Syria in civil war, U.N. official says

Tue Jun 12, 2012 5:51pm EDT
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By Louis Charbonneau and Dominic Evans

UNITED NATIONS/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria's 15-month uprising has grown into a full-scale civil war where President Bashar al-Assad's forces are trying to recapture swathes of urban territory lost to rebels, the U.N. peacekeeping chief said on Tuesday.

"Yes, I think we can say that," U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous said when asked if the Syrian crisis could now be characterized as a civil war.

"Clearly what is happening is that the government of Syria lost some large chunks of territory in several cities to the opposition and wants to retake control of these areas," he said.

His remarks, the first time a senior U.N. official has declared Syria's conflict is a civil war, came as the United States said Russia could be sending attack helicopters to Syria.

The International Red Cross said the situation was deteriorating in several parts of Syria simultaneously as fighting intensifies.

Many hundreds of people, including civilians, rebels and members of Assad's army and security forces, have been killed since a ceasefire deal brokered by international mediator Kofi Annan two months ago was supposed to halt the bloodshed.

"Now we have confirmed reports of not only of the use of tanks and artillery but also attack helicopters," Ladsous said in an interview with Reuters and one other reporter. "This is really becoming large scale."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington was worried Russia may be sending Syria attack helicopters and dismissed Moscow's argument that its arms transfers to Syria are unrelated to the conflict there.   Continued...

Demonstrators protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Habeet, near Idlib, June 8, 2012. Picture taken June 8, 2012. REUTERS/Shaam News Network/Handout