GENEVA — The conflict in Syria is transforming into a guerrilla war, with combatants carrying out ambushes and bombings instead of sustained battles, the Red Cross said Tuesday, warning that more than 1.5 million Syrians are struggling to meet basic needs like food, water and shelter.
Fighting in the central city of Homs, where U.N. observers helped halt weeks of artillery attacks, and in the northern Syrian town of Idlib are now non-international armed conflicts, said Jakob Kellenberger, president of International Committee of the Red Cross.
“The type of the violence has changed a little bit,” Kellenberger told a news conference at ICRC headquarters in Geneva. “At least in recent weeks, you have no longer these big battles like one had in Homs in the second half of February. You have more guerrilla attacks and bomb attacks.”
The distinction that this is an internal armed conflict is important because under international humanitarian law the government and opposition gain additional rights to use force but could be held accountable for possible war crimes.
Tens of thousands of people are living in public buildings or other people’s homes, and the Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent is feeding about 100,000 “particularly vulnerable” Syrians, he said.
Kellenberger spoke ahead of international envoy Kofi Annan’s assessment of the revolt in Syria and his attempts to bring about a cease-fire to the U.N. Security Council later Tuesday.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, whose country holds a seat on the powerful U.N. Security Council, told reporters in Berlin on Tuesday the elections in Syria appeared to be an attempt by the Assad government to delay implementing the cease-fire.
“Holding elections amid ongoing violence and selling this as a reform step is completely unaccepatable in our view,” he said. “We don’t want any playing for time. … The promises in the cease-fire must be kept.”
Germany supports Annan’s peace plan, he said, and unless the Syrian government takes real reform steps Germany will return to the Security Council seeking more action.
Kellenberger also said ICRC has gained permission to visit detainees at Aleppo’s central prison from May 14-23 and is pushing for access to others.
What began as a largely peaceful protest movement has evolved into more Syrians taking up arms in the face of President Bashar Assad’s violent crackdown on dissent. The U.N. says more than 9,000 people have been killed in the past 14 months since Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000, began his crackdown.
The U.N., meantime, it is appealing for $27 million to quickly scale up aid.
“Our priority is to improve living conditions and to restore public services for up to 1.5 million people affected by the fighting,” Kellenberger said. “Many people are still struggling just to make it through the day.”
About 40 U.N. observers have been trying to restore calm, but so far the intervention by world powers has failed to deter the bloodshed. A larger force of 300 U.N. observers is being prepared to enforce the truce.
Officials are also concerned about Syrians flocking over the borders.
International Organization for Migration spokesman Chris Lom said Tuesday that 2,835 Syrians have registered at the Domiz refugee camp in northern Iraq since it opened this month and local authorities are expecting up to 7,000 more refugees at Domiz in the next month.