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  1. ITV Report

2016 was 'deadliest yet for children in Syrian conflict' as war enters seventh year

This Syrian child now lives with his family and four others in an abandoned petrol station. Credit: AP

More children were killed in the Syrian conflict in 2016 than in any previous year of a war that is now entering its seventh year, Unicef figures have shown.

At least 652 children died last year, with more than a third of the victims in or near a school, along with front line casualties among child fighters.

652
The number of deaths of children in the conflict recorded by Unicef in 2016.
255
The number of deaths of children in 2016 who were in or near a school.
647
The number of children injured in the conflict in 2016, as recorded by Unicef.

More than 850 children were recruited to fight in the conflict in 2016 - double the number who joined the conflict between forces loyal to the Syrian government and rebel fighters in 2015.

The charity said hundreds of the child deaths - an annual toll first recorded in 2014 - were to diseases that could be easily prevented in a non-conflict situation.

Almost 300 children were killed in 2016 in or near a school during the ongoing Syrian conflict. Credit: AP

Nearly six million children now depend on humanitarian assistance in the conflict, more than 12 times the number five years ago.

Unicef spokeswoman Juliette Touma warned the more than 2.3 million children forced out of school by the conflict will become a "lost generation" unless they can resume their education.

Syrian war timeline: From graffiti detention protests to years of bloody conflict

With the brutal conflict entering its seventh year this week, here is how the war has unfolded so far:

2011:

Security forces open fire on protesters - killing four - in March during the third day of demonstrations in Damascus and Daraa over the detention of a group of boys accused of painting anti-government graffiti at school.

By June police and soldiers in north-eastern Syria join protesters they were ordered to shoot in an uprising that claims its first town before it is retaken by Government forces days later.

Rival protests erupted in March 2011 after dozens of protesters were killed during a violent state-led crackdown. Credit: AP

2012:

Fighting spreads to Syria's most populous city, Aleppo, by the summer before rebel fighters seize the eastern part, before more than a million civilians flee the divided city.

2013:

Rebel forces capture Raqqa, a city of 500,000 people, in March before the world is shocked as a chemical weapons attack in the autumn in the Damascus suburbs kills hundreds. In October, Syria destroys its chemical weapons production equipment.

More than 100 people were killed in a claimed chemical weapons attack in Damascus in August 2013. Credit: AP

2014:

The spread of infighting among rebels pits a variety of Islamic groups and moderate factions against the Islamic State (IS) terror group as UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva fail in February.

President Bashar Assad is re-elected with 88.7% of the vote in a June election limited to those in government areas. The same month sees IS declare a self-styled Islamic caliphate having seized a third of Syria and large parts of northern and western Iraq.

The US-led coalition begins air strikes against IS targets in September, weeks after IS militants release video of the beheading of American journalist James Foley. In October British hostage Alan Henning, a cab driver-turned aid worker from Lancashire, is beheaded by an IS extremist dubbed Jihadi John.

Supporters of President Assad celebrated his re-election for another seven-year term in 2014 after three years of conflict. Credit: AP

2015:

IS fighters seize the ancient city of Palmyra in May, destroying various landmarks at the Unesco world heritage site. Russia begins air strikes in support of Assad's forces by the end of September.

2016:

Though indirect peace talks in Geneva collapse in February, the US and Russia announce a partial ceasefire. It collapses in April as bombing resumes near Aleppo two months before government and allied forces impose a full siege on the city's rebel-held east.

More ceasefires follow and are breached while rebels reject an offer to evacuate - penning civilians in - before their defences finally crumble in November as Syrian troops and allied forces launch a major ground offensive. December's ceasefire, brokered by Turkey and Russia, is undermined as government shelling of the last remaining rebel holdouts continues.

The Syrian army claimed control of the eastern part of Aleppo by the end of 2016. Credit: AP

2017:

UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva resume in February after 10 months, with more due to be held in later March. A UN panel meanwhile finds the evacuation of eastern Aleppo amounted to the war crime of the forced displacement of the civilian population.