Syrian forces are deliberately attacking children in "horrendous" tactics ordered directly by President Bashar al-Assad, the UN human rights chief has claimed.
Navi Pillay said that hundreds of children were being held, tortured and interrogated in prisons, without medical care.
"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," she said.
Mr Assad bore ultimate responsibility and could stop the atrocities with a single order, Ms Pillay said, adding that there was no doubt that both he and all those committing human rights violations would be held to account.
When asked if Mr Assad was to blame, she answered: "Factually, there is enough evidence pointing to the fact that many of these acts are committed by the security forces (and) must have received the approval or the complicity at the highest level, because President Assad could simply issue an order to stop the killings and the killings would stop."
Abuses of children by rebel forces have also been reported. On Tuesday, Radhika Coom- araswamy, the UN special representative for children in armed conflict, said she had received allegations that the Free Syrian Army was using child soldiers. Meanwhile, regime forces kept up heavy weapons fire and siege tactics against opposition strongholds yesterday, despite Mr Assad's acceptance of a peace plan calling for the army to withdraw to barracks.
Russia and China yesterday urged both sides of the Syrian conflict to halt the fighting.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported military action from the southern province of Dera'a to the Hama region 200 miles to the north. "Military forces stormed the town of Qalaat al-Madiq and nearby villages (in Hama)," the activist website reported.
"This comes after weeks of heavy gun and mortar fire and several failed attempts to invade the town."
The rebel town of Saraqeb in the north was also captured by regime forces yesterday after four days of intense fighting in which more than 40 people were killed.
The UN says more than 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Mr Assad began a year ago.
Reports yesterday suggested that two freelance British videographers of Algerian descent were shot and killed by Syrian security forces. Local activists said they died during an attack on the town of Darkoush near the Turkish border. (© Daily Telegraph, London)