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The Two-Way
11:29 am
Sun July 15, 2012

Red Cross Declares Civil War In Syria

Originally published on Sun July 15, 2012 3:43 pm

The conflict in Syria has now reached the level of civil war, the Red Cross announced Sunday.

The declaration means international humanitarian law now applies throughout the country, and is the responsibility of all parties, whether rebel or government.

The ICRC is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, as Reuters reminds, "and as such is considered a reference in qualifying when violence has evolved into an armed conflict." Today's announcement lays the groundwork for international justice.

"The qualification means that people who order or commit attacks on civilians including murder, torture and rape, or use disproportionate force against civilian areas, can be charged with war crimes in violation of international humanitarian law."

"It means it is more likely that indiscriminate attacks causing excessive civilian loss, injury or damage would be a war crime and could be prosecuted as such," Andrew Clapham, director of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, told Reuters.

Meanwhile, Syria is rejecting accusations that it used heavy weapons like tanks and helicopters last week in an incident that may have left as many as 200 dead.

UN observers entered into the town of Tremseh on Saturday, the site of an assault that the government insists wasn't a massacre. As the AP reports:

"Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said the violence Thursday was not a massacre — as activists and many foreign leaders have asserted — but a military operation targeting armed fighters who had taken control of the village of Tremseh."

UN observers outside the village when the violence erupted reported heavy weapons were used, but BBC correspondent Jim Muir reports from Lebanon that the conclusions from UN investigators so far seem to line up more with the government's story "than with reports of an indiscriminate massacre of civilians."

"He says the Tremseh killings appear to differ from the situation at Houla two months ago, when UN observers were able to arrive quickly and count the bodies of what was clearly a massacre.

"He says that because the observers arrived in Tremseh 48 hours after the attack, all they could conclude was that it appeared to target rebel fighters or defectors from the Syrian army."

The AP reports observers in Tremseh "found pools of blood in homes and spent bullets, mortars and artillery shells" as well as a mass grave containing dozens of bodies.

"Some of the emerging details suggested that, rather than the outright shelling of civilians that the opposition has depicted, the violence in Tremseh may have been a lopsided fight between the army pursuing the opposition and activists and locals trying to defend the village. Nearly all of the dead are men, including dozens of armed rebels. The U.N. observers said the assault appeared to target specific homes of army defectors or opposition figures."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.