At Least 26 Children Killed in Syria Violence

At least 26 children killed in violence in Syria, as Human Rights Watch accuses Assad of expanding his use of banned cluster bombs.

Elad Benari ,

Aftermath of air strike in Aleppo
Aftermath of air strike in Aleppo

At least 26 children were killed in violence in Syria on Monday, a watchdog said, fuelling international calls for a war crimes probe into the 22-month conflict.

Reports of the child deaths came as Human Rights Watch accused President Bashar al-Assad's regime of expanding its use of banned cluster bombs, AFP reported.

Eight of the children were killed in an air strike on the town of Moadamiyat al-Sham, southwest of Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP. Five women were also killed.

"The children, all members of the same clan, were aged between six months and nine years old," said the head of the Britain-based Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman.

As usual, state television blamed "terrorists" for the deaths.

Also near the capital, four other children were killed, including two siblings, the Observatory said.

Eight children were killed in the northern province of Aleppo -- five of them in an air strike.

Six more children died in other flashpoints in the strife-torn country.

The Observatory says that more than 3,500 children have been killed since the Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011. The United Nations says more than 60,000 people have died in all, while the Observatory reported at least 126 killed on Monday alone.

Meanwhile, AFP reported, international medical organization Medecins Sans Frontieres condemned a Sunday air strike on the Alppo province town of Aazaz that wounded 99 people.

"The attack... was particularly devastating as it came just two weeks after air strikes hit the city's health facilities, making it almost impossible for medical staff to cope with an emergency on this scale," MSF said.

On the diplomatic front, at least 57 governments called on the UN Security Council refer the Syria conflict to the International Criminal Court for a war crimes investigation.

Switzerland sent a petition requesting the move to the 15-member council, the only body that can refer the case to the ICC but which is deeply divided over the conflict.

The signatories included many European governments as well as Libya and Tunisia, which both saw Arab Spring uprisings overthrow longstanding autocratic regimes.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said other governments should sign up to the Swiss-led initiative.

"Human Rights Watch urged other states, particularly Arab states who have repeatedly voiced concern over the killings in Syria, to join the mounting calls for accountability," the organization said in a statement.

Meanwhile on Monday, a report in the Saudi newspaper Al Watan indicated that Assad and his family have been living on a warship, with security provided by Russia.

According to the report, which has not been confirmed by other news sources, the family and Assad's aides live on the ship, which is floating in the Mediterranean Sea, and Assad travels to Syria by helicopter to attend official meetings and receptions.

When he flies to Syria, he lands at secret locations and is transported to the presidential palace under heavy guard, the sources said.

Previous reports indicated that Syria's embattled president has been increasing his security detail, moving to a different bedroom each night and tightening controls over food preparation to thwart would-be assassins.

In September, a Syrian journalist who used to work at the presidential palace said Assad was having trouble sleeping at night.

The journalist, Abdallah Omar, said that the Syrian president watches from his office no less than 16 TV channels belonging to the rebel forces in the country.

“Assad sits all day watching TV with a remote control,” said Omar. “He listens to each satellite channel. Every time he gets nervous and angry, he looks out the window at the view of Damascus.”

Other reports indicated that Assad changed his security team several times over several months, fearing one of his own security guards may kill him.