Some Syria violence amounts to civil war: Red Cross

Tue May 8, 2012 8:17am EDT
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By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - Fighting has been so intense in parts of Syria that at times the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad has qualified as a localized civil war, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Tuesday.

Jakob Kellenberger said that Homs earlier this year, and the northwestern province of Idlib more recently, have met the humanitarian agency's three criteria for defining a non-international armed conflict - intensity, duration and the level of organization of rebels fighting government forces.

"It can be a situation of internal armed conflict in certain areas: an example was the fighting in Baba Amr in Homs in February," Kellenberger told Reuters, making clear that the criteria were not met in the entire country.

The ICRC's lawyers and its aid workers in Syria have studied the question of civil war for much of the 14-month-old uprising, in which at least 9,000 people have been killed.

Only lately did they determine that Syrian rebels represent an organized opposition force. Kellenberger also noted that the nature of violence has shifted now to more "guerrilla attacks".

In contrast, the ICRC was quick to describe last year's conflict in Libya as a civil war, once rebels had set up a headquarters and a command and control structure.

The ICRC assessment means that international humanitarian law, embodied in the Geneva Conventions laying down the rules of war, is applicable to both sides in some parts of Syria.

It requires the humane treatment of all people in enemy hands and the duty to care for the wounded and sick. But it also means that the parties to the internal conflict are entitled to attack military targets, under international humanitarian law.   Continued...

Smoke rises as Idlib city is shelled by government forces March 11, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer