x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Syria rejects UN view that it is in a civil war

Foreign ministry asks for crisis to be dealt with 'objectively'.

BEIRUT // The Syrian government yesterday vehemently denied claims by a senior United Nations official that the country was in the grip of a full-scale civil war.

The Syrian ministry of foreign affairs expressed its "astonishment" about the claims and said the country was facing a war against "armed groups" using terrorism "to achieve their objectives".

On Tuesday, the UN under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, Herve Ladsous, said the conflict in Syria could now be termed as civil war.

It was the first time a senior UN official had described the 15-month conflict in those terms.

In a statement that was issued through the Syrian state news agency, Sana, the foreign ministry said that it expected the UN to deal with the situation in Syria "evenhandedly, accurately and objectively", particularly given that the international monitors were inside the country as part of the UN-brokered peace plan.

“Syria is not witnessing a ‘civil war’, but a struggle to uproot the plague of terrorism and encounter the killing, abduction and payment of ransoms, aggressions and explosions,” the statement read.

However, Laurent Fabius, France’s new foreign minister, yesterday echoed Mr Ladsous’s comments, saying that “if you can’t call it a civil war, then there are no words to describe it”.

Colin Powell, a former US secretary of state, has also described the country as being in a state of civil war, but said he remained against direct US military intervention in Syria.

“I don’t know that there is much the United States can do except work with the international community,” Mr Powell, a retired US army general, told the CBS television network.

“The question always comes down to: is someone going to intervene? I don’t think we can do this ... I don’t sense any energy to do that.”

The US earlier this week warned of a “potential massacre” in the area of Haffah, where attack helicopters and tanks are reported to have been used by government forces in fierce fighting against rebels in recent days.

United Nations monitors tried to gain access to the area on Tuesday but were forced to turn back after they were attacked by a mob.

In a video posted online, purporting to show the attack on the observers’ convoy, a man is seen jumping on the top of one of the UN vehicles, while others crowd around the cars, some kicking and hitting them with sticks. It is not clear who the individuals were.

Sausan Ghosheh, a spokeswoman for the UN observers, said they had been trying to reach Haffah since June 7.

Syrian forces reportedly forced rebel fighters from the Haffah region yesterday.

State television said the army had taken control of the area and “cleansed” Haffah of the “armed terrorist groups”.

The Syrian government has continued to frame the conflict as a fight against foreign-backed terrorist groups.

Meanwhile, three aid workers suffered minor injuries after an explosion damaged their convoy travelling between Aleppo and Idlib yesterday, the International Committee for the Red Cross said.

It was not clear if the aid workers had been directly targeted or who was responsible for the attack.

The violence continued across other parts of the country yesterday, with the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting at least 43 people killed, including 20 in Homs province. Estimates place the number of people who have been killed in the conflict so far at about 13,000.

In Homs, government forces reportedly shelled the neighbourhoods of Khaldiyeh, Jouret Al Shayyah and the old city.
North of Homs in Rastan, at least six people were killed after the town came under heavy shelling, according to activists.

zconstantine@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Reuters and Associated Press