MORE than 20 people, most of them children, have been killed after warplanes struck a school in a rebel-held village in north-western Syria today, The Sun reports. The school, in the village of Hass in Idlib, about 46 miles south-west of Aleppo, was hit as children gathered outside the building, according to the Idlib News network.
The school was among several locations target by airstrikes today. The activist-operated network put the death toll at 17 and said most of the victims were children. But another activist group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the death toll was 22, including 14 children and one woman.
There are fears the death toll could rise further with some of the wounded reported to be in a critical condition. Idlib is the main Syrian opposition stronghold, though radical groups also have a large presence there. It has regularly been hit by Syrian and Russian warplanes as well as the U.S.-led coalition targeting Islamic State militants.
It was not immediately clear if the raids were carried out by Syrian or Russian warplanes. Terrifying footage posted by activists online shows a huge plume of smoke rising from the area of the strikes. A chilling picture of a child’s lifeless body lying under a schoolbag is among the footage posted.
Rescuers can be seen rushing casualties away along a dusty road lined with destroyed buildings. A woman’s body is seen being carried on a stretcher while other bodies, covered in cloth and one with only a hat, are lying under shrubs in what could possibly have been a garden among the buildings.
Other casualties are seen being ferried in pick-up trucks. An activist at the scene, Muaz al-Shami, says as many as 10 airstrikes are believed to have hit the residential area. “I don’t want to go to school anymore,” a young girl told her, weeping.
It comes as it was revealed ISIS is slaughtering families and children in the war-torn country by rigging their homes with explosives hidden in everyday items. Earlier in the day, the northern Aleppo province was hit with a new escalation in the violence as a helicopter, believed to belong to Syrian government forces, dropped barrel bombs in a deadly attack on Turkey-backed opposition forces in the border area, Turkish officials have claimed.
The field commander of Syria’s pro-government troops has said any Turkish advances in northern Syria under the pretext of fighting IS militants would be dealt with “forcefully and appropriately.” The barrel bombing was said to have hit the village of Tal Madiq, in a part of northern Aleppo where rival groups have been operating, mostly to rout Islamic State militants.
If confirmed, the attack would be the first by Syrian government forces on the Turkish-backed fighters. Turkey’s state-run news agency didn’t say when the attack happened but said at least two Syrian opposition fighters were killed and five others wounded.
But a Syrian opposition spokesman claimed the attack took place Tuesday. The Syrian Observatory’s chief, Rami Abdurrahman, said helicopters struck while intense clashes were underway between Kurdish-led fighters and Turkey-backed forces in Tal Madiq.
He said that 11 Syrian opposition fighters and five Kurdish fighters were killed in the assault. The Kurdish-led forces are now in control of the village, about 10 miles away from the highly prized IS-controlled town of al-Bab. A senior Kurdish commander, however, denied Syrian government bombings of the Turkey-backed fighters, saying it was an attempted explanation for battlefield losses.
Mahmoud Barkhadan of the People’s Protection Units in the Syria Kurdish militia, told the Associated Press: “They are trying to find a pretext for the loss. No aircraft were involved.” A spokesman for the Syrian fighting group, Nour el-Din al-Zinki Yasser al-Youssef, said the Kurdish-led forces attacked them while they were fighting IS militants in the area.
It was then that Syrian government helicopters followed. The complex terrain is a powder keg and confrontation among rival groups can break out anytime. Ankara, the capital of Turkey, sent tanks, troops and aircraft into northern Syria in August in an unprecedented incursion it claimed was part of efforts to help the Syrian opposition clear the border area of Islamic State fighters.
But Ankara is also seeking to contain the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces fighting the IS group, putting it at odds with its key ally, the United States.
Syria’s military last week threatened to shoot down any Turkish warplane that enters Syrian air space, after Turkish jets raided villages in northern Syria in an escalation of Ankara’s offensive against Kurdish fighters.
On Wednesday, a statement from the field commander of pro-government troops said Turkish advance under the pretext of fighting IS in northern and eastern Aleppo is an encroachment on the Syrian government’s area of operations and would not be tolerated.
The fall of the IS controlled town, al-Bab, to Turkey-backed rebels would threaten the Syrian government’s siege on the rebels in the city of Aleppo, to the west.
Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters on Wednesday that Turkey is determined to push ahead with the offensive in northern Syria dubbed Operation Eurphrates Shield and liberate the town of al-Bab from IS militants.
“Such attacks will not stop us from combatting Daesh,” he said.
“The Euphrates Shield operation will continue. The only goal of the Euphrates Shield operation is to clear Daesh from this area.”