UN: Kids killed, sexually tortured in Syria

Brazilian Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who is mandated by the U.N. Human Rights Council to lead an international investigation of allegations of human rights abuses in Syria, gestures during a press conference at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Monday, Nov 28, 2011. Syrian troops have killed hundreds of children and committed other "crimes against humanity" since the government crackdown began in March, the U.N. probe said Monday.
AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus

GENEVA - A U.N. probe has found that Syrian troops killed hundreds of children and committed other "crimes against humanity" since the government crackdown began in March.

A panel of independent experts says at least 256 children were killed by government forces as of early November, with some boys sexually tortured and a 2-year-old girl shot to death just to prevent her from growing up to be a demonstrator.

The panel's report to the U.N. Human Rights Council says government forces have used excessive force to "shot indiscriminately at unarmed protesters" while snipers targeted others in the upper body and head.

Their report, released Monday, said Syrian security forces along with militias were given "shoot to kill" orders to crush demonstrations.

Meanwhile, the Arab League's newly approved sanctions against Damascus amount to "a declaration of economic war," Syria's foreign minister said, betraying deep concern about the effects of the measures on the embattled regime.

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But in a clear sign of defiance, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem insisted that the Syrian people will be the ones to suffer — and the regime will survive.

"Let them study the history of Syria very well," al-Moallem told reporters at a televised news conference. "Neither warnings nor sanctions will work with us."

In an unprecedented move against a fellow Arab state, the 22-member Arab League approved sanctions Sunday to pressure the regime to end its suppression of an 8-month-old revolt. The crackdown has killed more than 3,500 people and deepened Syria's international isolation.

CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk referred to the sanctions imposed by the pan-Arab organization - a group that Syria helped create - as "crippling."

The sanctions by Syria's Arab neighbors include cutting off transactions with the Syria's central bank, and are expected to squeeze an ailing economy that already is under sanction by the U.S. and the European Union.

Damascus' response is that Syria is the victim of a foreign-supported insurgency by armed gangs. In an attempt to bolster that contention, al-Moallem showed reporters videos of charred and bloodied corpses.

"I'm sorry for these gruesome pictures, but they are a gift to the members of the Arab League who still deny the presence of these armed gangs," he said.

The European Union and the United States already have imposed sanctions, the League has suspended Syria's membership, and world leaders increasingly are calling on President Bashar Assad to go.

But as the crisis drags on, the violence appears to be spiraling out of control as attacks by army defectors increase and some protesters take up arms to protect themselves.

The sanctions are among the clearest signs yet of Syria's growing international isolation. Damascus has long boasted of being a powerhouse of Arab nationalism, but Assad has been abandoned by some of his closest allies and now his Arab neighbors.

Still tens of thousands of government supporters flocked to main squares on Monday in almost all cities, including the capital Damascus, to denounce the Arab League decision. State TV quoted demonstrators as saying that the sanctions target all segments of the population.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said the bloc will reconsider the sanctions if Syria carries out an Arab-brokered plan that calls for pulling tanks from the streets and ending violence against civilians. The regime, however, has shown no signs of easing its crackdown, and activist groups said more than 30 people were killed on Sunday alone.

The death tolls are impossible to confirm independently because Syria has banned most foreign journalists.

At a news conference in Cairo on Sunday, Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim said 19 of the League's 22 member nations had approved the sanctions. In addition to the ban on dealings with the Syrian central bank, they include a halt to Arab government funding for projects in Syria and the freezing of Syrian government assets. The sanctions take effect immediately.

The vote came after Damascus missed an Arab League deadline to agree to allow hundreds of observers into the country as part of a peace deal Syria agreed to early this month to end the crisis.