U.N. report: Syrian children tortured, used as human shields

By the CNN Wire Staff - The Syrian regime has used children as human shields and tortured youths whose parents are suspected dissidents, according to a U.N. report.

The report on children and armed conflict detailed harrowing accounts of juveniles allegedly abused by pro-government forces.

"Most child victims of torture described being beaten, blindfolded, subjected to stress positions, whipped with heavy electrical cables, scarred by cigarette burns and, in one recorded case, subjected to electrical shock to the genitals," the report stated, citing dozens of eyewitness accounts. "... Children were detained and tortured because their siblings or parents were assumed to be members of the opposition or FSA, or they themselves were suspected of being associated with FSA," a reference to the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Dozens of children between ages 8 and 13 were reportedly used as human shields by pro-regime forces during a raid on the village of Ayn l'Arouz in March, the report said.

It also included allegations that rebel forces such as the Free Syrian Army had recruited and used children, despite the FSA's stated policy of not recruiting any child under age 17.

Free Syrian Army officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Syrian regime has long blamed violence in the country on "armed terrorist groups."

A human rights group has implored the U.N. Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Syria "in response to widespread killings and other grave violations against children."

Human Rights Watch said the council should impose targeted sanctions such as asset freezes and travel bans on the Syrian leadership.

The group said at least 1,176 children have been killed since February 2011, citing the Syria Violations Documentation Center, a network of Syrian activists.

After 15 months, the bloodshed shows no sign of letting up, as regime forces continue shelling cities across the country, opposition activists say.

At least 10 people, including a child, were killed by mortar shells Tuesday in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, according to the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

And in the commercial hub of Aleppo, regime forces fired dozens of artillery shells, destroying a large number of homes and causing "massive displacement of residents," the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said Tuesday.

In Homs province, eight people were killed amid shelling and clashes with Syrian forces, the observatory said.

Residents of the pro-government town of al-Sheer, near al-Haffa, prevented U.N. observers from reaching al-Haffa on Tuesday by creating a human shield along the road that passes though their town, the observatory said.

The residents lay down along the road, so the observers went back and looked for other roads to take, the observatory said.

U.N. and U.S. officials have expressed concerns about reports of the government using mortars, helicopters and tanks against the opposition in al-Haffa, in Lattakia province. They've also expressed concerns that residents might be "trapped."

A banner on state TV said that some resident in Lattakia province "tried to explain to members of the observers' mission their suffering from terrorists groups, but the observers did not listen to them. Instead, one of their cars hit three citizens," two of whom are in critical condition.

Meanwhile, Syria said an "armed terrorist group" attacked the state-run al-Ikhbaria TV channel in al-Haffa in "an attempt to stop national media from conveying the truth." The report said the channel was reporting "objectively and responsibly."

The group opened fire on a car, and "al-Ikhbaria correspondent Mazen Mohammad was hit in his hand while cameraman Fadi Yakoub was hit in his chest," state-run news agency SANA reported.

SANA also reported that 36 "martyrs from the army and law enforcement forces" were buried Tuesday.

The latest reports of violence came a day after government forces fired indiscriminately from helicopters on a town on the outskirts of Jabal Al-Zawiya, inflicting scores of casualties among civilians and rebel forces, an activist told CNN.

Ibrahim Swed, speaking from the Idlib province town, said fighting between the Free Syrian Army and government forces persisted for six hours and resulted in 32 deaths.

Opposition activists said at least 93 people were killed across the country Monday, including 35 in Idlib.

"The regime is escalating the use of violent forces," said an activist in Idlib whom CNN is identifying only as Ahmad for safety reasons. "We cannot believe that the world is watching us being killed ... we want military intervention."

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the attacks indicated the government's desperation.

The use of

helicopters to fire on civilians and the use of pro-regime thugs called Shabiha constitute "a very serious escalation," Nuland told reporters.

"What government voluntarily uses helicopters and fires from them on their own civilians if they're not desperate?" she asked. "What government depends on a bunch of thugs in trucks, irregulars, if they're not desperate? ... Clearly, the government is under threat."

U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan said he was "gravely concerned" about reports that fighting between Syrian government and opposition forces had escalated.

"He is particularly worried about the recent shelling in Homs as well as reports of the use of mortars, helicopters and tanks in the town of al-Haffa, Lattakia," Annan spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said in a statement Monday. "There are indications that a large number of civilians are trapped in these towns."

Nuland said U.N. military observers had been trying to reach al-Haffa but had been blocked by government forces.

Al-Assad defined by indecision, violence

The United Nations estimates that more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have died since the crisis erupted in March 2011. Opposition groups give estimates ranging from at least 12,000 to more than 14,000.

CNN cannot independently confirm reports of casualties or violence in Syria, as the government has restricted access by international journalists.

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