(Edited from AP) – The U.N.’s peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, asked in an interview whether Syria was in a civil war, told Reuters and AFP on Tuesday, “Yes, I think one can say that,” his spokesman confirmed.

Kieran Dwyer, spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping department, says U.N. observers have seen a steep escalation of violence and a dangerous shift in tactics by both sides in Syria in the last five days.


(Edited from AP) – The U.N.’s peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, asked in an interview whether Syria was in a civil war, told Reuters and AFP on Tuesday, “Yes, I think one can say that,” his spokesman confirmed.

Kieran Dwyer, spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping department, says U.N. observers have seen a steep escalation of violence and a dangerous shift in tactics by both sides in Syria in the last five days.

The Syrian government seems intent on wresting back control of many rebel-held areas and is shelling heavily populated districts and using attack helicopters over cities “with devastating impact on civilians,” Dwyer said.

In turn, the opposition is increasingly coordinating attacks against government forces and civilian infrastructure, and “the conflict has reached all parts of Syria virtually,” Dwyer said.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry expressed “astonishment” over Ladsous’ statement that the country was already in a civil war. The ministry said it lacked objectivity, was “far from reality” and inaccurate.

“Syria is not witnessing a civil war but rather an armed conflict to uproot terrorism and confront killings, kidnappings, bombings … and other brutal acts by armed terrorist groups,” the ministry said. Syrian authorities often refer to rebels fighting to oust Assad as terrorists.

Children used in armed conflict
A U.N. report released Monday includes Syrian government forces and their allied “shabiha” militias for the first time on a list of 52 governments and armed groups that recruit, kill or sexually attack children in armed conflicts.

In Syria, it said, children as young as 9 years old have been victims of killing and maiming, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, and sexual violence, and have been used as human shields.

“In almost all recorded cases, children were among the victims of military operations by government forces, including the Syrian armed forces, the intelligence forces and the shabiha militia, in their ongoing conflict with the opposition, including the Free Syrian Army,” the report said.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the United Nations has received reports of “grave violations” against children in Syria since March 2011, when protests against President Bashar Assad’s government began.

The report quoted a former member of the Syrian armed forces saying that in December, during protests in Tall Kalakh, his commander gave an order to shoot during the break-up of the demonstrations and he saw three girls, who appeared to be between 10 and 13 years old, killed. A former member of the intelligence forces was quoted as saying he witnessed the killing of five children in a secondary school during demonstrations in Aleppo in the last quarter of 2011.

The report said the Syrian military and the shabiha used children as young as 8 on at least three occasions last year.

Information restricted
U.N. observers were attacked Tuesday with stones, metal rods and gunfire that blocked them from a besieged rebel-held town where civilians were feared trapped by government shelling. No one was hurt as they were turned back by the assault on their vehicles by an angry crowd near the town of Haffa, the U.N. said. The source of the gunfire was not clear.

The government restricts journalists from moving freely, making it nearly impossible to independently verify accounts from either side.

Violence has escalated significantly in recent days as the government fights to reassert control of pockets of resistance across the country. Syrian forces fired mortars at protesters Tuesday in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, killing at least 10 people, activists said. Clashes also were reported in central Homs province.

Amateur video of the mortar attack on Deir el-Zour showed some of the dead in a street as survivors screamed in panic and tried to remove their bodies. Other videos showed some of the wounded being treated at a hospital.

The state news agency SANA blamed the Haffa violence on “terrorists” – the term it uses to describe rebels – who had attacked residents in the village. The report also said a reporter and a cameraman for the pro-government Ikhbariya TV were wounded when bullets hit their car in Haffa on Monday.

Nations look to peaceful resolution
Syria has so far appeared largely impervious to the chorus of condemnation that began shortly after government forces launched a crackdown on peaceful protests. Economic sanctions have had little effect.

Russia and China have used their veto power at the U.N. Security Council to block strong action against Damascus to prevent any international military intervention against Syria.

But the U.S. and its allies also have shown little appetite for getting involved in another Arab nation in turmoil.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain and other Western powers were not seeking a foreign military intervention, despite his warning Monday that all options must remain open if diplomacy doesn’t work.

“Clearly, we are not looking for any foreign military intervention, and we should not think about it in terms of another Libya,” Hague said during a two-day visit to Pakistan.

“All our efforts are going into supporting a peaceful transition in Syria and a peaceful solution, because any violent solution would clearly involve many more deaths and a great deal more hardship for the Syrian people,” he said.

The current situation
Syrian forces pushed out scores of rebels holed up in a rebellious area near the Mediterranean coast Wednesday and state television said they retook control of the region following eight days of fierce shelling and clashes.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland warned Monday that Assad’s forces could commit massacres in Haffa, drawing condemnation from the Syrian Foreign Ministry which accused the U.S. of “blatant interference” in the country’s internal affairs.

On another front, fireballs of orange flames exploded over the central city of Homs, where Syrian forces fired a continuous rain of shells that slammed into the rebel-held neighborhoods of Khaldiyeh, Jouret al-Shayyah and the old city.

But even after a week of intense shelling, rebels were still clinging to the area. Footage posted by activists from there showed a city covered in a plume of heavy grey smoke. The intermittent thud of shells was heard, followed by explosions as they slam into buildings.

In the nearby town of Deir Baalbah, rebels and troops exchanged fire in residential areas, with rapid snaps of sustained gunfire echoing through the area, according to amateur video that purported to be from the scene.

In the rebel-held town of Rastan north of Homs, six youths were killed in shelling, activists said. The circumstances of their death were not immediately clear.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said three aid workers suffered minor injuries when an explosion hit their convoy in northern Syria Wednesday. Hicham Hassan, spokesman for the ICRC in Geneva, said the two Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers and one ICRC staff member were traveling from Aleppo to Idlib when the blast hit.

It was the first time Red Cross staffers have been injured since the start of the violence in Syria last year.

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