As the Iranian President continues his landmark visit to Europe, Syrian children have been photographed with posters calling on leaders to oppose his alleged intervention in the country’s civil war.
Pro-rebel activists in Aleppo, where civilians have been indiscriminately bombed during continuing battles between the Syrian regime, anti-government rebels and Islamists, claimed to have photographed the children in the rubble of their former homes.
They were seen holding posters accusing Hassan Rouhani of being “responsible for crimes committed by the Iranian regime in Syria” and addressed Francois Hollande, asking the French President to force his counterpart to withdraw troops.
Others were aimed at Mr Rouhani himself or the EU, reading in Arabic and English: “Ask Iran to stop killing us in our country“.
The photos, taken by activists linked to the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran, could not be independently verified and are the latest in a series of images using children by all parties in the Syrian conflict.
Troops from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are believed to be supporting Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Aleppo and elsewhere in the ongoing civil war.
While the government officially denies it has deployed any combat troops in Syria, the official Irna news agency announced the deaths of at least 400 Iranian and Iran-based ”volunteers“ over the past four years in June.
Officials have also confirmed the death of several high-ranking IRGC commanders in Syria, where they were said to be “martyred…fulfilling their duty as military advisors and defending the holy Shia shrines”.
Four were killed in a week in October. While state media only said they died in “Southern Syria” of unknown causes, it came as a major offensive was launched by the Syrian regime and its supporters.
While announcing the deaths, Tehran said the IRGC was increasing the number of “military advisors” at the request of Bashar al-Assad’s government, which it said it was supporting against unspecified “terrorists”.
The Iranian President is currently visiting Italy and France as a thawing of relations continues following the implementation of last year’s nuclear deal.
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
Mr Rouhani met the Pope today, with the Vatican saying they discussed the nuclear accord and “the important role that Iran was called to play” to combat terrorism and arms trafficking.
The Vatican described the talks as “cordial” and said “common spiritual values were highlighted,” while photos showed the pair exchanging gifts including a Persian rug and medal depicting Saint Martin.
Mr Rouhani's visit was the first meeting between a pope and an Iranian president since 1999.
Before going to the Vatican, he told a forum of business leaders in Rome that “Iran is the safest and most stable country of the entire region.”
“Italy has always backed the role of Iran as a regional player in resolving tensions in the area, starting with the Syrian crisis,” Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said.
Additional reporting by agencies