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Explosive weapons, including bombs, killed seven in 10 of the more than 11,000 Syrian children under the age of 17 who have died in Syria’s brutal civil war, according to a report released on Sunday.
The Oxford Research Group, a London-based think tank, pooled data recorded by the United Nations and four Syrian human rights groups in order to calculate the causes of death of the 11,420 children aged 17 and under who have been killed during the Syrian war since it began in March 2011.
Most often, they were killed by explosives, but also from executions and torture. Since March 2011, 113,735 civilians and combatants have been killed in the Syrian conflict.
“What is most disturbing about the findings of this report is not only the sheer numbers of children killed in this conflict, but the way they are being killed,” said Hana Salama, a co-author of the report, in a release. “Bombed in their homes, in their communities, during day-to-day activities such as waiting in bread lines or attending school; shot by bullets in crossfire, targeted by snipers, summarily executed, even gassed and tortured. All conflict parties need to take responsibility for the protection of children, and ultimately find a peaceful solution for the war itself.”
The majority of the child deaths – 71 percent of the 10,586 for which causes were recorded – were caused by explosive weapons, according to the report (PDF), with 60 percent caused by “shelling,” 26.6 percent caused by bombs dropped from the air and 13.3 percent due to artillery fire, including from tanks.
Small arms fire from guns and rifles accounted for 2,806, or 26.5 percent, of the children killed, with 764 children who were executed and 398 killed by fire from a sniper. And among those children who were executed, 112 were tortured, including some infants.
A chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, an area in the suburbs of Damascus, killed 128 children on Aug. 21, 2013.
Older children were targeted by attacks more often than younger ones, the researchers found, and boys were killed more often than girls, at a ratio of around two to one – a ratio that increased to four to one between the ages of 13 and 17 years old. Boys were executed nearly three times as often as girls, and were killed by sniper fire four times as often.
“Although it is possible that older boys face greater risk of death by spending more time outdoors during times of conflict than younger children and girls,” the authors wrote, “the much higher proportions in which they are shot suggests that this is not solely an environmental effect. Moreover, it is difficult to see how this many children of any age or gender could be killed purely in small-arms ‘crossfire,’ from which it is at least possible to take cover and hide.”
In terms of locations of child deaths in the war-torn nation, the highest number took place in Aleppo, where 2,223 children were killed. But in terms of size, the worst-affected area was Daraa, where 1,134 – or around one in every 408 children – were killed.
“The grim and relentless rise in casualty numbers seems set to continue,” the authors wrote. “Likely to remain relatively constant, however, are the patterns of harm to children identified in this study, unless there is a very marked change in the Syrian conflict.”
They suggest in the report that combatants receive training in order to avoid children and civilians in the crossfire.
And, they added, "one important area not covered in this report are children who survived blast wounds, and very likely outnumber those killed.”
The death toll in Syria topped 100,000 people in July, and more than 2 million people have fled the country since fighting began between rebel fighters and the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.