World leaders meeting at the United Nations have expressed concern at the continuing violence in Syria but are deadlocked over their response to the conflict, which the Observatory says has claimed 30,000 lives since March 2011.
The British-based organization, which monitors violence in Syria through a network of activists, said in a report released on Thursday that 55 people were killed in rural areas around Damascus. They included at least 40 who appeared to have been shot in cold blood in the town of al-Dhiyabia, southeast of the capital.
Other activists have put the death toll in al-Dhiyabia as high as 107, blaming Assad’s security forces for what they said was a massacre. Video published by activists showed rows of bloodied corpses wrapped in blankets. The victims shown on camera appeared to be male, from 20-year-olds to elderly men.
The Observatory also said 14 people were killed in a rebel bomb attack on a military command center in Damascus and in an ensuing prolonged gun battle between rebels and security forces.
Violence in Syria has deepened as the fight against Assad has become more militarized and the president has responded with increasing use of force – including regular air strikes and bombardments against rebel areas.
In the first nine months of the conflict, the United Nations human rights chief said around 5,000 people had been killed. U.N. officials have given up trying to monitor the violence but the Observatory’s figures suggest five times as many people have been killed in the second nine-month period.
The Centre for Documentation of Violations in Syria, which is linked to the grassroots anti-Assad Local Coordination Committees, puts the overall death toll at 27,318.
Meanwhile, Syrian children are being badly traumatized after witnessing atrocities, including torture, Save The Children warned this week.
Harrowing testimony collected from Syrian refugees in humanitarian projects run by Save the Children has revealed that children have been the targets of brutal attacks, seen their parents and siblings killed in front of them, and have witnessed and experienced torture – including fingers being hacked off.
The international aid agency is working in Za’atari camp in northern Jordan, close to the Syrian border, which is home to more than 25,000 refugees. Many of the families flocking to the dusty, wind-blown camp have come from Deraa, where the 18-month uprising began.
Save The Children counselors are working to help traumatized children cope with the devastating emotional impact of their experiences. Many youngsters exhibit severe behavioral problems, like self-harming and violence toward others.
“Children in the camp have been either tortured or they have seen or witnessed the torture of their parents or the other Syrians have faced in Syria. They are shy or they are cutting themselves or they are being violent to other kids; they try to hurt other kids or hurt themselves,” said Save The Children counselor, Odeh al-Haddadin.
The agency is also calling for the U.N. to step up its documentation of all violations of children’s rights in Syria and that it should have more resources to do this, so that crimes against children are not committed with impunity.
Speaking after touring the camp, where he met refugee children, Save the Children’s chief executive, Justin Forsyth said:
“They’re telling us of their school being bombed or tanks knocking down their houses. They’re telling us of relatives that have been killed by the army, of breaking into the house in the middle of the night, of watching their brother or sister or father being shot. They’re even telling us of children being tortured in prison; little children of only 10 years old having their fingernails pulled out, even their fingers cut off. This is appalling, and it has to stop now.”
Save the Children has been refused permission to enter Syria to help more children but the charity says that much of the children’s testimony corroborates violations documented by the United Nations and human rights organizations in recent months.