UN chief demands investigation into Syria ‘war crimes’ as two more schools attacked

Schools bombed in Douma and western Aleppo after 22 children killed in Idlib province

Lizzie Dearden
Thursday 27 October 2016 19:00
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A damaged classroom at a school hit in an air strike in the village of Hass, in the south of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province on October 26, 2016
A damaged classroom at a school hit in an air strike in the village of Hass, in the south of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province on October 26, 2016

The head of the UN has demanded a probe into air strikes that killed at least 22 children in Syria amid reports of more schools coming under attack.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, said he was “appalled” at the repeated bombing of a school compound in the rebel-held village of Hass, Idlib province.

“If deliberate, this attack may amount to a war crime,” he added, calling for an immediate and impartial investigation.

A wounded Syrian girl cries as she receives treatment at a makeshift hospital following government shelling on the rebel-held town of Douma on 27 October (AFP/Getty)

“If such horrific acts persist despite global outrage, it is largely because their authors, whether in corridors of power or in insurgent redoubts, do not fear justice. They must be proved wrong.”

Monitors and international governments including the US and France said the Syrian regime or its Russian backers had carried out Wednesday’s attacks, in a region frequently targeted in operations against rebel groups including the Islamist Jaish al-Fatah alliance.

But Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for Russia’s foreign ministry, said the allegations were a “lie”, adding: “Russia has nothing to do with this dreadful attack.”

Reports emerged on Thursday of further attacks on schools in a rebel-held city on the outskirts of Damascus and government-controlled parts of western Aleppo.

Bashar al-Assad’s forces were accused of hitting the al-Hashemiyeh Elementary School in Douma, killing a child and seven other people.

The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said the Syrian army had shelled civilian areas, which have been regularly targeted by government fire amid an offensive in the region, which has been under siege since 2013.

Syria’s war: Government forces launch counteroffensive in Idlib

State media reported that at least three children were killed and 14 injured in rebel rocket attacks that hit the al-Wataniyeh School and homes in western Aleppo.

Classrooms and a school building were damaged, the state-controlled Sana news agency reported, publishing a photo showing a young boy covered in blood.

Both regime forces and rebel groups are accused of war crimes in Aleppo, which is divided between government and opposition control.

Syrian and Russian forces claim to have implemented a temporary pause in air strikes on besieged rebel-held eastern districts amid international alarm over indiscriminate bombing in civilian areas.

Anthony Lake, the executive director of Unicef, said the two new attacks brought the total of confirmed hits on Syrian schools to five since 11 October, calling them “simply inhuman”.

“Yesterday, when a school compound in Syria was repeatedly attacked, killing dozens of children and teachers, we thought we had seen the depths of depravity,” he added.

“Today’s reports of attacks on schools in Douma and western Aleppo should deepen our disgust and outrage.

“If the perpetrators cannot find their own sense of humanity, they should heed the condemnation of the world.”

At least 22 children and six teachers were killed, sparking renewed calls on all sides to renew peace talks and heed international law, which has so far been ineffective at stopping the violence.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, now a UN envoy for global education, called on the UN Security Council to refer the bombing to the International Criminal Court.

“The Security Council should ask the International Criminal Court prosecutor for an investigation into what is happening in Syrian schools and in Syria as a whole,” he told reporters.

Russia and China have protected Syria’s government from previous resolutions proposed at the Security Council, including vetoing a bid to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court in 2014.

Vladimir Putin launched his intervention in support of President Assad in September 2015 and has shown no sign of downsizing the operation, deploying Russia's flagship aircraft carrier to the region via the English Channel to bolster firepower.

The latest condemnations came after the UK and US announced the start of an assault on Isis’ de-facto Syrian capital of Raqqa to start over the coming weeks, with Turkey possibly launching its own offensive on the stronghold.

More than 300,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began, with the government, opposition rebels, Islamists and Isis battling for territory.

Additional reporting by agencies

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