SYRIAN rebels have pulled out of villages around the besieged mountainous town of Haffa after days of fierce shelling, a rights group said today.
The news came after the UN’s head of peacekeeping told reporters the government had lost control of “large chunks” of cities and was now in a state of civil war.
But the Syrian government has denied the country is in a state of civil war, saying it is facing “an armed conflict to uproot terrorism”.
Rebel fighters fled the villages of Zanqufa, Dafil and Bakkas under the cover of night, said Rami Abdul-Rahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The withdrawal suggested Bashar Assad’s regime was poised to retake Haffa, which has been shelled fiercely for days, along with nearby villages.
Herve Ladsous, under-secretary for peacekeeping operations, said UN monitors were fired on as they tried to reach besieged Haffa. He said the attack was deliberate.
Asked whether he believed Syria was now in a civil war, Mr Ladsous said: “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.”
The news came as the US claimed Russia is sending attack helicopters to support President Assad’s regime.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US was “concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria.” She said the shipment “will escalate the conflict quite dramatically”.
Officials from around the world are warning the violence risks becoming an all-out civil war, with Middle East power brokers from Iran to Turkey possibly being drawn into the fighting.
Meanwhile, the head of Syria’s national Olympic committee General Mowaffak Joumaa may be refused entry to the UK to attend the London games because of his links to President Assad.
A statement on the Home Office website said: “Accreditation will also not be recommended where an individual’s presence at the Games (or in the UK) would not be conducive to the public good.”