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Amid widening Syria violence, a new war-crimes charge (+video)

Syrian refugees say Assad's soldiers are forcing women and children to march in front of advancing tanks to prevent rebels from opening fire. International law forbids the use of human shields.

By Rolla ScolariCorrespondent / April 9, 2012

In this citizen journalism image provided by the Local Coordination Committees in Syria and taken on Saturday, Syrians chant slogans and wave Syrian revolutionary flags during a demonstration in Daraa, Syria.

Local Coordination Committees in Syria/AP

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Antakya, Turkey

Syrian security forces have started using civilians as human shields to prevent attacks by Syrian rebels, according to refugees. The tactic appears to have dissuaded at least some rebels from opening fire, but a prominent human rights group has pointed to it as yet another war crime committed by President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

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Syrian troops fired across the border into a refugee camp, wounding three people, in Turkey.

Refugees fleeing Syria's northern Idlib province gave the Monitor detailed eyewitness accounts of numerous human shield incidents – many involving women and young children – in recent weeks. They described seeing Syrian soldiers forcing children to march in front of their tanks as government forces advanced into rebel strongholds.

In one instance, when loyalists advanced on the hamlet of Shaturiya, a few miles from Janudieh, a construction worker who had fled to a nearby hilltop saw the troops putting small groups of women and children in front of the approaching tanks.

His son, a 13-year-old who stayed behind in the village when his father fled, was one of those forced to serve as a human shield, according to both of them. The son, slender-framed and matter-of-fact, said he was forced to stand in front of the tanks in the village "for almost six hours, until around midday, without touching food and water."

When the Army left town, the father came back, took his wife and children and went directly for the border. The family now lives in the Turkish refugee camp of Yayladağı. They are among the record 24,000 Syrians who have taken refuge in Turkey, raising the regional stakes for a solution to the Syria violence.

Brutal tactics ahead of April 10 cease-fire

The testimonies regarding Syria's use of human shields – provided to the Monitor by eight individual refugees interviewed in the city of Anyakya and in refugee camps in Turkey within days of their fleeing – painted a picture of a regime crackdown on its own population that appears to be growing more brutal by the day.

The accounts of these eight refugees are supported by a Human Rights Watch report that documents similar tales, some corroborated by video, which together suggest the practice has become more widespread in recent months.

With an April 10 deadline for a cease-fire just hours away, the regime's relentless shelling of residential neighborhoods, its deliberate targeting of civilians, and its attacks on unarmed protesters appear to be continuing.

The Syrian authorities said yesterday they would not withdraw without written guarantees from opposition fighters that they will lay down their arms. Indeed, Syrian forces opened fire on a refugee camp on the Turkish side of the border on Monday, wounding three persons and enraging the Turkish government.

In its report, Human Rights Watch said the Syrian regime's use of human shields "is yet another reason why the UN Security Council should refer Syria to the International Criminal Court."

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