The Syrian Government has launched chemical attacks on civilians as the Islamic State (Isis) and other armed groups have terrorised the population with their brutality, according to a UN report on the Syrian war.
Investigators from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called the country the “world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe”, with an estimated 2.9 million refugees.
The report, released on Wednesday, contained a lengthy catalogue of unimaginable violence and atrocities committed by all parties in the continuing civil war that has killed more than 190,000 people.
“The Government continues to commit violations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, with impunity,” the report said, listing 29 massacres by forces loyal to Assad this year alone.
Chemical weapons, thought to be chlorine gas, have allegedly been used eight times in Idlib and Hama provinces and illegal barrel and “vacuum” bombs have been dropped on highly populated areas including hospitals and schools, killing and horrifically wounding countless civilians.
“Government forces have systematically targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure, demonstrating the intent to kill, wound and maim,” the report states.
“The apparent objective of the Government’s military operations is to render life unbearable in areas out of its control.”
Anti-Assad groups including Jabhat Al-Nusra have also shelled civilians in state-controlled areas of Aleppo and Damascus and launched car bombs and suicide attacks.
Fighting has engulfed residential areas, destroying the barest possibility of normal life, and the impact has been particularly grave for women and children, whose most basic rights are being infringed daily.
“Hundreds of civilians are dying each day as the fighting goes on with no regard to law or to conscience,” said Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the Commission.
Isis controls large areas of the country’s north and north-east near the border with Iraq, where the Islamist group’s bloody rampage is well-documented.
Militants have set up a ruthless and barbaric “justice” system, using Fridays for regular executions, amputations and lashings in public squares.
Examples cited in the report include women lashed for not adhering to Isis’ strict dress code, a man having his hand amputated for theft.
Civilians are encouraged to attend and passers-by, including children, are frequently forced to watch and the bodies of those killed are placed on display on spikes and crosses for several days.
In pictures: Syria conflict
In pictures: Syria conflict
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Syrians carry children amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man carries a girl on a street covered with dust following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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Syrians react as they stand amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man carries a girl amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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An injured Syrian man walks out from the rubble of a destroyed building following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian woman makes her way through debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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People stand on the rubble of collapsed buildings at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in the Al-Fardous neighbourhood of Aleppo
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Syrian residents stand amid the rubble of destroyed buildings
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A Syrian resident grasps a mattress amid rubble in the al-Firdous neighborhood of the northern city of Aleppo
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A bullet-riddled parking sign stands amid debris in a deserted street leading into the old city of Homs
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A general view shows abandoned buildings on a deserted square in the old city of Homs after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas
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A mosque is pictured through shattered glass in the old city of Homs, as rebel fighters withdrew from the city centre in line with a negotiated withdrawal deal with the government after having held out under tight siege for nearly two years
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Buses carrying Free Syrian Army fighters leaving Homs. Exhausted and worn out from a year-long siege, hundreds of Syrian rebels left their last remaining bastions in the heart of the central city of Homs under a cease-fire deal with government forces. The exit of some 1,200 fighters and civilians will mark a de facto end of the rebellion in the battered city, which was one of the first places to rise up against President Bashar Assad's rule, earning it the nickname of "capital of the revolution"
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Syrian government forces hold up a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad (L) while others raise the national flag on top of a pole in the old city of Homs
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Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad run through Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr crossing after their release by rebels. They were freed as part of a larger deal which saw the last remaining Syrian rebels in central Homs city evacuate their positions and free captives in several locations in northern Syria
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A Syrian woman and two children walk past heavily damaged buildings in the northern city of Aleppo
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A man carries a wounded girl following a reported bombardment with explosive-packed "barrel bombs" by Syrian government forces in the al-Mowasalat neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
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A wounded man sits as he is treated at a makeshift hospital following a reported bombardment with explosive-packed "barrel bombs" by Syrian government forces in the al-Sakhour district of the northern city of Aleppo
