Red Cross: Syria now in civil war, rules of war apply

The Red Cross assessment can form the basis for potential war crimes prosecutions in the future.

Sandro Campardo/AP
President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Jakob Kellenberger speaks while presenting the annual report at the ICRC headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland June 25. Kellenberger says his international organization, the only one able to operate on the ground in Syria, still cannot freely enter people's homes to deliver help there because of constant dangers.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Sunday it now considers the conflict in Syria to be a full-blown civil war, meaning international humanitarian law applies throughout the country.

Also known as the rules of war, international humanitarian law grants parties to a conflict the right to use appropriate force to achieve their aims, and the Geneva-based group's assessment is an important reference for those parties to determine how much and what type of force they can use. The assessment also can form the basis for war crimes prosecutions, especially if civilians are attacked or detained enemies are abused or killed.

"We are now talking about a non-international armed conflict in the country," ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said. 

Previously, the ICRC had restricted its assessment of the scope of the conflict to the hotspots of Idlib, Homs, and Hama, but Hassan said the organization had determined the violence has spread beyond those areas.

"Hostilities have spread to other areas of the country," Hassan told The Associated Press. "International humanitarian law applies to all areas where hostilities are taking place."

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