Middle East

Remembering child victims of Syria's military crackdown

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Media caption'Over 400 children killed' in Syrian uprising

Human rights groups say more than 400 children have been killed in Syria's crackdown on anti-government unrest - some of them deliberately. The BBC's Fergal Keane speaks to some of those affected in neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan.

Tamer's mother remembers that on the day he left home he turned and asked her a simple question. It was the kind of question teenage boys, preoccupied with their appearance, are apt to ask. He had been combing his hair and wanted to know if it looked good. "I told him: 'You are so beautiful'," recalled Nawal al-Shari.

The next time Nawal saw 15-year-old Tamer, his body was grotesquely disfigured by what the family insists was torture. His father found him in a hospital mortuary 40 days after he left home in April last year to attend a demonstration in the southern town of Deraa against his family's wishes.

Image caption Tamer's family want to see justice for their 15-year-old son

Slowly piecing together the final days of their son's life, the Shari family learned that he had been taken to the notorious Air Force detention centre near Damascus. His X-rays showed signs of bullet holes and broken bones. Most of his upper front teeth had been knocked out. A fellow detainee has told the BBC he saw Tamer being beaten in custody.

His mother told the BBC that she hoped to see a day when there would be justice for her son. "It is impossible that there are humans that have such stone hearts to do this to their fellow man. Even animals cannot do this to people," she said.

'Accounts of torture'

In response to the case of Hamza al-Khatib, a 13-year-old detained around the same time as Tamer, the Syrian government said he had been shot at a demonstration - a claim disputed by human rights groups. State media said the boy's father had expressed his gratitude for the kindness shown to the family by President Bashar al-Assad.

In all of this it is impossible to verify the truth of every allegation. The Syrian conflict has become a bitter propaganda battle between the opposition and the state.

But the UN says it has gathered "numerous and substantiated" accounts of torture including children.

Image caption Mohammed and Munira were shot at while fleeing the country with other refugees

The UN also accuses the Syrian state of showing "little or no recognition of the rights of children in the actions taken to quell dissent".

Last December, the UN declared that 300 children had died since the beginning of the uprising against Mr Assad's regime. Since then, human rights organisations have said the number of dead has risen to more than 400.

The UN Commissioner for Human Rights, South African Judge Navenethem Pillay, has called for the International Criminal Court to investigate the Syrian regime for evidence of crimes against humanity.

Damascus has responded by calling the UN report unbalanced and has consistently accused the opposition of being part of a foreign conspiracy to destroy Syria.

Fleeing the regime

Yet from the refugees who have fled Syria in their thousands, a consistent pattern of allegations emerges.

Many have reported security forces opening fire on crowds of protesters that include women and children. Some have reported being attacked as they attempted to flee the country.

In Lebanon, I met seven-year-old twins Mohammed and Munira who were shot when fleeing the country last year.

They said the military had opened fire on a truckload of refugees near a checkpoint close to the Syrian border with Lebanon.

Mohammed said he had been afraid when he heard the shooting. Then his leg went numb and started bleeding.

When I asked his sister Munira who she was running from, she replied: "From the regimeā€¦from Assad."

With Syria's violence deepening, there is no way home for the child victims and little chance of any justice.

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