Following 15 months of violence the Syrian conflict has now been described as a “civil war” by the UN peacekeeping chief. Coming as it does amid repeated attacks on UN observers the statement may endanger the whole peace plan in Syria.
Herve Ladsous, the Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, is the first UN official to acknowledge that the conflict has escalated to the state of civil war. "I think there is a massive increase in the level of violence, so massive indeed that in a way it indicates some change of nature," he told Reuters and AFP on Tuesday.
"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," Ladsous added.
The statement by a top UN official comes as the US and its allies have been pushing for more pressure and sanctions against the Syrian regime. RT’s Marina Portnaya remarks that the words coming from Ladsous will carry a lot of political weight and can actually be a “game changer” within the Security Council.
Russia and China have been opposed to any international pressure in the form of sanctions and have repeatedly referred to Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan.
The 90-day mission of 300 unarmed UN observers to Syria was instigated on the understanding that there would be a ceasefire. However, with the fighting continuing, it remains unclear what is left for the observers to monitor.
On Tuesday three UN vehicles were attacked when trying to enter the Syrian town of Al-Heffa. An angry mob threw rocks and metal rods at the UN cars, while unknown assailants fired gunshots.
Nobody was injured, but the incident does indicate the increased amount of danger the mission is facing in Syria. John Feffer, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus, believes the attack reflects people’s frustration at the fact that the UN has really not done very much at all on the ground to help end the violence in Syria.
Next month the mandate for the observer mission in Syria expires. There are fears that some Security Council members may not be willing to renew this mandate if they feel that the UN observers will be in danger.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned that Washington will find it hard to support the extension of the mission if the Assad government continues to show "contempt" for the UN-backed ceasefire that was supposed to come into effect from April 12.
The US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, has recently stated that if there no consensus can be reached within the Security Council in the coming weeks, then some countries will have to consider taking unilateral action outside of the council’s authority.
It remains unclear what that action might be, though French President Francois Hollande has also said that military intervention could be an option if nothing changes in Syria.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Tuesday that the situation is worsening in several parts of the country simultaneously.
"Our priority is to be able to reach as many people in as many fighting-stricken areas in the shortest delay possible. However, due to the increasingly deteriorating situation, we are unable to answer all the needs at the same time," said spokesman Hicham Hassan.
On Tuesday the UN released a report from the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict stressing reports of grave violations against children in Syria.
“Children as young as nine years of age were victims of killing and maiming, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence and use as human shields,” it said.
Political analyst Omar Nashabe told RT that the Syrian conflict could spread to neighboring countries and eventually damage world markets and the economy. “Syria is in a very strategic location – this is at the center of an area where many Western powers and also some international powers have interests to preserve.”
Nashabe, though, is hopeful that there is still time to reach a peaceful solution. “One must look for a solution that is suitable for everyone so that Syria can remain as a country under a unified government.”