DAMASCUS, Syria, June 14 (UPI) -- At least 78 people were killed in violence in Syria Thursday, human rights monitors said, amid Syrian government denials the country was engulfed in civil war.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights, based in London, and the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies said they had documented 78 deaths throughout Syrian cities Thursday, including 27 in Homs, 19 in Dara and 13 in Lattakia.
In Damascus Thursday, 14 people were killed when a vehicle driven by a suicide bomber entered a garage for cars and buses in the city's al-Sayda Zainab neighborhood and blew up. The explosion caused considerable damage in the area, the state-operated Syrian Arab News Agency reported.
SNHR said the blast was followed by intense gunfire in the streets and a protest by local residents, condemning the act.
Prior to the incident, the Syrian government dismissed a U.N. official's assessment the country's conflict had escalated to civil war, saying the description didn't match the fighting.
"Any talk about civil war in Syria doesn't reflect the reality," the government said in a statement. "Syria is not witnessing a 'civil war' but rather a struggle to uproot the plague of terrorism."
The government's statement came after U.N. peacekeeping head Herve Ladsous and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius both described the fighting that began in March 2011 as a civil war, CNN reported.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has been under international pressure to end a brutal crackdown, denying opposition claims his forces are targeting civilians.
Ladsous' comments were made this week amid reports of escalating violence in Syria, including a reported attack on unarmed U.N. observers trying to access the embattled city of Haffa.
However, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters Wednesday the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva would determine when the crisis in Syria should be considered civil war.
As the Damascus government dismissed the description, Amnesty International issued a report accusing Assad's forces of killing civilians in organized attacks, CNN said.
The human rights organization said it found Syrian forces were committing crimes against humanity and war crimes as part of a government effort to exact revenge on towns and communities suspected of supporting the rebels. The group called on the U.N. Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court to face charges.
French officials said they plan to propose the United Nations be given the power to enforce U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's failed peace plan, including the possibility of implementing a no-fly zone, to end the bloodshed.
"If you can't call it a civil war, then there are no words to describe it," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said during a news conference in Paris.
Also in Damascus Thursday, a bomb exploded near a Shiite shrine, injuring two people, state media reported. The explosion occurred in a parking lot near the holy shrine of Sayyidah Zaynab, which houses the tomb of Prophet Mohammed's granddaughter.
The opposition charged the government shelled the western suburbs of Aleppo and an opposition stronghold in Homs, the Local Coordination Committees said.
The organization said at least one person was killed in fighting in Deir Ezzor where the government set up checkpoints.