Syrian regime, Russia guilty of 'war crimes' in Ariha
The Syrian regime's bombardment of Ariha city in Idlib province on Wednesday, which left three children dead at minimum and was one of the deadliest such acts of violence in months, has been slammed by rescue groups that accused Assad's troops and Russia of "war crimes".
Save the Children (StC) issued a statement explaining it and its associate, Hurras Network, a Syrian group, determined three children had died, alongside a woman teacher, 28.
Two 12-year-olds and a 16-year-old who were walking with their teacher towards six local schools were among the dead, while 40 or more people left wounded.
"The news of the three students and a teacher killed on their way to school this morning [Wednesday] is unbearable," Sonia Kush, Syrian Response Director for StC, noted.
"All parties to the conflict must abide by the ceasefire agreed last year and protect all civilians, including children."
She added: "Schools must be safe places for children to learn without fear."
Meanwhile, the White Helmets rescue organisation said: "The Assad regime forces and Russia committed war crimes in Ariha city in Idlib… killing 10 civilians, including four children and a woman."
Among the four children it said died was Rimas, 8, who had been "excited to return to school after a long pause due to the spread of [Covid-19]."
"She was holding her father's hand tightly, but he could not protect her from the shells," the group said in a release.
Volunteer Mona Mufalani, who helped with response efforts, lamented: "I carry the body of a child whose only fault was that she went to school.
"It is very painful. The whole world must feel our pain and imagine what if these were their sons or daughters."
Two White Helmets members had a relative killed. One had a brother, aged 14, die, the other, their sister – an Arabic teacher. It is unclear if this woman is the same as the 28-year-old mentioned by StC.
Local schools have been shut pending further instruction, with those on site at the time of the shelling having been evacuated, StC said.
Meanwhile, a key road and market were attacked in the city, with one bomb striking an abandoned house 50 metres or so from a school, leading to "minor" damage, according to the headteacher, Muhannad*.
The attack today on Ariha wasn't a revenge attack, but a systematic attack that has been ongoing for a decade. The Assad regime has been killing an unarmed people, carpet bombing civilian areas and targeting public areas of mass gathering since 2011. They massacre without cause.— Razan Saffour (@RazanSpeaks) October 20, 2021
"When we arrived at the school and the students were there, the shelling and airstrikes started. The students were horrified, they started screaming, we didn’t know what to do," a teacher working at a nearby school explained to Save the Children.
"We were worried the students would get injured as the buildings are not protected. The situation was very painful.
"The civilians were screaming in the streets, everyone was in a state of fear and panic."
Reacting to the bombing on Twitter, one user, Razan Saffour said: "The attack [on Wednesday] on Ariha wasn't a revenge attack, but a systematic attack that has been ongoing for a decade.
"The Assad regime has been killing… unarmed people, carpet bombing civilian areas and targeting public areas of mass gathering since 2011."
* = The names of the Ariha residents' who spoke with Save the Children have been changed.