Twenty children were killed when Syrian government warplanes bombed a mosque in the southern city of Ghariya. The children, aged between 7 and 15, were on their way home from Koran classes at 6.30pm on Tuesday.
Bystanders said that the attack was devastating in its precision. “As soon as the children got out of the mosque, warplanes raided the town. The first raid was near the mosque and a minute later a second raid was right next to it,” a resident named Abu Khaled told The Times. “I saw the bodies of children and their blood scattered in the streets.”
Witnesses said most of the children’s bodies were in pieces, with four small bodies so broken as to be unidentifiable. Videos taken after the attack showed streets awash with blood and several huge craters in the surface of the road.
Abu Khaled said he believed that the children had been deliberately targeted: “The kids come out of the mosque every day at the same time,” he said.
In another attack, forces loyal to President Assad fired Iranian-made “elephant” rockets on the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Douma, killing 24 people, including five children and 14 women, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Syrians living in opposition-held towns allege that their government is punishing them for rising up in revolt. In recent months, as assorted opposition factions have made gains across Syria, civilians say they have paid the price. Barrel bombs fall with increasing regularity on rebel-held swathes of Aleppo, Deraa and Douma.
“The regime has stepped up its bombardment on Deraa and the nearby countryside as rebels prepare for a battle in Deraa city,” a resident of Ghariya named Mohammad told The Times. “But these children, this was a massacre. My nerves have collapsed.”
The latest attacks came as Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy, was winding up his three-day visit to Damascus, during which he met President Assad.
“The special envoy stresses that the heavy bombings by government forces last night on Douma, which caused significant civilian casualties, calls for a strong condemnation,” a UN statement issued at the end of his visit said. “No context justifies the indiscriminate targeting of civilian areas or the use of collective punishment by a government.”
The UN statement also condemned rebel bombing of government neighbourhoods in the northern city of Aleppo that killed and wounded dozens this week.