Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Update on the Attacks on Schools in Damascus

There has been a series of updates and new media reports about the rebel shelling of schools in Damascus. It appears that, contrary to initial reports, either 8 or 11 children were injured at the St John of Damascus school, but none were killed. 5 children, however, were killed when a school bus at the Risaleh school in a Christian neighborhood of the Old City was hit.It is possible that when there were reports of four children being killed, and then a fifth, this was confused as being two separate death counts for the two attacks that had occurred almost at the same time.

The most recent English-language reports:


 Statement on Syria by Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East 

 Mortar attacks on schools kill 9 children in Damascus; 29 students injured in the past three weeks

Damascus, 12 November 2013 – The killing of innocent children continues in war-torn Syria. UNICEF is outraged by the latest deadly attacks on schools in and around Damascus.

Yesterday, five children were reportedly killed and 11 injured in their classrooms when shells hit St. John of Damascus School in the suburb of al-Qassaa. On the same day, four children and their driver were reportedly killed after a shell hit their school bus in Bab Touma.

Yesterday’s shelling follows a string of attacks on Damascus schools over the past three weeks. On 6 November, a shell hit Aicha Al Sidika School in the Al Midan area of Damascus, reportedly injuring four children. On 22 October, 14 students and a teacher were reportedly injured when shells hit two schools – Fayez Saeed and Nazeh Monzier – in Jaramana, Rural Damascus.

These barbaric acts must stop. All those with influence in Syria have a moral obligation to respect the sanctity of children’s lives and ensure that schools remain a place of safe refuge.

AP/Washington Post: 

Families grieve in Damascus after attack on Christian school as mortar attacks accelerate

Families in a central neighborhood of the Syrian capital wept quietly Tuesday as they retrieved the bodies of four children and their bus driver killed in a mortar attack on their school in a predominantly Christian area a day earlier.

The strike was the latest rebel reprisal to hit Damascus as government troops press ahead with a crushing weekslong advance into opposition-held suburbs, often relying on indiscriminant artillery fire themselves. Such mortar attacks by rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad have been on the rise.

“Those children were angels,” said Marwan Qabalan, a family friend picking up the body of nine-year-old Vaniciya Mekho from the morgue. He said the girl’s parents couldn’t bear to see her, still dressed in a school uniform and covered with blood.

Often-random rebel mortar fire has hit shops, churches, homes and embassies in the capital this year, killing dozens of civilians. But Monday’s shelling of Risaleh school in the Bab Sharqi neighborhood shocked residents in particular because the casualties were children.

A fifth pupil died early Tuesday, raising the number of children killed to five. Four other children and two supervisors were also wounded in the strike, and another mortar attack the same day on nearby John of Damascus school wounded 11.

LA Times (the only English-language report not from a wire service, but filed from Beirut):

U.N. denounces mortar attacks on schools in the Syrian capital 

 The United Nations on Tuesday denounced as “barbaric” a series of recent mortar attacks on schools in Damascus, Syria's capital, that have left at least four students dead and dozens others injured.

“These barbaric acts must stop,” Maria Callvis, director for the Middle East and North Africa for the United Nations Children’s Fund, said in a statement. “All those with influence in Syria have a moral obligation to respect the sanctity of children’s lives and ensure that schools remain a place of safe refuge.”

No one has taken responsibility for the attacks, but rebel forces based on the outskirts of Damascus daily fire mortar shells at the capital, which is firmly under government control. Civilians often are killed or injured.

The government blames “terrorists’’ — its term for armed rebels — for the mortar barrages.
It is not clear whether  the attackers are aiming at specific targets or firing randomly into neighborhoods deemed to be largely loyal to the government of President Bashar Assad. Attacks Monday killed and injured schoolchildren in two mostly Christian neighborhoods, whose residents are generally regarded as pro-government. The mortar shells and home-made rockets being fired into the capital from rebel-held suburbs are not especially accurate, experts say.

Human rights groups have regularly condemned large-scale government bombardment of civilian districts under rebel control. The daily shelling of Damascus by rebels has not generated comparable levels of international censure. But the rising number of casualties among schoolchildren prompted UNICEF to voice its outrage.

The government said Monday that four children were killed and four were  injured when a mortar round struck a school bus in the Bab Sharqi [Eastern Gate] district of central Damascus. The bus driver was also killed, and two school administrators were injured, according to official accounts. The bus was struck in front of the Risala school, the government said.

Also on Monday, mortar rounds struck St. John of Damascus School in the Qassaa district, injuring 11 children, the government said.

They were the latest in a string of mortar attacks that have hit school facilities in Damascus in recent weeks, injuring more than two dozen children, the U.N. noted.



Damascus School Denies Children Killed in Shelling

The principal of a Christian school in Damascus denied on Wednesday reports that shelling there two days earlier had killed any of its students.

However, four pupils and driver were killed when a shell hit a school bus in the Christian Bab Sharqi area of the city on Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

That same day Syrian state television said fire had killed five people, "all of them children", and wounded 27 at the St John of Damascus school in the Qassaa district.

On Wednesday, however, the school's principal, Father Stefano, told AFP "eight of our pupils were wounded, but none killed".

Meanwhile, the Britain-based Observatory said the shell in Bab Sharqi had struck near a military building.

Government newspapers also reported on Wednesday that "four schoolchildren and a driver were killed" at Bab Sharqi.

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