UN official says Syria is in 'civil war'

The United Nations's peacekeeping chief said Tuesday that the 15-month-old conflict in Syria has grown into a full-scale civil war, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Russia of sending attack helicopters.

When asked if the conflict in Syria could now be characterized as a civil war, the under secretary general for peacekeeping operations for the first time said “Yes, I think we can say that,” according to Reuters. 

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“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," said Hervé Ladsous.

Earlier in the day, Clinton said the United States had received reports that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appeared to be preparing for an assault against the northern city of Aleppo, near the Turkish border. She said Syrian ally Russia had sent attack helicopters to Syria even as the Obama administration has been calling on the Kremlin to help support the U.N. peace plan.

“We have confronted the Russians about stopping their continued arms shipments to Syria,” Clinton said at a Brookings Institution event Tuesday. “They have from time to time said we shouldn't worry, everything they're shipping is unrelated to their actions internally. That's patently untrue and we are concerned about the latest information we have, that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically.”

“There seems to be a massing of Syrian forces around Aleppo that we've gotten information about over the last 24, 48 hours,” she added. “That could very well be a red line for the Turks.”

Speaking at a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace event earlier in the day, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said the peace plan from U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan remained “the only game in town.”

But Clinton warned that Annan's plan might not be extended when it comes up for renewal in mid-July if no progress is made.

“Certainly if there is no discernible movement [toward an end to the violence],” Clinton said, “it will be very difficult to extend a mission that is increasingly dangerous for the observers on the ground.”