In areas of Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Syria’s capital Damascus held by anti-government armed groups, schools have closed for fear that Syrian and Russian warplanes will bomb them. Instead, local residents have opened informal schools in basements, thinking they offer greater protection from attack. But these basement schools are now being bombed too.
This week, according to Syrian rights groups and local media in Eastern Ghouta, an airstrike in the town of Arbin killed at least 15 children and two adults as they sheltered in a basement school. A doctor who saw the bodies sent us a list of their names, and a video he filmed on his phone that is too grim to share.
Other children and schools Eastern Ghouta have also been hit by attacks, and across the country more than 4,000 schools are out of commission, destroyed or damaged. Airstrikes by Syrian forces have hit schools with fuel-air bombs and napalm-like incendiary weapons. The evidence suggests that the Syrian-Russian military alliance has targeted some schools intentionally. Mortar attacks by anti-government groups have also killed children at school in government-held areas. Inside Syria, 1.75 million children are out of school, as are hundreds of thousands more who fled to safety in neighboring countries.
Today, a coalition of Syrian nongovernmental groups arrived in Geneva with a simple demand: to Save Syrian Schools. These groups are under no illusion that Syrian-Russian forces will suddenly stop committing war crimes, but they are demanding a deeper reckoning with the appalling cost of attacks on schools and children. And they are calling on other countries to sign the Safe Schools Declaration: a pledge to protect schools from attack and military use. The more countries make that pledge, the more governments like those in Damascus and Moscow will be isolated. And, one day, perhaps Syria’s children can study without fearing they will be killed in class.