A senior Israeli doctor treating child victims of the Syrian civil war has said that snipers in the war-town country are aiming for the spine to cause maximum trauma.
Dr Yoav Hoffman, a doctor at the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, is one of many doctors who has been treating severely wounded Syrians at the Western Galilee Medical Centre in Nahariya, northern Israel.
Having examined the patients, 40 per cent of whom have been women and children, he came to a disturbing conclusion.
“I am sure that the snipers hit the spine on purpose,” he said this week after noticing the same gunshot wound “at this very same point” several times in the children he had treated.
At least five of the children were left partially or fully paralysed as a result of the injuries.
“You know by the hit it was by a sniper and it was on purpose,” he said.
“If you want to kill a man, or you want to kill a child, you put a bullet in his head or his heart. They purposefully put the bullet in the lumber [lower] spine so that the child would suffer. I don’t have any other explanation. It was cruel. I almost cried when I saw it,” he said.
Others at the hospital have made similar observations.
“We have young children right now who have been shot in the head or suffered blast injuries, at a very young age. It’s very difficult to understand how this can happen, that a child is shot from a very close distance,” said Prof Jean Soustiel, Director of Neurosurgical Department at the hospital.
This is not the first time that claims about deliberate targeting of children in Syria have been made.
In 2013, a British doctor working in Aleppo’s old city who was treating heavily pregnant women and children who had been shot by snipers, said that he was seeing “children as young as two with gunshot wounds to the head, neck and torso”.
“Some of the pregnant women had been shot in the abdomen. I was told [by local medical staff] this was not unusual,” said Dr David Nott in an interview with UNICEF in February.
More than 5.5 million Syrian children have been affected by the three-year long conflict – a number which has doubled in the past 12 months alone, states a UNICEF report entitled “Under Siege: The devastating impact on children of three years of conflict in Syria“.
“Syria is now one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a child,” states the report, noting that child casualty rates are the highest recorded “in any recent conflict in the region”.
A third of all Syrian children are no longer living in their own homes and about half of all Syrian school-age youngsters are unable to go to school.
Meanwhile, one in 10 children has fled Syria and become a refugee, with “numbers rising every day”.
“By the end of January 2014, 37,498 Syrian children had been born as refugees”, states the report.
Children as young as 12 are also being recruited as militants “to support the fighting, some in actual combat, others to work as informers, guards, or arms smugglers”, the report notes, adding that this trend is on the rise.
In Israel, over 800 Syrians have received medical treatment in four hospitals despite the fact that Syria and Israel are technically at war.
“The world can do more to help the people living in Syria,” said the hospital Director General Dr Masad Barhoum.
At least 10,000 children have been killed in the Syrian civil war, according to UN estimates, but the real numbers are likely to be higher.