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UN: Rape Used As Wide-Scale Weapon Of War In Syria

People flee the rebel-held town of Hammuriyeh on March 15.

Syrian government forces and allied militias have raped and sexually assaulted women, girls, and men in a campaign to punish opposition communities -- acts that constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, the United Nations said on March 15.

UN investigators said in a report that they found that rebel groups in Syria's civil war had also committed crimes of sexual violence and torture, although these were "considerably less common."

The report also said Islamic State (IS) militants had executed women and girls by stoning for alleged adultery, forced girls into marriage, and persecuted homosexual men.

"It is utterly repugnant that brutal acts of sexual and gender-based violence continued to be perpetrated throughout Syria for seven years by most warring parties," Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry, told a panel in Geneva.

Meanwhile, a war monitor says that almost 20,000 civilians fled the Syrian town of Hammuriyeh and its surrounding areas in the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta for government-controlled territory on March 15.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said thousands of displaced people had left Hammuriyeh, Kafr Batna, Jisreen, and Saqba throughout the day.

Rami Abdel-Rahman, the head of the observatory, said the flow stopped at the beginning of the evening, in what he said was the biggest exodus of displaced people since the regime launched an offensive on the enclave on February 18.

Almost 2,000 people, including 426 children, have been killed in eastern Ghouta due to violence in the past four months, the observatory estimates.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP