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'Inhumane' treatment of Syrian children documented by rights group

| Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012

Syrian forces have detained and tortured children as young as 13 as President Bashar Assad's regime tries to crush a nearly 11-month-old uprising, Human Rights Watch said on Friday, as fresh clashes erupted between regime troops and rebels in the country's south.

The Syrian conflict has grown more militarized in recent months as army defectors have joined the uprising against Assad and formed a guerrilla force. The armed resistance has in turn provoked a heavier regime assault on areas where the defectors are fighting.

The United Nations estimated in January that at least 5,400 people have been killed in the crackdown, including soldiers who defected and those who refused orders to fire on civilians. But the U.N. has been unable to update its tally since because the chaos in the country has made it difficult to cross-check the latest figures.

Yesterday, Human Rights Watch said in a new report that it has documented at least 12 cases of children detained under "inhumane" conditions and tortured, as well as children shot in their homes or on the street.

"Children have not been spared the horror of Syria's crackdown," said Lois Whitman, children's rights director of the New York-based group. "Syrian security forces have killed, arrested, and tortured children in their homes, their schools, or on the streets. In many cases, security forces have targeted children just as they have targeted adults."

Meanwhile, activists say an evening assault by government forces in the central city of Homs has killed 200 people and wounded hundreds.

The offensive was reported in Homs, which has been one of the main flashpoints of opposition to the regime during the uprising that began nearly 11 months ago.

It is not possible to verify activist or state media reports as Syria restricts access for independent media.

The U.N. Security Council will meet today to take up a much-negotiated resolution on Syria, said a diplomat for a Western nation that sits on the council.

The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity.

The move toward a vote came after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke by telephone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in an effort to overcome Russian opposition to any statement that explicitly calls for regime change or a military intervention in Syria.

The United States and its partners have ruled out military action but want the global body to endorse an Arab League plan that calls on Assad to hand power over to Syria's vice president.

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