committee of the Red Cross told the Associated Press on Sunday that Syria is now in the thick of a “non-international armed conflict.”
The statement made by ICRC spokesperson Hicham Hassam is a marked change from the agency’s previous stance that violence was restriction to certain hotspots, namely the western city of Homs, the northwestern city of Idlib and Hama -- site of an infamous 1982 massacre.
"Hostilities have spread to other areas of the country," Hassan told AP. "International humanitarian law applies to all areas where hostilities are taking place."
Humanitarian law would distinguish how much force the Syrian regime and rebel soldiers are allowed to use, and is intended to protect anyone who is not participating in the conflict.
Under the law, for instance, opposing forces are not allowed to kill or injure a soldier who surrenders or is out of action. Combatants are also obligated to protect captured soldiers, who are permitted to communicate with their families and receive relief.
Activists estimate that more than 17,000 have been killed since the nation’s uprising began in March 2011, with protesters calling for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.
In the latest round of conflict, the United Nations alleges that monitors stationed near the village of Tremseh witnessed the military using heavy weaponry and an attack helicopter.
Activists have referred to what happened Thursday in Tremseh as a massacre, placing death tolls at more than 100 people.
A spokesperson for Syria’s Foreign Ministry countered that statement on Sunday, telling AP that the battle wasn’t an attack on civilians but a coordinated assault on fighters who had purportedly taken over the village. Jihad Makdissi also claimed the death toll was 37 gunmen and two civilians, less than half the estimate coming from activists.
Throughout the 16-month long uprising in Syria, where most media outlets have been unable to operate independently, independent verification of events has been a struggle.
Even so, the ICRC maintains the violence appears to be spreading.
Should international humanitarian law come into effect, the Geneva-based group says fighters would be obligated to respect the lives and personal convictions of civilians. Torture, both physical and mental, would also be forbidden.
All this comes ahead of an integral week for Syria and the international community, CTV’s London Bureau Chief Tom Kennedy told National News on Saturday.
He noted the United Nations observer mandate runs out in Syria next Friday, meaning the agency is now tasked with deciding the future of the mission and the country.
One UN resolution, said Kennedy, calls for more sanctions against Syria. The motion, however, is being blocked by Russia which has continued to prop up Assad’s regime.
“Nevertheless, with the violence we have been seeing there’s going to be even more intense pressure on Russia to come . . . on-side for even tougher measures against Syria,” he said.