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Al-Hass

Attack Date: October 26,2016
Casualties: Approx. 38 people (at least 16 children)
Notable Characteristic: Double-tap attack using parachute-retarded munitions.

In 2016, Al-Haas, in the southern Idlib Governorate, was considered safer than many localities in Syria due to the absence of armed groups. For that reason, some 10,000 internally displaced people—approximately one third of the Haas population—settled there, as the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria reported. But on 26 October 2016, an aerial bombing on a complex of five schools killed approximately 38 civilians including at least 16 children. It was one of the deadliest attacks on schools reported at the time.

In addition to children, the fatalities included rescue workers and parents of students who had rushed to the school after the attack to help the victims, a so-called double-tap attack. Over 100 other people were injured.

The attack occurred in the morning. Two Sukhoi SU-22 fixed-wing aircrafts dropped high explosive missiles on the southern neighborhood of al-Haas. Reports and video show that parachute-retarded munitions were used and were dropped at a low altitude, which is typical when bombs of this type are used—they descend slowly to give the plane time to leave and then detonate on impact.

Classes were in session at this time. Eyewitnesses saw a drone in the skies an hour before, suggesting that the area was being surveilled. Because drones had been seen before and no attack had occurred, no one assumed the surveillance was a prelude to an attack.

According to multiple eyewitness reports, there were at least seven bombs dropped by two jets that morning, with a pause in between. The first aircraft unloaded two missiles that hit two of the schools consecutively and killed many children and teachers. The second aircraft followed up with two additional missiles that hit the third school fifteen minutes later while the students were fleeing and their parents and rescue teams were rushing in to help evacuate the children. Although the attacks concentrated on the town’s school complex, they also hit the roads leading to it. The attack lasted about twenty minutes.

Map by SN4HR

Overall, the airstrikes affected five educational institutions: One kindergarten, One high-school, Two preparatory schools, and the Kamal al-Qal’aji co-educational elementary school.

 

Nearby civilian infrastructure was also impacted. Three schools were directly hit—Haas Intermediate School for Girls, Haas Intermediate School for Boys, and Martyr Kamal Qal’aji.

School NameNo. of StudentsNo. of ClassroomsLevel
Martyr Kamal Qal’aji Co-educational Elementary School 587 16 Elementary I
Haas Elementary School for Girls 497 15 Elementary II
Haas Elementary School for Boys 552 15 Elementary II
Haas Secondary School 95 1 Secondary
Free Haas Secondary School 350 9 Secondary

Sad Al Din Zidan helped in aiding the students and reported to Syrian Network for Human Rights what he saw:

“I was in Ma’aret Al No’man when the Free Syrian Army observatory announced that there are warplanes soaring in the sky of Jabal Al Zawiya. The warplanes carried out the first airstrike on Haas village. I headed there and when I arrived, the warplanes carried out two consecutive airstrikes. The sound of the bombing was terrifying and the missiles were dropped by parachutes. A few minutes later, a new airstrike was carried out and it was only 30 meters away from me. We laid on the ground and Dr. Yousef Al Tarraf, who was aiding the wounded, sustained a critical injury. I saw children’s dead bodies everywhere and scattered body parts were all over the place between the destroyed schools. I went down to one of the shelters and found more than 150 students and a number of teachers who managed to get to the basement and save their lives. However, tens of others lost their lives after these airstrikes.”

The attacks have been attributed to joint Russian-Syrian military operations, although the Russian government has denied involvement. According to the evidence available to the partner organizations, it appears that there were “no military centers or weapons warehouses for armed opposition factions or Extremist Islamic groups” in what was otherwise a civilian area.

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The student population and the larger community have experienced devastating impacts as a result of the attacks to their lives. Click here to find out more.

The well-documented attack spurred immediate international condemnation. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other high-level UN officials called for an investigation of these and other similar attacks on schools in Syria.

 

The well-documented attack spurred immediate international condemnation. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other high-level UN officials called for an investigation of these and other similar attacks on schools in Syria. At a press conference on 27 October, the UN Special Envoy on Global Education Gordon Brown called the attack a “war crime” and urged the Security Council to “immediately agree that the International Criminal Court Prosecutor conduct an investigation.”

In addition, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria in its March 2017 report concluded after an investigation that the schools in al-Haas were deliberately targeted that day, stating there were “reasonable grounds to believe that the Syrian Air Force deliberately targeted the Haas schools complex” and that the attack “constitutes the war crimes of deliberately targeting a civilian object and deliberately attacking civilians.