UN: Syria’s war children will grow up illiterate

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria’s devastating civil war will force a generation of children to grow up illiterate and filled with hate, a U.N. envoy warned Thursday as fighting raged on around the country, including an airstrike in the north that killed at least five and wounded dozens of men, women and children.

Leila Zerrougui, the special representative for children and armed conflict, said both sides in the Syrian conflict, now in its third year, continue to commit grave violations against children.

Scores of children have been killed, injured, detained and forced to witness or to commit atrocities as President Bashar Assad’s troops battle opposition fighters trying to oust his regime, she said.

Zerrougui spoke following a three-day visit to Syria, where she met with government officials and rebel commanders. She said she urged both sides to spare the children.

Once the war is over, Zerrougui said she told her counterparts, they “will have to face a generation of children who lost their childhood, have a lot of hate and are illiterate.”

The fighting has destroyed thousands of schools across Syria while many of those still standing have been turned into shelters for displaced people, Zerrougui told reporters in Beirut.

In Syria, warplanes struck a rebel-held town Thursday in the northern province of Idlib, killing at least five people and burying dozens under the rubble of destroyed homes. The Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights said among the wounded were at least 10 children and seven women, some of whom were in critical condition.

An activist in the town of Saraqeb, where the four missiles struck, confirmed the airstrike, saying there were people still under the debris more than an hour after the attack occurred.

“The death toll is still not clear,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity, fearing retaliation.

A video posted online by activists showed a frenzied crowd searching for survivors in the aftermath of the airstrike. A man is seen asking a boy about his father.

“I don’t know, he is under the rubble,” the boy said, pointing to the destruction. “My father is still here.”

The video appeared to be genuine and consistent with Associated Press reporting on the airstrike.

Before traveling to Syria, Zerrougui, the U.N. envoy, also visited Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, including Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq.

She said children account for nearly half of the five million Syrians who fled their homes because of the fighting. Of those, half have not gone to school. Nearly 70 percent of those who do go to school drop out because they need to help support their families or for other reasons, Zerrougui said.

During her visit to Syria, Zerrougui also urged opposition forces to stop recruiting children into combat and asked the government to consider children, who were forced into taking up arms, as victims, not as combatants.

Aid groups have warned that some 2 million children in Syria are facing malnutrition, disease, early marriage and severe trauma as a result of the civil war.

The Violations Documentation Center in Syria, a key activist group that keeps track of the war’s dead, wounded and missing persons, says 7,132 children under the age of 15 have been killed in the past two and half years, including 4,939 boys and 2,193 girls.

More than 93,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict started in March 2011 as largely peaceful protests against Assad’s rule. The crisis escalated into a civil war after some opposition supporters took up arms to fight a brutal government crackdown on dissent.

Meanwhile in northern Syria, activists said Kurdish fighters took control of a major town Thursday near the border with Turkey. The Kurdish forces have battled rebels from radical Islamic groups for control of the town of Ras al-Ain for days, the Observatory said.


Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.

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