Russian airstrikes on a school in the north-western province of Idlib killed 20 people yesterday, including 16 children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The school, in the village of Kafr Batikh, was shelled by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad yesterday morning, after which children evacuated to a nearby underground shelter, which was bombed in a second strike minutes later. The White Helmets civil defence unit rescued children from the rubble; the majority of the dead were between the ages of two and 11. Some 15 of those killed in the strike were reportedly from one family.
At 10:07 today 21 Mar 18 a Russian Su34 aircraft dropped a bomb on a school in Kafr Batikh (near Saraqueb, Idlib). The children evacuated to a nearby underground shelter which was bombed in a second strike minutes later. 16 children were killed, together with 3 women and 1 man. pic.twitter.com/4XgNLA297K
— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) March 21, 2018
The incident marks the second massacre this week, after 22 people were killed at a camp for internally displaced people in Hass, in the south of Idlib. Footage from the scene showed tents destroyed and supplies strewn across the ground amid tens of dead and wounded civilians.
Shelling has also taken place in densely populated towns in Idlib, as well as in the north of Hama in the past weeks, destroying buildings and injuring many in towns such as Khan Sheikhoun, which witnessed the chemical attack last April that killed nearly 100 people.
The Assad regime has intensified bombing on the opposition-held province in recent months, despite the region being a designated de-escalation zone as per the Astana agreement between Russia, Iran and Turkey. Some three million people, including tens of thousands who have fled from other areas in Syria, are believed to have taken refuge in the region, which also hosts numerous armed anti-government factions.
Russian forces have also bombed several hospitals in the north this year, the seventh being in the town of Hass, which was reportedly targeted after military drones followed ambulances transporting the wounded from the scene of another bombing.
The repeated strikes have prompted widespread condemnation, with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) expressing alarm at the targeting of healthcare centres by the Syrian regime and its allies.
"Civilian areas – specifically healthcare facilities – are being hit in north-western Syria," said Omar Ahmed Abenza, MSF head of mission for north-western Syria. "The strikes, despite their regularity during the seven years long conflict, are currently at an intensity that should be a landmark, another wake-up call."
The UN has repeatedly condemned the targeting of hospitals and civilian areas by the Syrian regime, and at the end of January, emphasised the need to respect the region's de-escalation status.
The Syrian government has also been working in tandem with Daesh militants to advance into Idlib, opening a corridor last month to allow so-called Daesh fighters to move into the province and take control of a number of villages. However, opposition groups announced their success over Daesh a week later, after some 250 militants surrendered following intense clashes.