At least 22 children and six adults have died after Russian or regime air strikes hit a school complex in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province, in what is thought to be one of the worst attacks on children in the five-and-a-half-long conflict.
Activists and the local civil defence service in Idlib - which neighbours the divided city of Aleppo - sent pictures too graphic for publication of dead children of around seven to ten years of age with bloodied faces and limbs torn off from the force of explosions after six strikes on the village of Hass on Wednesday.
Tiny bodies wrapped in grey blankets were laid out in the village mosque, some with their colourful school bags and books next to them.
Video posted by activists online showed smoke rising from buildings in Hass and rescuers carrying casualties away down a dust-covered road on which several other buildings have been destroyed. While the images and footage cannot be independently verified, they are consistent with monitor and agency reports.
Unicef said that 27 people died in the attacks, while the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 35.
“This is a tragedy. It is an outrage. And if deliberate, it is a war crime,” Unicef director Anthony Lake said in a statement, adding that the incident - in which the school was hit repeatedly - was probably the deadliest to hit a school in the entire of Syria’s bloody civil war.
“When will the world's revulsion at such barbarity be matched by insistence that this must stop?” he added.
Syrian state media said that a number of rebels had been killed after strikes on targets in Hass, but did not mention a school or civilian casualties.
When asked about the incident, Russia’s ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin responded: “It's horrible, horrible. I hope we were not involved.”
Syrian government forces and their Russian ally have been accused by rights groups and Western governments of carrying out indiscriminate attacks on civilian infrastructure several times in the past, and particularly in the renewed offensive to retake rebel-held parts of Aleppo city.
Moscow said on Wednesday that neither Russian or Syrian warplanes have dropped bombs on neighbouring east Aleppo in the past nine days - a claim disputed by monitors and residents in the city.
Idlib province, however, was not included as part of a humanitarian pause announced by Russia last week to allow civilians and rebels to leave the besieged east side of the city.
Wednesday’s attack took the number of civilians killed in air strikes on Idlib to 89 in the past seven days, SOHR reported.
Also on Wednesday, Amnesty International put out a new call for the US to address reports of civilian casualties in coalition air strikes targeting Isis in the north of Syria.
The rights group said that its research pointed to more than 300 civilian deaths in recent US-led bombings, and called for a thorough investigation.
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