Russia denies involvement in killing 26 school children in Syria’s Idlib

France: Russia is responsible of Idlib's deadly attack
A hand of a girl remaining from her corpse, after suspected Assad-Russian airstrikes on Idlib

Airstrikes by Syrian or Russian warplanes on Wednesday killed at least 26 people, most of them schoolchildren, in a village in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province, while Russia denied its responsibility for the incident.

The raids hit a residential area and a school in Haas village, the Syrian Civil Defence rescue workers’ network said on its Facebook account.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Wednesday that the bombing was believed to be carried out by Russian planes and targeted the village of Hass, including the school complex.

“The dead children are students and the planes are believed to be Russian,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based SOHR, which relies on a network of informants in Syria to track the war.

The raids hit the village around 11:30am (08:30 GMT), an opposition activist with the Idlib Media Centre, told the AFP news agency.

“One rocket hit the entrance of the school as students were leaving to go home, after the school administration decided to end classes for the day because of the raids,” the activist said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Civil Defence network, which operates in rebel-held areas in the country, said 20 of the dead in Wednesday’s attacks were children.

Photos taken at the scene showed buildings with walls reduced to rubble, including what appeared to be the school with upturned desks and chairs covered in dust. Idlib

Death toll could rise

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the warplanes had struck several locations in Haas including an elementary and middle school, killing at least one teacher as well as children, though it gave a lower toll of 15 children killed.

There were fears the death toll could rise as some of the wounded were reported to be in critical condition, opposition activists said.

The incident prompted outrage from UNICEF director Anthony Lake.

“This is a tragedy. It is an outrage and – if deliberate – it is a war crime,” he said, adding the school complex had been hit repeatedly.

“investigation of the attack”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Thursday for an immediate investigation of the attack.

Ban said in a statement that the attack, carried out against rebel-held territory, may amount to a war crime if found to be deliberate.

“If such horrific acts persist despite global outrage, it is largely because their authors, whether in corridors of power or in insurgent redoubts, do not fear justice. They must be proved wrong,” he said.

The White House also said on Thursday that either the Syrian government or Russia was responsible for a deadly air strike in Syria that hit the school.

“We don’t know yet that it was the Assad regime or the Russians that carried out the air strike, but we know it was one of the two,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

“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.”

Russian denial

Russia denied its connection to the attacks, while it was clear that no air force, other than the Syrian and Russian, was holding operations in the area.

Russia’s Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin said: “It’s horrible, I hope we were not involved. It’s the easiest thing for me to say no, but I’m a responsible person, so I need to see what my Ministry of Defence is going to say.”

“The Russian Federation has nothing to do with this terrible tragedy, with this attack,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday, adding Moscow demanded an immediate investigation.

Zakharova said claims that Russian and Syrian warplanes had conducted the deadly airstrikes in Idlib on Wednesday were “a lie”. Idlib

President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia had no other option but to clear out what he called “a nest of terrorists” from Aleppo, despite the fact that civilians were also present in the city.

Putin said civilian casualties in conflicts should be mourned everywhere, not just in Aleppo, pointing to what he said were civilians killed around Mosul in Iraq.

“Bells should toll for all innocent victims. Not just in Aleppo,” said Putin.

The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.