Eight children dead, scores injured after mortar shell strikes East Ghouta kindergarten

 A civilian evacuating a child from Harasta kindergarten. Photo courtesy of Serag al-Sham.

A mortar shell struck a kindergarten in the rebel-held East Ghouta town of Harasta Sunday morning, killing eight children and injuring dozens more, media activists and civil defense personnel at the scene told Syria Direct.

“A mortar shell hit the kindergarten at approximately 10:00 o’clock this morning,” media activist Mohammed Harasta told Syria Direct just after noon on Sunday, adding that additional shells fell on various districts of the town.

Civil defense personnel arrived at the school, named Building the Future, shortly after the strike and transported the injured to the Harasta Medical Center for treatment, triaging critical cases to intensive care units throughout East Ghouta.

Currently, Harasta, located on the western edge of rebel-held East Ghouta, is divided between the Syrian Arab Army and rebel forces. Regime forces control the city’s western and southern periphery, including the highway west of Harasta which leads to central Damascus.

“The barrage of mortar shells came from the regime forces surrounding the area,” Mahmood Adam, a spokesman for the Civil Defense, told Syria Direct. Syria Direct could not confirm the provenance of the shells.

As of 3:00pm local time, eight children had died as a result of the bombing with 25 others receiving treatment for injuries ranging from critical to light, pro-opposition Umayya Press reported.

 Civil Defense paramedic treating an injured kindergartener. Photo Courtesy of the Civil Defense in the Damascus countryside.

“The number is expected to rise” said Civil Defense spokesman Adam, adding that one of the children killed was the son of a civil defense rescuer.

The shelling of Harasta on Sunday comes as the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) continues last week’s ground and air offensive toward Douma, the de-facto capital of the opposition-controlled pocket directly east of Damascus.

So far, regime-rebel clashes have been concentrated around the northeastern pocket of East Ghouta and the city of Douma.

“Most of Harasta is under regime control and it’s not often that its buildings are targeted,” media activist Sarij a-Sham told Syria Direct.

“The rebels in the city use tunnels for movement. There aren’t any clashes with the regime,” he said.

Syrian state news has not reported Sunday’s shelling in Harasta.

The shelling of a Harasta kindergarten comes on the same day as a statement by Human Rights Watch condemning the Syrian regime’s October 26 parachute bombing of a school complex in opposition-controlled Idlib province.

In the statement, Bill Van Esveld, a Human Rights Watch children’s rights researcher, called on the international community to work toward an ending to civilian casualties in the Syrian conflict.

“Otherwise Syrian schoolchildren and others will continue to suffer,” he writes, “and the consequences are unbearable to contemplate.”

Waleed Khaled a-Noufal

Waleed a-Noufal was born in Ankhel in northern Daraa province. He attended high school in Ankhel but could not continue his study because of security reasons. Waleed worked as an activist in his local city council and the Umayya Media Center. In 2013, he moved to Jordan and finished his high school degree. Waleed wants to bring about a solution to the current crisis through his reporting.

Dima al-Dimashqi

Dima grew up in Old Damascus before moving to Egypt to finish her degree in Islamic Law. She joined the Syria Direct training program because she believes quality journalism can contribute to the rebuilding of her country.

Hasaan Idrees

Hassan was studying agricultural engineering in his home city of al-Qusayr when the war began. He has worked with Syrian NGOs in Amman, Jordan.

Mohammed al-Aseel

Mohammad was a law student at Damascus University when the revolution began. Originally from Daraa, he moved to Jordan in 2013.

Tariq Adely

Tariq Adely graduated from Brown University in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in comparative literature and translation. He continued his studies at the Qasid Institute and the Institute for Critical Thought in Amman, Jordan.