22 schoolchildren, 6 teachers killed in attack in Syria’s Idlib province – reports

A Syrian man checks the damage at a school after it was hit in an alleged air strike in the village of Hass, in the south of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province on October 26, 2016. © Omar haj kadour
Almost two dozen children have reportedly been killed in an airstrike on a school complex in Syria’s Idlib province, according to opposition activists. The reports emerged as the UN Security Council debated the dire humanitarian situation in the country.

At least 28 civilians, mostly children, were killed when the strikes hit a school complex in the village of Hass, the activists said, pinning the blame on either Russian or Syrian warplanes.

The Wednesday tragedy was first reported by the controversial two-man, London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Western-funded Civil Defense Network, also known as the White Helmets. The opposition Idlib Media Center also confirmed a strike on a school, claiming a “rocket” struck the premises.

“One rocket hit the entrance of the school as students were leaving to go home after the school administration decided to end classes for the day because of the raids,” an activist said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The UN Children’s Rights & Emergency Relief Organization has condemned the tragedy as a potential “war crime,” saying it is likely the “deadliest attack on a school” since the beginning of the Syrian war.

“Twenty-two children and six teachers were reportedly murdered today when their school compound was repeatedly attacked in Idlib, Syria,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a statement. He did not specify the circumstances of the attack or the sources of the reports. 

“This is a tragedy. It is an outrage. And if deliberate, it is a war crime,” Lake added. “When will the world’s revulsion at such barbarity be matched by insistence that this must stop?”

Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, said that Moscow will look into the facts to determine whether a possible airstrike destroyed the school, as reports of the deadly assault have so far only been confirmed by groups with tainted reputations and questionable sources.

A general view shows a damaged classroom at a school after it was hit in an alleged air strike in the village of Hass, in the south of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province on October 26, 2016. © Omar haj kadour

Commenting on allegations that Russian jets could be responsible, Churkin said that Moscow will wait for the military to assess the situation.

“It’s horrible, I hope we were not involved. It’s the easiest thing for me to say no, but I'm a responsible person, so I need to see what my Ministry of Defense is going to say,” he said.

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In it latest daily bulletin, the Russian center for the reconciliation of the opposing sides did not mention striking any targets in Idlib province. 

Citing a military source, Syrian state TV did report that strikes had taken place on terrorist positions in the region, but the targeting of a school complex was not confirmed.

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Idlib province is controlled by the Army of Conquest, a conglomerate of rebel groups being run by Fateh al-Sham Front (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra). Under the truce agreed between Russia and the US earlier this year, Islamic State and Al-Nusra fighters will continue to be targeted in airstrikes until terrorists lay down their weapons.