Death toll mounts as Syrian regime accused of torturing children

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Deadly clashes erupted between government troops and rebels in Syria yesterday leaving at least 23 people dead, activists said.

President Bashar Assad is trying to crush an 11-month-old uprising in a crackdown that has so far claimed thousands of lives, but neither the government nor the protesters are backing down and clashes between the military and an increasingly bold and armed opposition has engulfed much of the country in violence.

The Local Coordination Committees activist group said nine soldiers were among those killed yesterday. Protests were reported across Syria, including Aleppo, which, along with the capital Damascus, has so far remained relatively quiet during the uprising, although residents say protests there are on the rise.

With the violence in Syria growing increasingly chaotic, diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the crisis have gained pace.

In Washington, a senior State Department official said the US is “cautiously optimistic” of strong support for a new UN Security Council resolution condemning the bloodshed in Syria and calling for a political transition in the country.

The official said a draft resolution proposed by Morocco was expected to be approved by the Security Council, as it appeared to meet Russian concerns.

The Syrian conflict, which began with largely peaceful protests, has become increasing violent as army defectors appalled at being ordered to kill civilians with heavy weapons have joined the uprising, prompting a fierce response.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said 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.

“Syrian security forces have killed, arrested, and tortured children in their homes, their schools, or on the streets,” said Lois Whitman, children’s rights director for the New York-based group.

A new report from HRW quoted a 16-year-old boy from the town of Tal Kalakh near the Lebanese border as saying he was detained for eight months during which he was held in at least seven different detention centers.

The boy, whom HRW referred to as Alaa, said security forces asked him how many protests he participated in, and then cuffed his left hand to the ceiling and left him hanging there for about seven hours, standing on his toes.

“They beat me for about two hours with cables and shocked me with cattle prods. Then they threw water on the ground and poured water on me from above,” he said.

An adult former detainee told the rights group that some children were raped while in detention.