Middle East

Activists say airstrike on Syrian school kills 19

A rusty basketball hoop stands amid destruction in the courtyard of the Ain Jalout school that was heavily damaged by reported air strikes by government forces in the Ansari district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on April 30, 2014. AFP PHOTO / AMC / ZEIN AL-RIFAI

BEIRUT: A Syrian government airstrike hit a school in the northern battleground city of Aleppo on Wednesday, killing at least 19 people, including 10 children, activists reported.

The Ein Jalout school was hosting an exhibition of children's art about the war at the time of strike, according to activists. Videos of the scene showed bulldozers removing rubble from the smashed building, with the school's name visible.

The videos showed some of the children's drawings and paintings. One drawing showed a hanging skeleton surrounded by skulls with a child nearby being shot by a gunman in a ditch. The child has a speech bubble written above her head in broken English that partly reads: "Syria will still free."

The videos appeared genuine and corresponded to Associated Press reporting of the events.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which covers the conflict through a network of activists on the ground, said at least 19 people were killed in the strike, including 10 children. The local Aleppo Media Center put the toll at 25 killed, most of them children.

Aleppo, Syria's largest city, has been divided between government forces and rebels for nearly two years, with constant fighting doing little to change the balance on the ground. Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have been carrying out airstrikes and dropping crude barrel bombs in rebel-held districts in the eastern part of the city, at times hitting schools, mosques and markets.

A government airstrike last week struck a vegetable market in a rebel-held town in Aleppo province, killing at least 30 people.

Rebels have hit back with mortar strikes and car bombs. At least 54 people were killed Tuesday in pro-government districts of the capital Damascus and the central city of Homs by a massive double car bombing and a mortar strike.

Thousands of Syrian children have died in Syria's 3-year-old conflict, which began as an uprising against Assad's rule, but has now become a civil war that has killed over 150,000 people and displaced millions.

Parts of the two-story Ein Jalout school appeared to have been completely smashed, according to the videos, which showed blood splatters, twisted metal and children's items, like a little red-heart shaped box. A man speaking in one of the videos said the exhibition was for drawings by children from schools around the area.

An opposition activist from Aleppo now based in Berlin provided the AP with a copy of the invitation to the exhibition to confirm it was taking place. Mohammed Neser, the activist, said he feared that his colleagues who organized the show were now dead.

"I haven't been able to get in touch with them," he said.

Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said "time is of essence" in establishing the full facts behind new allegations by oppositions activists and witnesses that chlorine gas was used in recent strikes on several rebel-held areas.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced Tuesday it was sending a team to investigate the allegations. Hague said the mission must be given full access and must be allowed to carry out its investigation without interference.

Also Wednesday, another six Syrians submitted their candidacy applications to run in presidential elections slated for June 3, bringing the number of contenders so far to 17, Parliament Speaker Jihad Laham said.

Assad announced earlier this week that he will run for re-election. The others who are seeking to run are all unknowns.

In a televised campaign-style appearance Tuesday, Assad and his wife Asma met with parents who lost their only sons in the conflict.

Opposition activists and Western countries have condemned the elections as a sham. Assad is widely expected to win his third seven-year term since coming to power in 2000, and the vote is seen as an attempt to give him a veneer of electoral legitimacy amid the war.





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