Exclusive: Situation in Syria constitutes international armed conflict – Red Cross

A Syrian national flag flutters as Qasioun mountain is seen in the background from Damascus, Syria April 7, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The situation in Syria “amounts to an international armed conflict” following U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian airbase, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told Reuters on Friday.

The United States fired cruise missiles at a base from which President Donald Trump said a deadly chemical weapons attack had been launched on Tuesday, the first direct U.S. assault on the government of Bashar al-Assad in six years of civil war.

“Any military operation by a state on the territory of another without the consent of the other amounts to an international armed conflict,” ICRC spokeswoman Iolanda Jaquemet told Reuters in Geneva in response to a query.

“So according to available information – the U.S. attack on Syrian military infrastructure – the situation amounts to an international armed conflict.”

Previous air strikes on Syrian territory by a U.S.-led coalition have been against only the militant group Islamic State, which is also the enemy of the Syrian government.

Russia has carried out air strikes in tandem with its ally Syria since Sept. 2015, while Iranian militias are also fighting alongside the troops of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

ICRC officials were raising the U.S. attack with U.S. authorities as part of its ongoing confidential dialogue with parties to the conflict, Jaquemet said, declining to give details.

The ICRC, guardian of the Geneva Conventions setting down the rules of war, declared Syria an internal armed conflict – or civil war, in layman’s terms – in July 2012.

Under international humanitarian law, whether a conflict is internal or international, civilians must be spared and medical facilities protected. Warring parties must observe the key principles of precaution and proportionality and distinguish between combatants and civilians.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Andrew Roche)

Warplane hits Syrian town where gas attack killed scores: witness, Observatory

Men salvage a motorbike amid the damage from inside a medical point at a site hit by airstrikes on Tuesday, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

BEIRUT (Reuters) – A warplane on Friday bombed the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, where a chemical attack killed scores of people this week and prompted U.S. missile strikes, a witness in the rebel-held area and a war monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based organization that monitors the war, said a Syrian government or Russian warplane hit Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib province before noon.

The Syrian army and the Russian defense ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.

The witness, an activist working with an air raid warning service in opposition areas, said the jet struck at around 11 a.m. local time (0800 GMT) at the northern edge of the town, causing damage but no known casualties.

The United States fired dozens of cruise missiles on Friday at an airfield from which it said the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack was launched that killed at least 70 people on Tuesday.

Washington blamed the gas attack on Syrian government forces. The Syrian government strongly denies responsibility and says it does not use chemical weapons.

The Observatory and the witness said earlier this week that the aircraft which they accused of carrying out the suspected gas attack had flown out of the Shayrat air base, the one attacked by U.S. missiles on Friday.

The Syrian army said the missile attack on its airbase killed six people and caused extensive damage, describing it as a “blatant aggression”.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Tom Perry; editing by Andrew Roche)