Her accusation came as international cease-fire monitors in Syria aborted a fact-finding trip after they came under assault by an angry mob and gunfire, and the top United Nationspeacekeeping official said Syria was already in a state of civil war.
Those developments — coupled with a newly released United Nations report that accused the Syrian military of using Syrians as young as 8 as human shields for troops — overshadowed fresh diplomatic efforts by Kofi Annan, the special envoy to Syria, to advance a peace plan that that has basically been ignored since it was put into effect two months ago.
Secretary Clinton’s remarks, at a Washington forum, appeared likely to irritate Russia, the most important foreign backer of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and seemed at odds with recent American efforts to forge a unified approach toward a resolution of the 16-month-old conflict that would push Mr. Assad out.
Russia has repeatedly denied sending any armaments to Mr. Assad that could be used to crush the uprising against him. But Mrs. Clinton said the United States was “concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on their way from Russia to Syria.” The shipments, she warned, “would escalate the conflict quite dramatically.”
In Syria, a team of cease-fire monitors deployed under the auspices of the United Nations were thwarted from entering Al Heffa, a besieged rebel-held enclave in the northwest part of the country, when hostile crowds struck their vehicles with stones and metal rods, a spokeswoman for the monitors said. As the monitors retreated, their vehicles came under attack by gunfire from an unspecified source, said the spokeswoman, Sausan Ghosheh.
Al Heffa, near Syria’s main port, Latakia, was among several flash points where new fighting was reported Tuesday.
At the United Nations, the under secretary general for peacekeeping operations, Hervé Ladsous, whose office is responsible for the monitor mission in Syria, said the Syrian conflict had become a civil war, an assertion that goes beyond what other senior diplomats at the United Nations have said in characterizing the conflict.
“Yes, I think one can say that,” Mr. Ladsous said in an interview with Reuters, which was later confirmed by Mr. Ladsous’s office. “And clearly what is happening is that the government of Syria lost some large chunks of territories and several cities to the opposition and wants to retake control of these areas. So now we have confirmed reports not only of the use of tanks and artillery, but also attack helicopters.”
The monitors uploaded a video from their observations on Monday of Homs, a center of resistance to President Assad that has defied months of military shelling and shooting, and the towns of Talbiseh and Al Rastan north of Homs, which have also been subjected to military attack. The video shows wafts of drifting smoke from buildings and homes hit by shelling, emptied roads, a wrecked bridge draped with a Syrian opposition flag, fresh blood on some home corridors and residents picking through the rubble, with one man shouting in English: “We are people! Not animals!”
Officials from the United Nations and Western countries including the United States have expressed fears of a massacre in Al Heffa. At least four other episodes of mass killings have taken place in Syria in the past few weeks, refocusing world attention on the increasingly brutal and sectarian tensions in the conflict, now in its 16th month.
Houran Al Hafawi, a member of the Local Coordination Committee of Al Heffa, an activist group, said in a telephone interview that he had been forced to flee to a neighboring village because his house had been bombed, but he remained in contact with his brothers and other civilians there. “The shelling has been continuous,” he said. “The Syrian Army is throwing missiles and rockets from helicopter and rocket launchers from the eastern and western entrances.”
He said Al Heffa activists had pleaded with the United Nations monitoring mission to check on Al Heffa, where at least 40 people have been killed over the past several days and more than 100 wounded, of which 40 were taken into Turkey. The claims were not possible to corroborate.
Asked about fears of a massacre in Al Heffa, he said: “If the Syrian Army gets in, yes; I do expect a massacre. It’s normal; it’s happening everywhere.