Syrian security forces are detaining and torturing children, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in an interview with the BBC, published Wednesday.
"They've gone for the children - for whatever purposes - in large numbers. Hundreds detained and tortured... it's just horrendous," she said.
"Children shot in the knees, held together with adults in really inhumane conditions, denied medical treatment for their injuries, either held as hostages or as sources of information."
In the interview, the UN official said President Bashar Assad could end the detentions and stop the killing of civilians immediately, simply by issuing an order.
According to her, Assad will eventually stand trial for the abuses committed by security forces loyal to his regime. "There is no statute of limitations so people like (Assad) can go on for a very long time but one day they will have to face justice," she told the BBC.
Pillay said she believed that the UN Security Council had enough reliable information to warrant referring Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
"I feel that investigation and prosecution is a crucial element to deter and call a stop to these violations," she said in the interview.
Assad's visit to Homs (Photo: AFP/SANA)
The UN says more than 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Assad began a year ago.
On Tuesday Syria accepted the six-point peace plan proposed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who currently serves as the head of a UN delegation to Syria.
Later on Tuesday, several Syrian dissident groups meeting in Istanbul agreed to recognize the Syrian National Council as the official representative of the Syrian people.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday that Syrian forces stormed a rebel bastion despite Assad's reported acceptance of Kofi Annan's peace plan and an opposition plea that tanks be withdrawn.
The assault came as China urged Syria's government and opposition to honor commitments to halt armed conflict and Arab foreign ministers were thrashing out a resolution on Syria to be debated at a landmark Arab League summit in Baghdad.
According to the monitors, Syrian forces backed by tanks swept into the central town of Qalaat al-Madiq and nearby villages early Wednesday after a siege lasting more than two weeks.
The Britain-based monitoring group said the troops entered the town, in Hama province, just after dawn following a 17-day barrage of shelling and heavy gunfire to root out rebels.
It added however that the army was not in full control of the town.
"Heavy clashes between regime forces and armed rebels are preventing the army from advancing," the Observatory said. "Intense gunfire and explosions can be heard in nearby villages."
Syrian news website Damas Post, which is affiliated with the regime in Damascus, reported this week that Assad would soon announce an end to military operations across the country.
Assad visited a defeated rebel stronghold in the city of Homs on Tuesday, talking to groups of supporters as he toured streets devastated by months of shelling and gunfire.
Syrian state television showed video of Assad, wearing an open-necked shirt with a blue suit, walking casually in the Baba Amr district, which was reclaimed by his forces earlier this month after 26 days of heavy bombardment.
"Life will return to normal in Baba Amr, better than it was before," Assad told a group of people shouting support for the president.
According to some reports, during the visit shots were fired at Assad's entourage. Opposition activists told the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that the free Syrian Army's Farouk Brigade, which held Baba Amr and other neighborhoods before being forces to withdraw, was behind the failed assassination attempt.
AFP, Reuters contributed to the report
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