BEIRUT: An airstrike on a high school killed 16 people, most of them students and teachers, in a rebel-held city in northern Syria Sunday, activists said.
“The Syrian air force bombed a technical high school in the city of Raqqa, killing 16 people, among them 10 students aged under 18, and wounding many others, some critically,” the opposition-aligned Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, updating an earlier toll.
The Britain-based group posted video footage showing mangled bodies, one lying under schoolbooks.
An opposition activist in the city with the Raqqa Media Center, using the name Mohammad al-Raqqawi, told The Daily Star that the strike hit at around 9 a.m., when many students were gathered in the courtyard of the school in the neighborhood of Corniche al-Fourat.
“All the windows of the school were broken, I saw a piece of skull on the ground, some of the students’ bowels were showing,” he said, adding that some 35 students were injured and taken to the Raqqa national hospital.
Raqqawi said there were no major rebel military installations near the relatively remote school and he believed it was targeted deliberately.
“There is nothing surrounding the school at 200-meter distance and everyone knew it’s the beginning of the academic year, so the school was targeted on purpose.”
The Observatory quoted a survivor saying, “There was panic, with children crying as they sought to take shelter.”
Raqqa, in the Euphrates River valley 160 kilometers east of the main northern city of Aleppo, is the only provincial capital entirely in rebel hands.
Captured from government forces on March 6, the city is now largely controlled by Al-Qaeda loyalists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.
The airstrike came after rebels launched an overnight attack on army positions in Naseriya al-Qalamon, north of Damascus, killing at least 19 soldiers and wounding 60, the Observatory said.
“There were also losses in the ranks of the rebels, who succeeded in capturing several positions,” it added, without giving a figure.
Meanwhile, the bodies of 14 pro-regime militiamen killed in Zamalka east of Damascus were transported to their native city of Homs, the Observatory said.
The army said it killed “a large number” of rebels in Neshabia, north of the capital.
Violence has raged for months around Damascus, as the army has fought hard to keep the rebels out of the city.
Activists say the army has for months besieged rebel-held areas, mainly east and southwest of Damascus.
The Observatory, meanwhile, updated its toll to 34 for a Friday car bombing at a mosque in Rankous, north of the capital. Four children were among the casualties, it said.
In southern Syria, after four days of fighting that killed 26 soldiers and “a large number” of rebels, among them seven non-Syrians, the opposition took a customs building and an area linking Deraa to the Golan Heights, the Observatory said.
A security source downplayed the development, saying: “We cannot say the terrorist groups have taken over this or that position, because the situation shifts. The fighting continues.”
Amman, meanwhile, protested to Damascus after a shell struck the northern Jordanian city of Ramtha three days ago during clashes between the Syrian army and rebels.
“The Foreign Ministry has sent a written protest to the Syrian Embassy in Amman after a shell landed Thursday night on Al-Falah mosque, near the industrial park in the northern city of Ramtha,” Mohammad Momani said in a statement carried by state-run Petra news agency.
“The shell hit that area during clashes between the Syrian troops and the [rebel] Free Syrian Army.”
In what Petra termed its “strong protest,” Momani said the Foreign Ministry “stressed the need to take measures to prevent such incidents in the future.”
In August last year, four rockets fired from Syria crashed inside a Jordanian northern border area, wounding a young girl and sparking an earlier letter of protest.