AMMAN: Pro-government airstrikes killed 20 civilians, including 16 children, inside a bomb shelter near a school in central Idlib province on Wednesday, first responders and sources on the ground told Syria Direct.
At least three airstrikes reportedly hit the town of Kafr Batikh in rebel-held Idlib province on Wednesday morning, members of the local Civil Defense told Syria Direct. First responders identified the source of the strikes as Russian warplanes, a claim that Syria Direct could not independently verify.
During Wednesday morning’s attack, a number of students at the Kafr Batikh Elementary School reportedly fled to a nearby bomb shelter, Layth Faris, a member of the Saraqeb Civil Defense who responded to the scene, told Syria Direct. At approximately 10am, two further airstrikes landed near the shelter, causing it to collapse on those hiding inside, he said.
“It took four hours for us to find all of the dead,” Faris told Syria Direct on Wednesday. “Talking about it is different from seeing it.”
A destroyed bomb shelter in the village of Kafr Batikh on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Omar Haj Kadour/AFP.
Videos and pictures posted to social media by the Civil Defense and local media organizations on Wednesday appear to show first responders carrying lifeless children in their arms as other first responders use heavy equipment to bore into the collapsed shelter in search of survivors.
“There were children huddled together in a corner—all still wearing their backpacks,” Faris said. “Even those with hearts of stone cried when they went into the shelter.”
Kafr Batikh is a small village located approximately 20km southeast of Idlib city, the provincial capital of Syria’s largest remaining rebel enclave.
Hasan al-Mukhtar, a local journalist and photographer who filmed the aftermath of Wednesday’s airstrikes, claimed there is “no military presence” there in a conversation with Syria Direct. Kafr Batikkh lies 20km west of the nearest rebel frontlines with pro-government forces.
First responders excavate a collapsed bomb shelter in Kafr Batikh on Wednesday. Photo Courtesy of Idlib Civil Defense.
Idlib province is one of four “de-escalation” zones across Syria outlined in a Russian- and Iranian-brokered deal announced last May.
The hardline rebel alliance Ha’yat Tahrir a-Sham, which controls large swathes of Idlib province, as well as other designated rebel factions are excluded from the de-escalation deal.
HTS controlled Kafr Batikh until late February, when the rival opposition coalition Jabhat Tahrir Souria (JTS) took control of the village.