NEW YORK, July 3 (Reuters) - Syrian intelligence agencies are running torture centers across the country where detainees are beaten with batons and cables, burned with acid, sexually assaulted, and their fingernails torn out, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Tuesday.

The New York-based rights group identified 27 detention centers that it says intelligence agencies have been using since President Bashar al-Assad's government began a crackdown in March 2011 on pro-democracy protesters trying to oust him.

Human Rights Watch conducted more than 200 interviews with people who said they were tortured, including a 31-year-old man who was detained in the Idlib area in June and made to undress.

"Then they started squeezing my fingers with pliers. They put staples in my fingers, chest and ears. I was only allowed to take them out if I spoke. The staples in the ears were the most painful," the man told Human Rights Watch.

"They used two wires hooked up to a car battery to give me electric shocks. They used electric stun-guns on my genitals twice. I thought I would never see my family again. They tortured me like this three times over three days," he said.

The report found that tens of thousands of people had been detained by the Department of Military Intelligence, the Political Security Directorate, the General Intelligence Directorate, and the Air Force Intelligence Directorate.

Human Rights Watch documented more than 20 torture methods that "clearly point to a state policy of torture and ill-treatment and therefore constitute a crime against humanity."

The group called for the U.N. Security Council to refer the issue of Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and to adopt targeted sanctions against officials carrying out abuse.

"The reach and inhumanity of this network of torture centers are truly horrific," Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch said. "Russia should not be holding its protective hand over the people who are responsible for this."

Russia - an ally of Syria - and China have already vetoed two council resolutions that condemned Damascus and threatened it with sanctions and French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters on Monday that reaching a Security Council consensus to refer Syria to the ICC would be difficult.

"As France is concerned it's very clear we are very much in favor of referring Syria to the ICC," Araud said.

"The problem is it will have to be part ... of a global understanding of the council and I do think that for the moment we have not yet reached this point," he said.

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay on Monday reiterated her position that the issue of Syria's conflict should be referred to the ICC in The Hague because crimes against humanity and other war crimes may have been committed.

She said both sides appear to have committed war crimes.

The United Nations has said more than 10,000 people have been killed during the 16-month Syria conflict.

The complete Human Rights Watch report, which includes maps of the detention centers, can be seen here: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2012/07/03/torture-archipelago-0 (Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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syria car bomb Syrian policemen inspect the site of a car bomb explosion on Mazzeh highway in the capital Damascus on July 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)


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U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:

@ AmbassadorRice : #Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.

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Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.

Read more on Reuters.com.

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The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.

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How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.

Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say.

Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.

Read the full report here.

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syria This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a victim wounded by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. The accounts, some of which claim more than 200 people were killed in the violence Thursday, could not be independently confirmed, but would mark the latest in a string of brutal offensives by Syrian forces attempting to crush the rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)


syria This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)


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According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."

Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.

Read more on Reuters.com.

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Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.

@ AlexanderPageSY : Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria

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@ Reuters : UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS

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@ Reuters : At least 100 killed in Syrian village: opposition activists http://t.co/FG3fJwu8

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