(CNN) — The Red Cross has determined the conflict in Syria to be a civil war — a declaration that officially applies the Geneva Conventions to violence throughout the country.
International humanitarian law now applies “wherever hostilities take place,” the organization said Monday.
The announcement came as violence spread into parts of the capital that had previously avoided the bloodshed, and just a few days after more than 200 people, according to activists, were massacred in the town of Tremseh. It was the deadliest day of the conflict.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, on its website, explains that its mandate “stems essentially from the Geneva Conventions of 1949.”
“Part of its legal mandate is to determine when international humanitarian law applies,” ICRC spokesman Sean Maguire told CNN. “We make a determination as to whether a conflict exists.”
The Red Cross does not use the term “civil war,” and instead declares a “non-international armed conflict.”
In April, the organization declared such a conflict in Homs, Hama, and Idlib.
Now, hostilities have spread enough that the conflict exists throughout the country, Maguire said.
“In theory,” he said, the Red Cross announcement could affect prosecutions by the International Criminal Court in the future. If a prosecuting authority is established for Syria, it could point to the announcement that the Geneva Conventions applied, and to ways that they were violated. However, for the court to look at the situation in Syria, a referral from the U.N. Security Council would be required, Maguire noted.
Russia and China — which have deals with Syria — have used their veto power to block some of the toughest draft resolutions against the Syrian regime in the Security Council.
Britain is pushing for a tough new resolution in the U.N. Security Council under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter. Chapter 7 resolutions are enforceable through sanctions or even military action.
On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Western diplomats of “blackmail” to try to force Russia to get on board with the new draft.
“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 Kofi Annan, envoy to Syria for the United Nations and the Arab League.
“I consider it a totally counterproductive and a dangerous approach, because it is unacceptable to use the observers as the bargaining chip.”
He slammed Western countries that are trying to change Russia’s stance.
“The track record of those who try to make us step aside from this position has a lot of deplorable instances of unilateral military actions, and the results are well remembered by everybody,” Lavrov said.
Russia has vowed to stop new arms sales to the country.
Numerous countries, including the United States, have criticized Russia, saying its actions in the Security Council have helped the Syrian regime continue a brutal crackdown on the opposition.
Many nations have expelled Syrian ambassadors. Morocco became the latest to do so Monday.
Syria responded by declaring Morocco’s ambassador persona non grata.
Hostilities in Syria were reported Monday in numerous parts of the country.
In Aleppo, regime forces fired machine guns on civilians’ houses, opposition activists said.
In the beleaguered city of Homs, several homes were destroyed and others were on fire amid mortar and missile attacks, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.
And the capital city of Damascus sustained another day of clashes between regime and rebel fighters, the LCC said.
Video from activists in the Damascus neighborhood of Medan showed people running and screaming amid loud sounds. It was unclear whether the blasts were gunshots or mortar fire.
State-run TV showed a woman driving a car in Medan saying there was “nothing going on right now.”
Asked about reports that there was shelling in Medan, she responded, “No, nothing is happening, thank God.” Apparent gunfire could be heard in the background as she spoke.
On Sunday, at least 72 people were killed across the country, the LCC said.
The deaths included 11 people “martyred under torture in the regime’s prisons,” seven soldiers who defected, three women and six children, the group said.
Throughout the conflict, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has consistently blamed violence on “armed terrorist groups,” and reported on its security forces “martyred” in attacks.
On state-run news agency SANA, Syria said authorities chased one such group in a Damascus suburb on Monday and clashed with others in Idlib and Deir Ezzor. In Aleppo, meanwhile, authorities “confronted gunmen,” inflicting “heavy losses,” SANA said.
State TV reported “heavy losses” among “terrorists who attacked border guards’ stations in Salqin in Idlib suburbs,” near the Turkish border.
CNN cannot confirm details of reported violence because Syria has restricted access to the country by international journalists.
Since the crisis began in March 2011, the United Nations estimates more than 10,000 people have been killed in the violence; opposition activists say more than 15,000 have died.
- Syria in civil war, Red Cross says – BBC News (bbc.co.uk)
- Red Cross: Syria in civil war (cnn.com)
- Red Cross says Syria now an ‘internal armed conflict’ (dailystar.com.lb)
- Exclusive: Syria now an “internal armed conflict” – Red Cross (altahrir.wordpress.com)
- Fighting reported in Damascus area (upi.com)
- You: Syria in state of civil war, says Red Cross, as Damascus denies massacre (guardian.co.uk)
- Conflict in Syria Declared a Civil War (theepochtimes.com)
- Red Cross declares Syrian conflict to be civil war (metronews.ca)
- Red Cross Widens Area Involved in Syrian Civil War – Voice of America (voanews.com)
- Syria: Fierce fighting in Damascus – live updates (guardian.co.uk)