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updated 11/28/2011 4:35:14 PM ET 2011-11-28T21:35:14

Syrian troops have killed hundreds of children and committed other "crimes against humanity" since the government crackdown began in March, a U.N. probe said Monday.

At least 256 children were killed by government forces as of early November, with some of them tortured to death, according to the report by a panel of independent experts.

The report said that men and boys were sexually tortured at military detention facilities and a 2-year-old girl shot to death just to prevent her from growing up to be a demonstrator.

"Torture was applied equally to adults and children," said the panel's report to the U.N. Human Rights Council. Among its details were that "numerous testimonies indicated that boys were subjected to sexual torture in places of detention in front of adult men."

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The panel said government forces used excessive force to "shot indiscriminately at unarmed protesters" while snipers targeted others in the upper body and head. It found Syrian security forces cooperating with militias were given "shoot to kill" orders to crush demonstrations.

"These crimes include murder, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence," said the panel's chairman, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, a Brazilian professor. "We have a very solid body of evidence."

The panel's members and staff weren't allowed into Syria. But the commission said that it had interviewed 223 victims and witnesses including defectors from Syria's military and security forces since September

The U.N. Human Rights Council named Pinheiro, Turkish women's rights expert Yakin Erturk and Karen Abu Zayd, a U.S. citizen and former head of UNRWA, the U.N. agency that aids Palestinian refugees to lead an international investigation of allegations of human rights abuses in Syria.

The commission was asked to follow up on a report from the U.N. human rights office that crimes against humanity may have occurred during Syria's crackdown since March against anti-government protesters, and to find those responsible.

Among the other findings listed in the report:

— Checkpoints had "blacklists" of people wanted by authorities and orders to shoot demonstrators trying to pass.

— On April 25, in Dar'a, dozens of conscripts who fired into the air rather than follow an order to shoot directly at people's homes were themselves killed by security forces posted behind them.

— The injured people taken to military hospitals were beaten and tortured during interrogation. In Homs, they suffered at the hands of security forces dressed as doctors allegedly with the "complicity" of real medical personnel.

— Arbitrary arrests and unlawful detentions were widespread. Most of those arrested were blindfolded and handcuffed and denied food or medical help. Thousands more may have been abducted and disappeared.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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