Int'l Red Cross: Syria in civil war

July 16, 2012 at 9:09 PM
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DAMASCUS, Syria, July 16 (UPI) -- Declaring Syria is in civil war means international humanitarian law applies "wherever hostilities take place," the Red Cross said Monday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross officially describes the situation in Syria as a "non-international armed conflict" and does not use the term "civil war," but spokesman Alexis Heeb said the ICRC's legal term "appears in the Geneva Conventions to describe a civil war," CNN reported.

"What is new is the fact that in April ... we referred to three specific locations" of internal conflict that now has expanded elsewhere, Heeb said. "Rather than to limit the non-international armed conflict, we say that IHL [international humanitarian law] applies wherever hostilities take place."

More violence was reported Monday, opposition activists said, as regime forces fired machine guns on civilians' houses in Aleppo, while in Homs, "several houses have been destroyed and other caught on fire" during mortar and missile attacks.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights and Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies said 88 deaths were reported throughout Syria Monday -- 31 in Hama, 19 in Homes and 10 each in Damascus, Rural Damascus, Idleb and Aleppo. The death toll could not be confirmed independently.

The casualties in Damascus took place during another day of clashes between regime and rebel fighters, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.

International envoy Kofi Annan was in Russia to meet with Russia's president and foreign minister Monday to try to break the deadlock on Syria, which has seen escalating violence since pro-democracy demonstrations against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011.

Russia said it would stop new arms sales to Syria, but would not support a new U.N. Security Council draft resolution that would have more teeth against its trading ally.

Britain is the sponsor of a resolution that would impose sanctions against Syria under the U.N. Charter's Chapter 7, which could include military action.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Monday accused Western diplomats of "blackmail" in trying to force Russia to back Britain's draft resolution.

"Unfortunately, we have seen some elements of blackmail. We're told if we don't agree to pass the resolution [under] Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, they will not agree to extend the U.N. observers mandate," Lavrov said at a press conference before meeting with Annan. "I consider it a totally counterproductive and a dangerous approach, because it is unacceptable to use the observers as the bargaining chip."

As part of the Annan peace plan, about 300 U.N. observers were sent to Syria to monitor implementation of a cease-fire. The observers suspended their work because it had become too dangerous and their mission expires at the end of July.

Russia is sponsoring a draft resolution that would extend the observer mission to establish communications between Syrian and opposition leaders.

In April, Annan brokered an all-but-ignored peace plan that included a cease-fire, all-inclusive political dialogue and calls for both sides to stop the violence.

"We have been hearing statements that a key to the Syrian settlement is in Moscow," Lavrov said during his news conference. "They [Western leaders] tell us that we should persuade Assad to step down of his own free will. That is simply not realistic."

Lavrov said Russia would accept a "technical extension" of the U.N. observer mission in Syria, RIA Novosti said.

A technical extension is a resolution that doesn't contain any "substantive evaluations," he said.

U.N. observers Sunday said the killings last week in the village of Tremseh apparently resulted from a regime raid against rebels, not a deliberate massacre of civilians.

"The [Thursday] attack appears targeted at army defectors and activists," the observers said in a statement after interviewing witnesses and inspecting damaged buildings.

The preliminary findings sharply differed from claims by some opposition groups the Syrian military targeted civilians in the community about 22 miles from Hama.

At a news conference in Damascus earlier Sunday, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said the Tremseh violence was a military operation against armed opponents of Assad's regime. He said the attack had killed 37 fighters and two civilians.

Activists initially said the death toll topped 200 Sunday, but they revised the estimate downward to 103, mainly young male adults.

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