Attack Date: January 11, 2016
Casualties: Approx. 35 people (at least 17 children)
Notable Characteristic: Multiple schools hit one day in a small rural town
The small town of Ain Jara is located in the countryside about 10 miles northwest of Aleppo. On the morning of January 11, 2016, it suffered dozens of attacks on three schools.
The schools were bombarded in the morning while students were taking their trimestral exams. Both Violations Documentation Center (VDC) and the Syrian Institute for Justice (SIJ) recorded 20 civilians killed (19 children and 1 teacher) in connection with the airstrikes, though others recorded higher casualties of up to 35, including 17 children. Some news reports indicate that this number included several children from displaced families who were attending school there. Nearby homes were affected as well.
Ain Jara is located a distance away from major cities, including Aleppo. Satellite imagery gives a sense of its small size.
This community was an unlikely target for strategic military operations. However, it is possible that the schools were caught in the path of attacks by the Russian Air Force in support of its mission to target infrastructure in order to “reduce the combat potential of terrorist groupings.” The attacks appear to have been part of a larger air campaign that was being conducted by Russian forces against Aleppo and areas like Ain Jara to the north. Sources allege that the campaign damaged or destroyed schools in Al-Atarib, Hawr, Kafr Da’al, Kafr Maya, Meng, and Yanad al-Adas.
Video footage suggests that three schools that were situated in a compound occupying a large hillside area were destroyed or damaged. To hit all three, it seems the warplanes would have needed either to employ precision weaponry or to dump bombs indiscriminately. In addition, guided missiles may have been used.
The tragic losses coincided with talks about an agreement for cessation of hostilities, a Security Council resolution condemning attacks against civilians, and peace negotiations that were being led in Vienna by the International Syria Support Group.
The Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) condemned the killing of children and teachers in the airstrike and called on the United Nations and the UN Security Council to condemn the bombing and to intervene to protect civilians and residential communities.
Stephane Dujarric, the spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, said that the recent attacks on schools and health facilities were cause for alarm and had human rights implications.
Despite the heavy casualties, Russia denied bombing civilians. Ratjer Maria Zakharova, the Director of Information for Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asserted that Russian “air force jets ha[d] flown 311 combat sorties in Syria and attacked 1,097 ‘terrorist targets’… since the start of this year.”
The sequence of events requires a thorough investigation. Part of that inquiry will be to determine whether the attackers treated the town as a whole and its schools as a “single military objective,” rather than calibrating its attacks to hit “separated and distinct military objectives” located there.
An attack of such scale against three schools in a rural area is appalling and has heightened the sense of vulnerability of children and families across Syria as they continue to confront regular intrusions into their daily life and education.