On Sunday, Syria denied U.N. claims that government forces had used heavy weapons such as tanks, artillery, and helicopters during the attack Thursday in Tremseh.
Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said the violence was not a massacre - as activists and many foreign leaders have said - but a military operation targeting armed fighters who had taken control of the village.
"What happened wasn't an attack on civilians," Makdissi told reporters in Damascus. He said 37 gunmen and two civilians were killed - a far lower death toll than the one put forward by anti-regime activists, some of whom estimated the dead at more than 100.
"What has been said about the use of heavy weapons is baseless," Makdissi added.
The United Nations has implicated President Bashar al-Assad's forces in the assault. The head of the U.N. observer mission said Friday that monitors stationed near Tremseh saw the army using heavy weaponry and attack helicopters.
The fighting was some of the latest in the anti-Assad uprising, which activists say has killed more than 17,000 people. Violence continued across the country Sunday, with more clashes reported around the capital, Damascus.
With the International Committee of the Red Cross saying Sunday that it now considers the conflict a civil war, international humanitarian law applies throughout the country. Also known as the rules of war, humanitarian law grants all parties in a conflict the right to use appropriate force to achieve their aims.
The Geneva-based group's assessment is an important reference for determining how much and what type of force can be used, and it can form the basis for war-crimes prosecutions, especially if civilians are attacked or detained enemies are abused or killed.
"We are now talking about a non-international armed conflict in the country," ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said.
War-crimes prosecutions would have been possible even without the Red Cross statement. But Sunday's pronouncement adds weight to any prosecution argument that Syria is in a state of war - a prerequisite for a war-crimes case.
Previously, the ICRC had restricted its assessment of the scope of the conflict to the hot spots of Idlib, Homs, and Hama, but Hassan said the organization had determined the violence has widened.
"Hostilities have spread to other areas of the country," Hassan told the Associated Press. "International humanitarian law applies to all areas where hostilities are taking place."
Stephen M. Saideman, professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ontario, Canada, said he doubted whether the Red Cross declaration would change anything significant on either side.
Assad and his supporters won't stop fighting or change their tactics because they have too much to lose, Saideman said. The opposition "can have their spirits lifted by this, but they have been fighting a civil war for quite a while. So it is not clear how this announcement improves much their ability to recruit or to reduce divisions among the many rebel groups."
Independent verification of events is nearly impossible in Syria, one of the Middle East's strictest police states, which bars most media from working independently in the country. U.N. observers are in the country as part of a faltering peace plan by U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan, who has been trying for months to negotiate a solution to Syria's crisis.
Although much of the international community has turned on Assad, Damascus still has some key allies - including Russia and Iran. The Kremlin announced Sunday that Annan will meet President Vladimir V. Putin on Tuesday.
Also Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Tehran was ready to invite Syrian opposition groups and government envoys for talks, the semiofficial ISNA news agency reported.
Any proposal from Iran is likely to be rebuffed by rebel groups, which have rejected negotiations with Assad's government and have criticized Tehran for standing by its allies in Damascus.