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Progress unravelling in Syria as children killed in Idlib strike

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Following reports of an attack on a market in northern Syria on Tuesday, which killed a teacher and young pupil at a school Save the Children supports, we are extremely concerned that the recent cessation of hostilities and small gains in humanitarian access are at risk of unravelling.

The town of Maraat al-Numan was shelled just as the first morning shift at the nearby school finished, when children were on the street. The female teacher and seven year old boy who were killed had just left the school and were walking to the market when they were hit. At least 40 people were estimated to have been killed in the attack.

The past few weeks have seen a new increase in violence across Syria. Al Ma’ra district, where the school is located, has come under sustained and increasing attack, with ten barrel bomb assaults and 39 air strikes throughout April – tripling the number of airstrikes in March. The school has now closed until further notice, echoing a pattern we have seen across Syria. Teachers continue to try to educate children, but one in four schools in Syria has now been damaged, destroyed or occupied by an armed group.

Diplomats and parties to the conflict must come together in Geneva to protect innocent children and ensure that life-saving humanitarian aid reaches everyone who needs it.

The evidence is that currently, despite promises to the contrary, that is not happening. Save the Children teams have received extremely worrying information from Yarmouk, a besieged Palestinian refugee camp on the edge of Damascus, where thousands of children are trapped and on the verge of running out of food, water and medicine as fighting in the camp intensifies. Two children have been killed by sniper fire in the last two weeks and many more have been injured. One of Yarmouk’s two hospitals has been destroyed and the other hospital is now running out of fuel and supplies.

“We are hearing horrific reports from people inside the camp. Families are running out of food and fear starvation. Volunteer medical workers are having to amputate limbs to save lives because they don’t have surgical tools and there are no trained doctors left. Snipers are shooting at anyone outside, and dead bodies are lying in the streets for days because it’s too dangerous to move them,” said Sonia Khush, head of Save the Children’sSyria programmes.

Yarmouk is one of at least 18 areas in Syria that are under siege, as highlighted in a recent Save the Children report 'Childhood Under Siege'. Despite an agreement in February to ensure aid is allowed into besieged areas, there has been little progress. Aid convoys have been allowed to reach only around ten per cent of the more than 4.5 million people trapped in besieged and hard to reach areas, with areas like Darayya receiving no international aid since 2012. Many aid convoys are still denied permission, and vital medicine and medical supplies are still being removed from convoys. Evacuations of sick and injured civilians are rarely permitted.

Since the conflict in Yarmouk worsened in early April, no civilians have been permitted to leave. Residents are increasingly struggling without safe water, food, medicine, electricity, or basic healthcare, and children have been diagnosed with hepatitis, jaundice and typhoid. Many wells have been destroyed and water sources have been contaminated, resulting in a critical need for bottled drinking water and purification tablets.

“Children in Yarmouk are once again subject to and witnessing extreme violence, and in desperate need of medical care, food and water. There must be an immediate ceasefire and aid must be allowed in, or many more people will die.

“Despite the recent cessation of hostilities, we’ve seen an increase again in bombing and fighting across Syria in the past few weeks. The international community must urgently step up efforts to reach a lasting peace deal and get sustained access to people in besieged areas,” said Sonia Khush.


To arrange an interview with Sonia Khush or organisations working in besieged areas, please contact c.anning@savethechildren.org.uk / +44 207 012 6841


Multimedia from families who have recently escaped besieged towns in Syria is here: http://storycentral.savethechildren.org.uk/?c=36024&k=e79070f980