Syria: four children killed outside school as rebel-held village is shelled

'Stark reminder' that war on children continues, says Unicef

Young people mourn the four children killed on their way to school on Monday, in Syria's rebel-held Idlib province. AFP

Four children have been killed on their way to school as Syrian government forces shelled a rebel-held village in north-western Syria.

The shelling on Monday was aimed at the village of Maaret Al Naasan, in the Idlib province that is home to more than three million people, opposition activists said.

Hajj Ahmed, the principal at Al Amal school, said two of the pupils were from the eighth year, one was from the seventh year and the other from the ninth. He said the attack happened at about 11.15am.

“They were on their way to start their school day and this strike by the criminal regime hit,” he said.

The boys were killed about 50 metres away from the school. Their blood-splattered school bags — carrying the markings of the UN children’s agency Unicef — were still on the ground some time after the shelling, AP reported.

The bodies were later put in black bags and buried in the village’s cemetery.

Unicef spokeswoman Juliette Touma condemned the attack.

“This is a stark reminder that the war on children continues,” said Ms Touma. “Every child in Syria, wherever they are, has the right to go to school in safety.”

Mourners burying the bodies of four children killed on their way to school in Maaret Al Naasan. AFP

The rebel-held region is home to one million children, Ms Touma said, many of them displaced several times during the conflict. She said 70 per cent of children killed in Syria last year were in and around Idlib province.

Ms Touma said there have been 751 attacks on educational centres and personnel since the conflict began.

An opposition war monitoring group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and Idlib-based activist Hadi Abdullah also reported that the four pupils were killed while on their way to school. The Observatory said the four were all boys under the age of 18. It did not provide further details.

Many in Idlib, the country’s last major opposition stronghold, are internally displaced by the country’s civil war which began after a brutal military crackdown against a popular uprising in 2011.

Russian attacks on Idlib continue

Monday’s shelling came as Russian warplanes reportedly conducted strikes on other parts of Idlib. The Observatory and the Thiqa news agency, an activist collective, said Russian aircraft attacked southern parts of the province on Monday.

Russia joined Syria’s conflict in September 2015, helping tip the balance of power in favour of its ally, President Bashar Al Assad.

Even after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Russian warplanes have continued to conduct air strikes in Idlib, aiming at suspected insurgent positions, as well as in central Syria, where sleeper cells of the ISIS group are active.

However, the Observatory says that the number of Russian strikes have dropped since late February.

Syria’s 11-year conflict has killed nearly half a million people and displaced half the country’s prewar population of 23 million.

Updated: April 05, 2022, 6:47 AM