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'Senseless acts of torture and violence': Charity appeals for help for Syria's children

AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen

A Syrian child stands next to rebel fighters checking a house that was damaged in bombing by government forces in Marea, on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012.

Syria’s children are regularly the victims or witnesses of “senseless acts of torture and violence,” according to a report Tuesday by a leading charity.

Save the Children’s report called “Untold Atrocities, The Stories of Syria’s Children” details horrific accounts from Syrian refugees such as 9-year-old Nur, who said, “I used to like hiding. Hiding is better than dying,” and Munther, 10, who told charity workers how a boy standing next to him was shot dead outside a school and he was hit in the neck.

Thousands of children have died in the conflict and “many more have been injured, traumatized or forced to flee their homes,” the report said. “Boys and girls continue to be killed, maimed and tortured. These appalling violations against children must stop and those carrying them out held to account.”

It added that the testimonies “corroborate violations documented by the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.”

“The acts described are consistent, recurring and appalling,” it said. The organization deals with children and families in both Lebanon and Jordan.

The charity is asking people to sign a petition, "Stop the Crimes Against Syria's Children" to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“Horrific acts of violence are being committed against children in Syria,” Carolyn Miles, Save the Children’s president and CEO, said in a press release. “These children need specialist care now to help them recover from their shocking experiences. Their testimonies should also be documented so that these violent acts against children are not committed with impunity.”

Muhammed Muheisen, AP

Syrian child, Taybah Al-Hajji, 1, whose family fled their home in Aleppo due to Syrian government shelling, sits next to her one-month-old brother Abdulghani, at the Bab Al-Salameh border crossing near Turkey.

Miles is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly hearings this week. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama condemned Syrian President Bashar Assad as “a dictator who massacres his people” in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

Kathryn Bolles, the charity's senior director of emergency health and nutrition, told NBC News by phone that atrocities against children were being carried out by all sides.

She said that the stories in the report, detailed below, were illustrative and that there were "hundreds of thousands of families that are going through this." Bolles added that some of the names had been changed to protect the children and their families.

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Nur, who is now living with her family in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, told the charity that she did not play. “Why? Because I am not young anymore. I go to the bathroom, take a shower and then sleep. That is all,” she said.

Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children

Nur, nine, came to Jordan with her family to escape the violence in Syria. She now lives in a tent with her family in Za'atari refugee camp in the desert of northern Jordan where conditions are harsh and the camp authorities are underfunded and struggling to meet the basic needs of the overwhelming numbers of refugees arriving each day.

She said she had once been happy in Syria. “Then the violence started and they started to make us suffer. There was nothing that they did not use to hurt us with,” she said.

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Nur spoke of Syrian forces using airstrikes, bombings, missiles and “every weapon you could think” against people in her home village.

“I was terrified. Us along with my cousins, neighbours, aunts and people we know used  to go to the shelter to hide. I used to like hiding. Hiding is better than dying,” she said.

'I ran and I cried'
Ten-year-old Ala’a told how he ran “so fast” when shells started to fall. “I ran and I cried at the same time,” he said.

“When we were being bombed we had nothing. No food, no water, no toys – nothing,” he said.

“…One day men with guns broke into our house. They pulled out our food, threw it on the floor and stamped on it, so it would be too dirty to eat. Then we had nothing at all. Soon after that we came here.”

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Ala’a's father, Nabil, said his son “cries a lot without telling us why and he’s started sleepwalking. My other child has started to stutter.”

“The younger children still cry when a plane goes overhead or a pot falls to the ground,” he said. “They’re traumatized. I’ve spoken to lots of parents and they say the same thing. No child has escaped this. Children aren’t children anymore. Watch any child. They play and look normal, but they can only keep this up for a while, and then they become sad again.”

He said he had seen children used as human shields in the village of Saydeh. “When two tanks came into the village I saw children attached to them, tied up by their hands and feet, and by their torsos. The tanks came through the village and no one stood in their way or fought because we knew we would kill the children,” he said.

“After that happened I cried like a woman. I was close to losing my mind. I have never felt so helpless as the moment I saw those children strapped to those tanks,” he added. “… Let everyone know this is where this terrible thing happened.”

'She died feeling sad'
Omar, 11, who also lives in the Za’atari refugee camp, told the charity workers that one day he was playing with his brother, and the two boys were teasing their cousin.

“She was upset. She left us and went to her house. That night, a shell destroyed my nine-year-old cousin’s house – the one we’d upset during the day. I regret that she died feeling sad,” he said.

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The report said 10-year-old Munther, who said he wanted to be a doctor, had two bullet-sized wounds on his neck.

“I was on the street when the bullets were first fired. We were standing outside a school – we’d just posed for a photo. There were lots of children around,” he said.

“Then the shooting started. There was chaos. Everyone was screaming. There were bullets and blood everywhere. A boy called Amjad was standing next to me. He was shot in the head. I didn’t realize at first that he was dead. He fell forward on his knees, in a praying position. He was 15,” he added.

“Then I felt a terrible pain. I’d been shot too – in my neck. Here, see my scars … Luckily I was with my friend’s mother. She picked me up and took me straight to a clinic to get help. I recovered from the shooting. We held a funeral for Amjad. Lots of people came. … I was so sad that day.”

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