NEW YORK - A United Nations report has accused Syrian troops of torturing children and using them as human shields on tanks to prevent attacks by opposition forces, as bloodshed continues unabated across the country.
We are really quite shocked, Radhika Coomaraswamy, special representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, told the BBC on Tuesday, June 12.
Killing and maiming of children in cross-fire is something we come across in many conflicts but this torture of children in detention, children as young as 10, is something quite extraordinary, which we don't really see in other places.
Returning from Syria, Coomaraswamy's team had "horrific" reports about Syria children.
Investigations with former soldiers proved that children were not spared, and even targeted, in the conflict.
In some cases, Syrian troops of President Bashar Al-Assad used children as human shields on tanks to prevent attacks from the opposition Syria Free Army.
Many former soldiers spoke about shooting into civilian areas, seeing children, young children being killed and maimed, Coomaraswamy said.
We also had testimonies and saw children who had been tortured, and who carried the torture marks with them.
We also heard of children being used - this was recounted to us by some children - of being put on tanks and being used as human shields so that the tanks would not be fired upon.
The UN report also referred to one attack on the village of Ayn l'Arouz in Idlib province on March 9.
It quoted a witness saying how several young children were forcibly taken from their homes and "used by soldiers and militia members as human shields, placing them in front of the windows of buses carrying military personnel into the raid on the village".
Other children described being beaten, blindfolded, subjected to stress positions, whipped with heavy electrical cables, scarred by cigarette burns and in one case subjected to electrical shock during interrogations, the report said.
Coomaraswamy said the suffering inflicted on children in Syria was unusual even for combat situations.
She added that children under the age of 10 had been summarily killed in recent massacres in western Syria.
Coomaraswamy also criticized the opposition Free Syrian Army for endangering children.
"For the first time we heard of children being recruited by the Free Syrian Army mainly in medical and service orientated jobs but still on the front line," she said.
Along with the horrific UN report, US officials have accused the Assad regime of planning new massacres against civilians.
The Syrian government "may be organizing another massacre" in the town of Haffa in Latakia province, where UN military observers have been denied access, US state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, the BBC reported.
"We are calling this out now in the hope that we can stop what could be a potential massacre," she said.
"People will be held accountable."
Despite international diplomatic efforts, bloodshed is continuing on a daily basis across Syria.
Activists said more than 100 people were killed on Monday across the country, with the heaviest casualties in northern Idlib province.
A team of UN military observers is currently inside Syria as part of a six-point peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
Denied access to the town of Haffa in Latakia, UN observers have cited growing fears about the use of helicopter gunships.
In a statement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed "deep concern at the dangerous intensification of armed violence across Syria over the past several days".
"The Syrian government's intensive military operations, including the shelling of Homs and reportedly other population centers, as well as firing from helicopters on Talbiseh and Rastan, are resulting in heavy civilian casualties and human rights violations."
More than 12,600 people have been killed in Syria since a revolt against Assad's rule broke out in March 2011.
The Syrian regime blames the violence on terrorists and armed gangs.Activists, however, accused Assad's regime of deliberately targeting civilian populations.