a boy and a girl sit down in the rebel enclave of east Ghouta
a boy and a girl sit down in the rebel enclave of east Ghouta

Syria faces a "merciless war against children," with more children killed in 2017 than ever before, according to a UNICEF report. Hundreds of children have also been forced to take part in the fighting.

Over 900 children were killed in Syria's protracted war in 2017, marking a 50 percent increase compared to the year before, the UN's children agency UNICEF said in report presented on Monday in Cologne, Germany. According to the document, the number of children killed last year was bigger than any other year since the war started in 2011.

The UN officials warn that 2018 numbers could be even worse.

"Every single day – for seven years now – children are enduring endless suffering through bombing, bullets, expulsion, famine, and deaths of relatives and friends," said the chief of UNICEF Germany, Christian Schneider. "There is a merciless war against children in Syria, and it needs to be stopped immediately."

Read more: Refugee children making a new life in Germany

Children with disabilities face more risk

The agency specifically emphasized the suffering of children with disabilities, who are in danger of being "forgotten" in the unending violence.

With no access to wheelchairs and specialized treatment, "many children with disabilities face a very real risk of exclusion, neglect and stigmatization," said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

UNICEF also relayed the experience of a 14-year-old Syrian refugee identified as Sami, who lost both of his legs in a bombing attack.

"I went outside to play in the snow with my cousins," Sami was quoted by the agency as saying. "A bomb hit. I saw my cousin's hands flying in front of me."

Latest battleground worse than Aleppo?

UNICEF says around 1,000 children were reportedly killed on injured in the first two months of 2018. The agency singled out the regime offensive on the rebel enclave in Eastern Ghouta, saying that the situation there is "even worse" than the long and bloody siege in Aleppo.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that over 200 children were killed in the Ghouta bombing since the attack started last month.

Child soldiers in Syria

On Monday, UNICEF urged all the warring parties in Syria and "those who have influence over them" to take steps to ease the suffering of children.

The agency called on the combatants to end "attacks on schools and hospitals" and to support reconstruction efforts "prioritizing the needs of children, including those with disabilities."

According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, some 510,000 people lost their lives since the civil war began. UNICEF believes that one-quarter of all civilian deaths were children and minors.

The latest report says at least 900 minors were sent into battle during 2017, and a quarter of underage combatants were less than 15 years old.

dj/kms (dpa, KNA, AFP)

First published: March 12, 2018

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