International calls for a war crimes probe into the 22-month Syrian conflict are growing after a watchdog reported that at least 26 children have been killed in the latest violence.
Reports of the child deaths came on Monday as the New York-based Human Rights Watch group accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime of expanding its use of banned cluster bombs.
At least 57 governments have called on the UN Security Council to refer the Syria conflict to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for a war crimes investigation.
Switzerland sent a petition requesting the move to the 15-member council, the only body that can refer the case to the court. However, the council and its five permanent members are deeply divided over the conflict.
The signatories included many European governments, as well as Libya and Tunisia, which both saw Arab Spring uprisings overthrow longstanding autocratic regimes.
The letter called on the council to refer the Syria conflict for an ICC investigation “without exceptions and irrespective of the alleged perpetrators.”
As Syria is not an ICC member, only a council referral could start a war crimes investigation.
The push came as eight children and five women were killed in an air strike on the town of Moadamiyat al-Sham, southwest of Damascus, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“The children, all members of the same clan, were aged between six months and nine years old,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Syrian state television blamed “terrorists” for the deaths.
Four other children, including two siblings, were killed in a separate attack near the capital, the Observatory added. Another eight were killed in the northern province of Aleppo — five of them in a single air strike.
Six more children died in other flashpoints in the country.
The Observatory says that more than 3,500 children have been killed since the Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011. The UN says more than 60,000 people have died in total.
In a separate statement, Steve Goose, the director of Human Rights Watch’s arms division, said: “Syria is escalating and expanding its use of cluster munitions, despite international condemnation of its embrace of this banned weapon.”
“It [Syria] is now resorting to a notoriously indiscriminate type of cluster munition that gravely threatens civilian populations,” he said.
The rights group said other governments should sign up to the Swiss-led initiative.
However, Russia and China, both veto-wielding permanent members of the council, have refused to sign it.
Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Mikhail Bogdanov on Monday said that the five permanent members of the council would meet to discuss the Syrian crisis toward the end of the month.
Bogdanov also told Interfax news agency that the UN was looking at ways of sending a new observer mission to Syria.
UN World Food Programme executive director Ertharin Cousin said Syrian refugees urgently needed more aid.
Inside Syria, they were providing help to approximately 1.5 million people at a cost of US$25 million per month, she said.
UN refugee agency UNHCR on Monday reported that the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey had grown to more than 153,000.