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Debris rises in what Free Syrian Army fighters and Islamic rebels said was an operation to strike Al-Sahaba checkpoint, which is considered a gateway to Al-Dayf valley, and remove forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in Maarat Al-Nouman, Idlib province
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Men try to put out fire at a site hit by what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, near the border with Turkey
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Civil Defence members try to put out fire
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Survivors react at a site hit by what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, near the border with Turkey
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Residents queue as they wait to receive food aid distributed by the UNRWA at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, south of Damascus
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Belongings of Syrian rebels inside a chapel at Crac des Chevaliers, the world's best preserved medieval Crusader castle in Syria. The village was destroyed in fighting between the government and rebel forces while the castle, listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, also has been damaged over the past two years
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Hosen Sabah, a 16-year-old student is comforted by his mother at a hospital in Damascus. Nosen was wounded by a mortar outside his school, while 14 other students were killed and over 80 wounded
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A Free Syrian Army fighter works on a locally made launcher before firing it towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in Mork town
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Syrian policemen and citizens inspecting the site of a car bomb at the entrance of Moadhamiyet al-Sham neighborhood in rural Damascus. According to Syria's Arab News Agency (SANA), a car bomb explosion has gone off in the countryside of Damascus and initial information say there are casualties, where a car rigged with explosions was remotely detonated at the entrance of Moadhamiyet al-Sham neighborhood in rural Damascus during engineering units it was trying to dismantled it
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Opposition fighters carrying a rocket launcher during clashes against government forces in the Sheikh Lutfi area, west of the airport in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man helps a woman to make her way through debris following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
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A Syrian man reacts as he carries the body of injured boy following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 33 civilians were killed in the attack
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Syrian rescue workers carry the body of a woman following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
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Syrians gather at the site of reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
In Minbij, a 15-year-old boy was beheaded in February, while children were forced to watch. Isis said he had committed rape but locals believe he was targeted for joining a rival militia.
Isis is using the brutal executions to instil terror among the population, the report said, ensuring submission to its authority.
In its stronghold of Raqqa, children as young as 10 are being recruited at Isis training camps and children are increasingly being recruited by armed groups and the Government’s Popular Committees to participate in hostilities and provide support.
The breakdown of family and community groups as men are killed has left women and children vulnerable and desperately poor, with sexual violence and child marriage reported even in refugee camps.
Countless men and women have also disappeared at Government checkpoints and horrific accounts of torture, sexual abuse and starvation have emerged from prisons and military hospitals.
In 2013, a 12-year-old boy who had been arrested in Damascus after speaking with a cousin who had joined an armed group was traced by his family to a military facility but his relatives were told by a judge he was at a “private hospital”.
When they arrived there, they were told their son was dead and his body bore marks of “severe torture, including electrocution”.
Severe beatings, torture and officers raping and abusing girls as young as 13 in custody were reported and many relatives have been told their loved ones died of “heart attacks” in prison, with the bodies never released.
The report noted the systematic targeting of journalists by armed groups, which came to international attention when Isis militants beheaded the American photojournalist James Foley earlier this month.
Video: Assad sworn in earlier this year
The murder turned attention back to Syria but Britain has ruled out any alliance with the Assad regime to battle Isis.
The Syrian Civil War was sparked by the regime's crackdown on protests against the autocratic President during the 2011 Arab Spring.
David Cameron had pushed for intervention following a chemical attack on civilians in Damascus last year but lost a vote in the House of Commons.
The report was critical of the reluctance of “influential states” to undertake work towards a political solution and called for an arms embargo to stop the flow of weapons to all parties in the conflict.
“The international community’s failure in its most elemental duties – to protect civilians, halt and prevent atrocities and create a path toward accountability – has been matched on the ground by an abandonment of even the pretence of an adherence to norms of international law,” it said.
“As can be seen today, this has grave implications for the entire region,” the report adds.
UN inspectors have not been allowed to enter Syria by the Government and used more than 480 interviews and a wealth of documentary evidence for the research.
The report is scheduled to be presented on 16 September during the 27th session of the Human Rights Council.