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Repeated Bombings On Schools Kill At Least 22 Children In Syria


It has been another deadly week in Syria. Yesterday, at least 20 children and several teachers were killed in repeated bombings on a school compound in Idlib. That's a province in northwest Syria that's controlled by rebels and is frequently hit by Russian and Syrian government airstrikes. And today, there are reports of two more attacks on schools, including one in an area that's controlled by the Syrian government. That's all according to UNICEF. To find out more about these bombings, we talked to Justin Forsyth. He's the deputy executive director of UNICEF.

JUSTIN FORSYTH: We know that this is one of the deadliest attacks. But sadly, this is just part of a pattern now emerging of attacks on schools across Syria in the last few years, which seems to be escalating and intensifying. I mean, as you mentioned, we've also had reports this morning of two further attacks. I just got an email from some of our staff on the ground saying in one of those schools, in Aleppo, three children were killed when a mortar landed in a break between classes on the roof of the school. When they got to the hospital, other children were brought in who had also been killed - not in an attack on a school but an attack on the street. So these are attacks coming both from government and rebel sides in different instances yesterday and today.

MCEVERS: You know, these are presumably government schools. These are schools that have been around for some time, is that right?

FORSYTH: Well, some of the schools are private, some of them are more informal and some of them are government. But, yes, you're right, some of them are government or used to be government schools, and therefore they're on the map.

MCEVERS: On the map meaning people would know what these buildings are and would be able to use that knowledge to not target them.

FORSYTH: You would assume so. And, you know, we know from within Aleppo, eastern Aleppo, that the use of these very high-explosive bombs indiscriminately cause massive damage. So, you know, there's one issue about whether these are deliberate attacks on schools. And we know there have been deliberate attacks on children and schools. There's another instance that I know personally of, which is about a sniper trying to kill the children in the playground at schools, which we then had to put up a steel barrier. But then there were mortars fired at the school, even after the sniper couldn't kill the children.

So we shouldn't be under any illusion that - you know, whether it's government or rebel side, there have been deliberate acts against children in schools. Now, whether these attacks are deliberate or not, we don't know. But we know, as you say, that people do know where these schools are. And if they are deliberate, they could be war crimes. Even in wars, there are rules, so we need to have a very clear message to all the different sides in this conflict - is that they need to abide by international humanitarian law.

MCEVERS: I hear you talk about how war has rules. I think anyone who's listening would want to know how can those rules be enforced to stop the killing of children in Syria?

FORSYTH: I think it's, firstly, the different warring parties honoring their commitments in terms of not targeting children deliberately. But it's also - they have an obligation to allow supplies to get to those children. They have an obligation to allow the evacuation. I mean, there are hundreds of injured children in eastern Aleppo at the moment. We should be taking them out of eastern Aleppo and treating their very serious injuries. It's also about making sure that we provide those basic food and water and other supplies to those people. So every warring faction has an obligation to uphold international humanitarian law and ensure, even in the middle of the war, even if you don't end the siege, even if the war doesn't stop, which would obviously be the best-case scenario, that supplies and aid gets to those people most in need.

MCEVERS: Justin Forsyth, thank you very much.

FORSYTH: Thank you.

MCEVERS: That's Justin Forsyth, the deputy executive director of UNICEF, who joined us by Skype from New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.