GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) declared the conflict in Syria on Sunday 15 July as amounting to a civil war, just as fighting intensified around the capital Damascus over the weekend.
The declaration by the Geneva-based organization of the situation as a “non-international armed conflict”, or civil war, effectively means that combatants are now subject to the Geneva Conventions so as to protect civilians, and more exposed to war crimes prosecutions.
Meanwhile, fighting between rebels and government forces continued on Monday in the capital, with some of the fiercest exchanges since the beginning of the revolt against President Bashir al-Assad 17 months ago. The conflict has claimed over 10,000 lives so far.
The ICRC looks at a number of criteria in defining the status of a conflict as a civil war. This includes the length of the conflict, the intensity of the fighting and the organization of opposition forces. The statement comes following an attack Thursday 12 July on the village of Tremseh, in which up to 200 people were killed according to anti-regime activists. The Syrian government says opposition fighters, and not civilians were targeted in a military operation on the village, saying only 37 gunmen and 2 civilians were killed .
ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said “What matters is that international humanitarian law applies wherever hostilities between government forces and opposition groups are taking place across the country”. He said fighting had now spilled into areas beyond the initial hotspots of Idlib, Homs and Hama.