BEIRUT: A Syrian fighter jet struck a school with a missile in the city of Aleppo Wednesday as teachers and students were preparing an exhibit of children’s drawings depicting their country at war, killing at least 19 people, including 10 children, activists said.
The airstrike came one day after attacks on government-controlled cities killed more than 100 people, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime group, revising an earlier death toll.
Bulldozers removed rubble from the smashed school in the opposition-held eastern part of Aleppo, with children’s drawings and paintings scattered in the debris, according to activist videos.
One of the drawings 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.”
In another video by opposition activists, the bodies of 10 children wrapped in brown and blue sheets could be seen on the floor of a hospital ward while a woman screamed in the background.
The videos appeared genuine and corresponded with reporting of the events by the Associated Press.
The Observatory, 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.
The United Nations Children’s Fund said in a statement that it was “outraged by the latest wave of indiscriminate attacks perpetrated against schools and other civilian targets across Syria.”
Parts of the two-story Ain Jalout school appeared to have been completely smashed, according to the videos, which showed splattered blood, twisted metal and children’s items such as a small 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.
Mohammad Neser, an opposition activist from Aleppo now based in Berlin provided AP with a copy of the invitation to the exhibition, entitled “Fingerprints of Hope,” to confirm it was taking place. He said he feared that those who organized the show were now dead.
“I haven’t been able to get in touch with them,” he said.
The strike came in the wake of an agreement reportedly reached Monday between the regime and rebels in Aleppo, which was supposed to end indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas by both sides in exchange for rebels restoring electricity supplies to government-held areas.
Hours after the strike, the Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, deployed five suicide bombers against regime military targets on the outskirts of Aleppo, where fierce clashes have raged for weeks.
The Observatory said “dozens” of government troops and paramilitaries were killed in the blasts in the Sheikh Najjar and Naqqarine districts, followed by an eruption of fighting that pitted the regime side against Nusra and its Islamist militia allies.
Aleppo, formerly Syria’s largest city, has been divided between regime forces and rebels for nearly two years, with constant fighting doing little to change the balance. Forces loyal to 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.
Rebels have hit back with mortar strikes and car bombs.
Mortar fire also killed three people near the Central Prison complex in Damascus, state news agency SANA said.
A day earlier, a mortar bomb explosion in Damascus and two car bomb explosions in the central city of Homs killed well over 100 people.
The explosions in Homs were claimed by the Nusra Front, which said it was targeting concentrations of shabbiha, or pro-regime paramilitaries. The Observatory said the first blast killed 79 people and the second 21, with the toll set to rise even higher due to the number still in critical condition.
In a statement Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the “horrendous acts of terror against innocent civilians” in Homs and in Damascus, where a mortar bomb killed 14 people, mainly young people, at a religious studies institute. State-run media blamed the Damascus attack on “terrorists.”
The devastating strikes, which stand out for their ferocity even in a civil war that now kills between 200 and 300 people a day, come as Syria prepares for an election likely to extend Assad’s grip on power.
According to Rami Abdel-Rahman, the head of the Observatory, the escalation in attacks is a message from the armed opposition to the regime to say there will be no safe zones during the election.