DAMASCUS - Syria is now in a full-scale civil war, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous says, as UN observers report being fired on as they tried to enter a town feared to be the focus of a new massacre.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned Washington will find it hard to support the extension of the observer mission beyond next month if the government of President Bahar al-Assad's regime continues to show "contempt" for a UN-backed ceasefire that was supposed to go into effect from April 12.
Asked whether he believed Syria is in a civil war, Ladsous told reporters: "Yes I think we can say that. Clearly what is happening is that the government of Syria lost some large chunks of territory, several cities to the opposition, and wants to retake control.
"I think there is a massive increase in the level of violence, so massive indeed that in a way it indicates some change of nature," Ladsous added.
"Now we have confirmed reports of not only of the use of tanks and artillery but also attack helicopters."
The under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations is the most senior UN official to indicate he believes there is a civil war. UN leader Ban Ki-moon said last week that he believed it was "imminent".
The UN Supervision Mission in Syria had been trying to reach the northwestern town of Al-Haffe, a Sunni Muslim enclave in a region mainly populated by members of Assad's Alawite minority, where hundreds of civilians are reported trapped by an army siege of holed up rebel fighters.