Nine children were among 10 people said to have been killed by Turkish shelling near a school in the Kurdish-controlled northern Syrian town of Tal Rifaat, according to a human rights watchdog.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that along with the 10 killed, 21 were said to have been injured by the shelling and fighting the Aleppo province town, which lies about 15 miles south of the Turkish border.
The observatory reports that those killed in Tal Rifaat were citizens displaced from the Afrin region last year when Turkish-backed forces carried out Operation Olive Branch and clashed with predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces.
Tal Rifaat is one of a number of Kurdish-controlled areas near the Turkish border that has come under attack as part of Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring. The operation began in October and seeks to push out Kurdish “terrorists” militias and create a “safe zone” along Turkey’s border with Syria.
Reports of the children’s death at the hands of forces backed by a NATO member drew a response from the United Nations Children's Fund.
“We are shocked and saddened at reports that eight children were killed and another eight were injured in attacks today on Tal Rifaat town, northern Aleppo. All of them were under the age of 15,” Ted Chaiban, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.
“This brings the number of children killed in the north of Syria to at least 34 in the past four weeks alone.”
Chaiban said that the number of children killed in Syria is increasing.
“In almost nine years of conflict, the fundamental principle of protection of children has been completely disregarded,” Chaiban explained. “UNICEF reminds all parties to the conflict in Syria that children must always be protected, they are not a target and those who kill children deliberately will be held accountable."
Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring seeks to push the SDF out of Syrian strongholds near the Turkish border. As a result of the operation, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced as fighting continues.
Turkey regards the SDF, which is largely made up of Kurdish YPG fighters, as “terrorists” and claims that they have ties to the Kurdish militant outfit in Turkey called the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK.) The SDF was backed by the United States in the fight against the Islamic State.
Turkey threatened to launch an offensive last year targeting Tal Rifaat following its offensive in Afrin. But instead, Turkey reached a deal with Russia to halt the offensive. In November, Russia and Turkey launched joint patrols in Tal Rifaat and other areas controlled by the Kurds.
On Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that about 10 other citizens were killed or injured by Turkish shelling in the city of Azaz north of Aleppo. The town is said to be controlled by Turkish-backed forces.
Human rights activists have accused the Turkish-backed forces and their allies of war crimes and displaying a “shameful disregard for civilian life.”
Amnesty International compiled “damning evidence of indiscriminate attacks in residential areas” as early as mid-October. Such evidence includes attacks on a home, a bakery and a school carried out by Turkey and allied armed groups.
One Christian group on the ground in Syria providing medical care and aid to the victims of the violence is Free Burma Rangers.
On Nov. 23, the group shared information about Turkish drone strikes carried out in the northern Syrian town of Ein Issa. The group posted a video on social media of its medics helping out those injured by the strikes.
The group’s leader, Dave Eubank, posted an update video to Twitter on Monday and thanked supporters for praying for their safety as they too have had close calls with Turkish-backed drone attacks.
“It is quiet right now but there was heavy fighting yesterday and Turkish drone attacks against us,” Eubank said.
“In fact, that is why we got our armored ambulance hidden in here so they can’t find it because they can shoot right through this concrete. Yesterday, we came in and were instantly under attack by the Free Syrian Army, which is a coalition of jihadis including ISIS working with the Turks that has displaced over 300,000 people. There was 22 wounded and five dead. I was almost killed myself. The guy next to me was killed.”
“The powers of darkness here are great and we can’t fight them,” Eubank continued. “The human powers: the Turkish army, the Russians, the Syrians, Iranians, ISIS is still here, the Free Syrian Army. We are mice. I thank Jesus that he brought us here and we are behind Him.”