Dozens of Syrian children were forced to flee a kindergarten on Sunday after it was allegedly bombed by government forces, highlighting the suffering of civilians in areas besieged by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and the rampant abuses in the six-year civil war.
Video footage shows crying and panicked children fleeing the site of the attack on Sunday, as adults usher them on to go and hide as the adults made their way towards the scene of the attack.
The video was authenticated by the Associated Press and was released by activists of the Ghouta Media Centre, an organisation covering the war in Ghouta region near Damascus. The footage was shot in the town of Kfar Batna.
Activists said several civilians were injured in the attack, but there were no immediate reports of fatalities. Residents said schools had been closed on Monday to protect the children against further attacks.
Ghouta, once the breadbasket of the Syrian capital, has been under siege for years by the Assad regime, and is under rebel control. East Ghouta was supposed to be part of a “de-escalation zone” under a deal brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran to reduce violence in the country.
Instead, the siege has tightened in the aftermath of a government offensive this year. The suffering of civilians in Ghouta was brought into sharp focus last week with images of a starving one-month-old baby, Sahar Dofdaa, who later died of malnutrition.
Doctors are warning that shortages of food and baby milk, which has been caused by the government’s siege as well as predatory pricing by local merchants, have led to a rise in cases of malnutrition, particularly among children.
The UN estimates that 350,000 besieged civilians are living in east Ghouta. Last week, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, described the crisis as a humanitarian emergency and an outrage.
Supplies for 40,000 people were allowed into the towns of Kfar Batna and Saqba on Monday for the first time in weeks.
The latest video highlighted the continuing plight of Syria’s children, who have suffered greatly in the course of the war. They have been killed by bombs, starved by sieges and deprived of an education.
Unicef estimates that 5.8 million children in Syria are in need, with more than 2 million under siege or in hard to reach areas. Attacks on hospitals and schools have been commonplace, and aid organisations are unable to reach all children who need to be vaccinated against polio.