The White House has explicitly stated that either Syria or Russia were responsible for the Wednesday airstrikes that destroyed a school complex in Haas, Idlib province, Syria.
The attacks, which the U.N. Children’s agency have described as possibly the worst bombing on a school since the Syrian Civil War began nearly six years ago, killed almost 40 people and destroyed much of the surrounding area. A local doctor estimated that more than 100 had been injured, and many children who survived had lost limbs.“Out of 120 wounded, there were about 40 children and 30 to 40 women,” he said. “…The rest were various ages, mostly parents, who went to find out what happened to their children and ended up getting hurt in follow-up airstrikes. They were all civilians. There were no terrorists or armed men or fighters.”
“This is a tragedy, it is an outrage and, if deliberate, it is a war crime,” said Unicef’s executive director, Anthony Lake.
Around 10:30 A.M. Wednesday, a series of airstrikes in the village of Haas struck a residential compound that includes a school complex while children were gathered outside. After an initial estimated death toll of 22, the Syrian Civil Defense first responder team and the U.K-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack killed at least 35, most of them children and six of them teachers.
“We don’t know yet that it was the Assad regime or the Russians that carried out the airstrike, but we know it was one of the two,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Thursday.
“Even if it was the Assad regime that carried it out, the Assad regime is only in a position to carry out those kind of attacks because they are supported by the Russian government.”
Idlib, the primary stronghold for the Syrian opposition, has been hit by Russian and Syrian airstrikes as well as attacks conducted by the U.S.-led coalition which is targeting Islamic State militants in Syria (Idlib houses many such extremist groups). The attacks on the school complex on Wednesday were described as one of as many as 10 airstrikes that struck the area the same day.
“This latest atrocity may be the deadliest attack on a school since the war began more than five years ago,” said Lake in a statement released Thursday. “When will the world’s revulsion at such barbarity be matched by insistence that this must stop?”
has said that 2016 has seen some 38 attacks on Syrian schools in both rebel-held and government-controlled areas, while 60 school attacks took place in 2015. 32 children had been killed in school attacks in 2016 in Syria before the airstrikes on Wednesday. In 2015, 591 children were killed as a result of the conflict, said Juliette Touma, regional UNICEF chief of communication for the Middle East.
“In general there are one in three schools in Syria that can’t be used anymore because they were damaged or destroyed or used for military purposes or sheltering the displaced,” she said.
“This latest atrocity may be the deadliest attack on a school since the war began more than five years ago,” said Lake. “Children lost forever to their families … teachers lost for ever to their students … one more scar on Syria’s future. When will the world’s revulsion at such barbarity be matched by insistence that this must stop?”
“It’s a school district,” said Ahmed Sheikho, who volunteers with the town’s civil defense rescue group. “It’s just a tiny, quiet village; there was no justification whatsoever. It was such a difficult scene, so many children torn into pieces, and schoolteachers.
“There was fear and terror and weeping and screams among the families and children. The pain of the people was evident in the faces of everyone. In the mosques, one man was calling out in the loudspeaker that if anyone was missing their child to come find them among the victims who were laid out in the mosque.”
While the war in Syria is increasingly being fought without regard for loss of human life, Russia and Syria’s ability to deny culpability for the civilian attack is being undercut by the claim that reconnaissance planes had flown over the school hours before the attack took place. Many children were leaving the school complex for home at the time of the attack.