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Thursday, 23 March 2017 - 7:32am

Children are being killed and injured in a major escalation of fighting around Hama, Idlib and Damascus, with thousands of families fleeing in the past 24 hours.

Save the Children has been forced to suspend schools and other non-emergency programming, and to turn its primary healthcare clinics into makeshift hospitals to treat the injured. 

Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria Director, said: “Reports from humanitarian staff on the ground suggest at least 10,000 people have had to flee their home in the Hama area alone in the last day. In Idlib, which is already sheltering more than 500,000 internally displaced people, increased airstrikes and violence on the ground means there are few safe places left for people to escape to.” 

The last few days and weeks, have once again seen a sharp spike in attacks on civilians and schools. 

Reports that a school sheltering dozens of families who had fled their homes near Raqqa was bombed this week and at least 33 people killed are extremely troubling and Save the Children is calling for a swift and independent investigation into the attack. Internally displaced people often use schools as shelters as they expect them to be safer, but in Syria schools have been hit time and again. 

On Tuesday, three children who attended a Save the Children partner-supported school were also killed when bombs destroyed their homes in Idlib. The students were evacuated from the school after numerous jets were heard overhead but were killed when the bombs struck the village. 

The extreme danger facing students in Idlib and Aleppo has forced 16 schools and learning spaces to close this week, with more than 8,300 children forced out of school due to the shutdown. But attacks are also devastating schools throughout Syria. 

After six years of war, Syria’s education system has been utterly ravaged. One in three schools in the country are out of use having been damaged, destroyed or occupied by military forces. Many school facilities are also being used as shelters for families displaced from other areas, as this school in Raqqa was. Nearly two million children are out of school, while a recent report by Save the Children found that 50 percent of children who are able to go to school do not feel safe there.

“All sides in Syria have committed abuses against children, and on a weekly basis we have seen schools bombed out of existence and students killed in classrooms or as they brave their way to class,” said Khush. 

“We have repeatedly called for an immediate end to the targeting of schools and for greater protection of children. Yet all sides continue to show callous indifference and continue to regularly kill civilians and destroy civilian infrastructure.” 

Save the Children supports more than 60 schools and temporary learning spaces in Syria, including basement schools and reinforced facilities in areas under heavy bombardment. 

We are also co-chairing the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack which aims to secure firm commitments from world leaders to protect students, teachers and schools from attack in situations of armed conflict.  As of today, 60 states have endorsed the “Safe Schools Declaration” and pledged to restore access to education when schools are attacked, to deter such violence by promising to investigate and prosecute war crimes involving schools, and minimize the use of schools for military purposes so they do not become targets for attack. Many of these states will meet next week during the Second International Conference on Safe Schools that is taking place on 28 and 29 March in Buenos Aires. 

Please contact media@savethechildren.org.uk or our 24 hour media line +44 7831 650 409 for more information or to arrange an interview.