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June 15, 2012

Government says Syria not in civil war

U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's failed peace plan in Syria has been proposed to be enforced by French officials. (UPI/Maryam Rahmanian)

DAMASCUS, Syria (UPI) -- Syria's government Thursday dismissed a U.N. official's charge that the country's conflict is a civil war, saying the description didn't match the fight.

"Any talk about civil war in Syria doesn't reflect the reality," the government said in a statement published by the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency. "Syria is not witnessing a 'civil war' but rather a struggle to uproot the plague of terrorism."

The government's statement came after U.N. peacekeeping head Herve Ladsous and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius both described the fighting that began in March 2011 as a civil war, CNN reported.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has been under international pressure to end a brutal crackdown.

Assad has denied opposition claims his forces are targeting civilians, repeatedly saying he is responding to "armed terrorists."

Ladsous' comments were made earlier this week amid reports of escalating violence in Syria, including a reported attack on unarmed U.N. observers trying to access the embattled city of Haffa.

However, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters Wednesday the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva had to determine when the crisis in Syria is considered a civil war.

As the Damascus government dismissed the description, Amnesty International issued a report accusing Assad's forces of killing civilians in organized attacks, CNN said.

The human rights organization said it found Syrian forces were committing crimes against humanity and war crimes as part of a government effort to exact revenge on towns and communities suspected of supporting the rebels. The group called on the U.N. Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court to face charges.

French officials said they plan to propose that the United Nations be given the power to enforce U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's failed peace plan, including the possibility of implementing a no-fly zone, to end the bloodshed.

"If you can't call it a civil war, then there are no words to describe it," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said during a news conference in Paris.

Annan's six-point peace plan, which included a cease-fire, has broken amid claims and counterclaims of violence by Assad and the rebels.

Fabius also called on Russia to abandon its opposition to U.N.-led international action, CNN said. Russia and China, trading allies of Syria, have blocked U.N. Security Council attempts to pass a resolution calling for an end to the violence and for Assad to leave office.

In Damascus Thursday, a bomb exploded near a revered Shiite shrine, injuring two people, state media reported. The explosion occurred in a parking lot near the holy shrine of Sayyidah Zaynab, which houses the tomb of Prophet Mohammed's granddaughter.

Also Thursday, the opposition charged that government shelled western suburbs of Aleppo and an opposition stronghold in Homs, the Local Coordination Committees said.

The organization said at least one person was killed in fighting in Deir Ezzor, where the government set up checkpoints.

Washington and Moscow accused each other of arming rival sides in Syria, as regime forces routed rebels and France said a U.N. peace plan must be made binding.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ratcheted up her rhetoric, saying in Washington the "latest" U.S. intelligence indicated Russia was shipping attack helicopters to Assad's regime -- a move she had said Tuesday would "escalate the conflict quite dramatically."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied Clinton's claims and accused Washington of hypocrisy, saying the United States supplied weapons to the Syrian rebels.

"We don't supply Syria or anyone else with things that are used in battles against peaceful demonstrators, unlike the United States, which regularly supplies such special equipment to that region," Lavrov said in Tehran.

"They are providing arms and weapons to the Syrian opposition that can be used in fighting against the Damascus government," he said.

"The United States has provided no military support to the opposition. None," Clinton said.

"All of our support has been medical and humanitarian, to help relieve the suffering of the Syrian people -- a total of $52 million so far," Clinton said.

Several Western reports, including one in The New York Times, said U.S. regional allies -- notably Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey -- are arming the opposition Free Syrian Army. Washington was consulted about the weapons transfers, the opposition Syrian National Council and other activists told the Times.

U.S. officials said Washington did not take part in arms shipments to the rebels, but recognized Syria's neighbors would do so.

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