Reported regime artillery fire hits Ghouta school for second time in one week, at least 5 children dead

AMMAN: Syrian pro-regime forces allegedly fired an artillery shell on an elementary school in a besieged eastern Damascus suburb on Tuesday, killing at least five children and injuring “tens” of others, local officials and activists told Syria Direct. The attack marks the second regime bombing on a school in just three days.

A string of reported regime-fired artillery shells across the rebel-held East Ghouta suburbs Tuesday morning prompted school officials in the town of Jisreen to send students home for the day. As students were leaving one boys’ elementary school in the town, an artillery shell hit “the door of the school building,” Bassam a-Tounsi, spokesman for the area’s local education directorate said.

Five boys were dead by Tuesday afternoon, Alaa, director of a nearby field hospital told Syria Direct. 

Syrian state media site SANA did not report the attack.

An East Ghouta Civil Defense spokesman and the director of the Jisreen Media Office, a local news page, both confirmed the regime-fired shell struck the Jisreen elementary school’s main door just as students were heading home for the day.

“There are tens of injured from among the children,” Mahmoud Adam, the Civil Defense spokesman told Syria Direct.

A boy after artillery fire hit his school in Jisreen on Tuesday. Ghouta Media Center.

At least one man was also killed in the attack Tuesday morning, the Jisreen Media Office director added, withholding his name. “He was selling sweets at the entrance of the school.”

In a video filmed by the Jisreen Media Office on Tuesday morning at a nearby field hospital, some of the elementary school’s young students are covered in blood, screaming. Others simply sit quietly, stunned. At least three appear to be dead. Over the body of one, a young man sobs.

At least seven of the wounded, including students from the elementary school, were in “critical condition” on Tuesday afternoon, Alaa, the field hospital’s director told Syria Direct. Among the seriously injured students was one young boy who “lost both his legs,” the doctor said. Five other boys were in need of emergency surgery.

“It is difficult to handle so many injured,” Alaa said, as East Ghouta’s hospitals suffer an “intense” lack of medicine due to an airtight siege by the Syrian government.

The field hospital near the Jisreen elementary school on Tuesday. Ghouta Media Center.

Tuesday’s attack comes two days after artillery fire hit a kindergarten in the nearby East Ghouta town of Kafr Batna, one kilometer west of Jisreen. In a now widely shared video posted online by the pro-opposition Ghouta Media Center, terrified children hold hands as they run from the school along a street filled with dust from the bombing. One boy appears so stunned that he stands alone in an alleyway until an unseen man tells him to run.

At least one child was injured in the attack on Sunday, Siraj Mahmoud, a Civil Defense spokesman in East Ghouta told Syria Direct. Though Civil Defense responders evacuated children from the school, students “were terrified, they were screaming,” Mahmoud said.

“Kids don’t know how to act in these kinds of situations.”

Airtight siege

Both Kafr Batna and Jisreen sit within the southernmost region of East Ghouta, a collection of rural, working-class suburbs immediately northeast of regime-held Damascus. A web of intra-rebel conflicts riles the enclave internally, while Syrian regime forces have held the district of 400,000 residents under siege since 2013. Though a Russian-backed ceasefire has ostensibly been in place in East Ghouta since July, regime artillery fire rains on the territory’s residential neighborhoods almost daily.

The field hospital near the Jisreen elementary school on Tuesday. Ghouta Media Center.

On Monday evening, 41 trucks carrying World Food Programme (WFP) food supplies entered East Ghouta for the first time since September 23, the agency reported in an online statement, though the supplies were only enough to feed an estimated 40,000 people—10 percent of East Ghouta’s population—for a period of one month.

Among the food supplies were “specialized nutrition products” targeted at preventing acute malnutrition for East Ghouta’s children.

In recent days, photos emerged from East Ghouta of emaciated, starved young children and toddlers, deprived of even the most basic food supplies as all crossings into the enclave remain shuttered. At least two East Ghouta children died in recent days of acute malnutrition, the UN reported in a statement released last Wednesday.

Speaking at a press conference in Geneva on Friday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said photos of the starving children were evidence of a “humanitarian emergency” underway in East Ghouta.

With additional reporting by Mohammed al-Haj Ali.

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.

Madeline Edwards

Madeline Edwards graduated from the College of Charleston with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Political Science in 2016. She was a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) recipient in Arabic in 2013. Her studies have brought her to Jordan, Palestine and Turkey.