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Syria or Russia to blame for Syria school strike, says France

Omar Haj Kadour, AFP | A general view shows a damaged classroom at a school after it was hit in an air strike in the village of Haas, in the south of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province on October 26, 2016.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said either Russia or its Syrian ally were responsible for an air strike on Syria's Idlib province that killed 28 civilians, most of them school children –- a claim rejected by Moscow.

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"Who is responsible? In any case it is not the opposition because you need planes to launch bombs. It's either the Syrians -- the regime of [President Bashar] al-Assad -- or the Russians," Ayrault told a news conference.

"It's yet another demonstration of the horror of this war, which is a war against the Syrian people, which we cannot accept."

Wednesday’s raids hit a school and the surrounding area in the northern Syrian province, killing 22 children and six teachers, the United Nations children's agency UNICEF said.

"This latest atrocity may be the deadliest attack on a school since the war began more than five years ago," UNICEF’s head Anthony Lake said in a statement.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict in Syria, said "warplanes -- either Russian or Syrian -- carried out six strikes" in the village of Hass, including on a school complex.

Russia's foreign ministry rejected the claim, describing accusations levelled at Russian and Syrian warplanes as “a lie”.

"The Russian Federation has nothing to do with this terrible tragedy, with this attack," foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, adding that Moscow demanded an immediate investigation.

Russia's defence ministry also denied any involvement in the incident.

"On Wednesday, October 26, not one Russian warplane entered that area," ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement. "This is an absolute fact."

War crime

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was appalled by the attack, which -- if deliberate -- may amount to a war crime, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Ban called for an immediate and impartial investigation of all attacks against civilians.

"If such horrific acts persist despite global outrage, it is largely because their authors, whether in corridors of power or in insurgent redoubts, do not fear justice. They must be proved wrong," Dujarric told reporters.

United Nations envoy for global education, Gordon Brown, called on the UN Security Council on Thursday to "agree that the International Criminal Court prosecutor conduct an investigation into what I believe is a war crime."

"The Security Council should ask the International Criminal Court prosecutor for an investigation into what is happening in Syrian schools and in Syria as a whole," Brown told reporters.

Syria's civil war pits the Assad regime, backed by Russia, Iran and various Shiite Muslim militias against an array of mostly Sunni Muslim rebel groups, including some backed by Turkey, the Gulf monarchies and the United States.

Russia and China have protected Syria's government from Security Council action to try and stop the war, including vetoing a bid to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court in 2014.

The West has accused Moscow of bombing the war-torn country's civilian infrastructure to bolster its long-time ally Assad.

Western powers and rights groups have also accused Russia of perpetrating potential war crimes in air strikes in rebel-held eastern Aleppo in support of a brutal Syrian government offensive to retake total control over the city.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

 


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