Syria Weekly: Assad regime marks World Children's Day by bombing refugee camp with ballistic missiles
With around 24 people killed and scores injured, the attacks - which included the bombing of other opposition areas - made Wednesday one of the bloodiest nights in Idlib in recent months, an area that is supposed to be protected by a ceasefire.
Activists and monitors say that the ballistic missiles were loaded with cluster bombs and struck the camp hosting 7,000 internally-displaced Syrians near the town of Qah, northern Idlib, late on Wednesday evening.
Another missile partially damaged a nearby maternity hospital, killing two women and four children, while medical workers and other patients were also injured.
Videos showed the inferno that decimated parts of the camp, after shrapnel had ripped through rows of tents that were home to thousands of refugees.
The two horrific missile strikes killed 12 people, including seven children and three women, The White Helmets told The New Arab, while 52 people were also injured, some of them seriously. Other reports stated that 13 children lost their lives that day.
The more seriously injured were taken to hospitals in Turkey for treatment, a country that is one of the "guarantors" of the ceasefire agreement with Russia.
Most of the refugees in the camp had already fled to Qah after their towns and villages in southern Idlib and northern Hama were destroyed in Russian and regime bombing.
"We regret that even refugee camps have become a target for the regime, Russia and their allies. I cannot imagine the feeling of the families of the martyrs who [lived] in the camp where there were no life necessities available," Khalid Khatib, media coordinator for The White Helmets said.
"They thought that the camp would protect them from bombing... but they discovered that death can go after them anywhere, so long as the international community does nothing."
Since a new military offensive on Idlib and nothern Hama began in April, at least 304 children have been killed. The opposition territoris have witnessed almost daily regime and Russian aerial bombardments and shelling causing hundreds more injuries.
Workers from The White Helmets have managed to rescue 757 children following attacks on towns and villages, but many have been left with life-changing injuries and are now mentally scarred by their experiences of the bombing.
The sickening irony was that the attacks coincided with World Children's Day, a time when NGOs and families remembered the children who have been victims of war.
The White Helmets said that at least 29,017 children have been killed since March 2011.
"Little souls who could have grown up to be mothers, fathers, teachers, doctors and farmers," the civil rescue team tweeted this week.
Earlier on Wednesday, SAMS marked World Children's Day with a sombre tweet, stating that another air raid had resulted in 15 injured people being treated at a hospital near Maarat al-Numan, many of them children, while it put the death toll from the Qah attack at 16.
"Today, as we celebrate World Children's Day, innocent children in Idlib have been subjected to this unlawful, inhumane bombardment," said SAMS President Dr Mufaddal Hamadeh in a statement on Wednesday.
"We are appalled by this egregious disregard for human life, especially on a day when we are supposed to celebrate our future generations."
|We are appalled by this egregious disregard for human life, especially on a day when we are supposed to celebrate our future generations
Nearly half of Syrian children aged under eight have "known nothing but violence, displacement and tragic loss", the group added.
Children make up around half of the 11 million Syrian refugees, mostly either internally-displaced or living in camps in neighbouring countries.
Tents are the only homes some of them have known, while 2.8 million children have missed out on school, according to UNICEF.
"We ask you to stand with the thousands of Syrian children who continue to bear the brunt of the conflict," SAMS added.
Save The Children said that four of the children who died in the Qah massacre were students at a school supported by the charity.
One of the survivors of the massacre, a mother-of-three who was also a teacher of one of the child victims, told Save The Children what happened that night.
"We heard loud explosions. The power went off. My children and I were at home. I felt dust covering us and I couldn't see anything as I lay over my children to protect them.
"They were scared and crying. My son had a seizure because of how scared he was. I could hear the sound of women and children crying outside… I could see my neighbours being taken out of the rubble with body parts strewn about," she said in an audio video shared on Twitter.
"One of the victims was my student, she was a good and brilliant student. Earlier that day I had filmed her during a play at school. She wanted to be a doctor so she could help people. Little did she know she was going to be the victim."
|One of the victims was my student, she was a good and brilliant student. Earlier that day I had filmed her during a play at school. She wanted to be a doctor so she could help people. Little did she know she was going to be the victim
Russia and the Syrian regime have launched an ongoing war on civilian infrastructure in the Idlib province, with schools and hospitals among the targets.
In the past seven months of bombing, there have been 65 attacks on 47 health facilities in Idlib province.
Ranim Ahmed, Communications Officer at The Syria Campaign, told The New Arab that the air campaign has had a devastating impact on the lives of children in Idlib.
"We are heartbroken and angry that the regime and its ally Russia continue to target civilians in Idlib with zero consequences. It is not only hospitals and civil defence centres - which provide vital life-saving services - that are being attacked, but also children in their homes and schools are subject to brutal bombing," she said.
"It is clear that the regime and Russia are targeting densely-populated areas. Parents are terrified to send their children to school or to playgrounds. If the killing of 13 children on World Children's Day doesn't move the international community, then what will?" she asked.
At least 50 schools in the Idlib province have been targeted in bombings or have been taken by regime forces. Local children have not been allowed to attend them, Ahmed added.
Despite the inexcusable hardships they have endured during the war, UNICEF also noted in a report last year that despite all the odds, 4.9 million Syrian children are attending school.
Families have ensured that their children don't miss out on the opportunity to go to school, regardless of the obstacles in their way, while NGOs and activists, both inside and outside Syria, are doing what they can to assist.
Mahmoud Abbi opened the New Day Center in Idlib to provide 30 children with English lessons, in a province where many schools have been destroyed or had to close.
The classes have been so successful that they will expand their operations, to give more children the opportunity to go to school and learn a wider variety of subjects.
"They come to school despite the bombings and shelling. They are happy that they are being taught despite a war and are able to feel normal," he told The New Arab.
"These children are our future and they deserve our attention."
Paul McLoughlin is a news editor at The New Arab.
Follow him on Twitter: @PaullMcLoughlin