Human Rights Groups Call for No-Fly Zone
The children in the village of Haas in Idlib province had just put their backpacks on and gathered at the door of the school, when an aircraft dropped a bomb that exploded, killing at least 22 children and six teachers, according to the UN Children’s Organization, UNICEF.
“This is one of the deadliest attacks on schools since the war in Syria began five years ago,” Juliette Toumah, the regional chief for communications in the Middle East for UNICEF told The Media Line. “It was a horrific attack that happened during school hours.”
UNICEF director Anthony Lake said if the attack was deliberate it could constitute a “war crime.” Lake said the school compound was “repeatedly attacked,” adding that it may be the deadliest attack on a school since the war began more than five years ago.
A photograph circulated on social media showed a child’s arm, seared off above the elbow, still clutching the strap of a dusty black rucksack.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said they believed that either Russia or Syrian government pilots were responsible for the attack.
Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, has already commented on the incident.
“The easiest thing to say is that it wasn’t us,” Churkin said. “But I’m a responsible person; we have to wait and see what our Defense Ministry has to say about this. It’s terrible, terrible — I hope this was not us,” he said.
Other Syrian human rights groups say that the only possible perpetrators are Russia and Syria.
“They are the only ones who have airplanes,” Laila Kiki, the head of media relations for the Syria Campaign, an “independent advocacy group campaigning for a peaceful and democratic future for Syria,” told The Media Line. “Some of the children who were wounded later died because there is a shortage of medical facilities in this area.”
Haas village is in Idlib province, in northwestern Syria, close to Aleppo, which has been almost destroyed by the fighting. A day after the attack on the school, at least six children were killed and 15 injured in rebel rocket attacks in the government-held western part of Aleppo. In eastern Aleppo, Kiki says, there are only about 35 physicians left, and shortages of medicine and equipment.
As the war grinds on in Syria with no end in sight, it is the children who are suffering the most.
Juliette Touma of UNICEF says that half of all school-age children, about 1.7 million children in Syria, are not in school. Some have never been to school. One in three schools in Syria has either been damaged in the fighting or is being used by either the rebel groups or the government.
“The implications of this are quite dire,” she told The Media Line. “If we do not get these children to go back, we could be facing a grim future for Syria. We are warning of a lost generation.”
Human rights groups say the international community has not done enough to stop the fighting in Syria. They charge that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has lied about his troops use of chemical weapons, most recently after a UN report accused Syria of their use.
“The Syrian Arab republic has repeatedly denied all allegations circulated by some western departments and their tools about the use of chemical poisonous materials by Syria sides, like chlorine gas, during military acts which take place between the Syrian Arab armed forces and the terrorist groups,” the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Leila Kiki of The Syria Campaign says the latest attacks should be a wake-up call for the international community to do more to stop the fighting in Syria. She said a no-fly zone would be an important first step. But she says the international community has disappointed Syrians over and over.
“The Syrian government has crossed so many red lines,” she said. “There have been chemical attacks, the bombing of four hospitals in one day in Aleppo, this attack on the children in Idlib. Every time there is such a horrific incident, it makes us think that the international community has failed to protect civilians.”
At least 300,000 Syrians have been killed in the fighting, and over half of the country’s population has been displaced since the fighting began in March, 2011 with anti-government protests.