Families take shelter in basements in the Kurdish town of Jindaris near the Syrian-Turkish border, west of the city of Afrin on January 26, 2018. Photo: AFP / Stringer
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) condemned the number of rising casualties among children in Syria’s besieged city of Afrin, along with other cities across the country and questioned if the world is “becoming numb to the killing of children.”
“The grim tally of children killed in Syria in the past two weeks has increased daily as violence escalates in several areas across the country,” said Fran Equiza, head of UNICEF’s operations in Syria in a statement on Friday.
In Afrin, where Turkey launched an offensive eight days ago, families have reportedly been prevented from leaving their homes and are confined to hiding in basements while shelling on their homes continues.
A UNICEF-supported child protection service which includes psychosocial support and child-friendly spaces had to be suspended and a majority of shops and markets in the district are closed.
Of the 23 deaths reported within the last few days, UNICEF stated that 11 children casualties occurred in Afrin.
“UNICEF received alarming reports of at least eleven children killed and many more injured in ongoing violence in Afrin district, north-west Syria,” Equiza said.
Additionally, Ankara’s offensive against Afrin has forced a temporary halt to humanitarian shipments moving across the border from Turkey, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on Friday.
Jens Laerke, spokesperson for OCHA, stated that 123 aid trucks have been put on hold in the past week.
According to UN figures, 323,000 people are living in Afrin and nearby areas under Kurdish control. Of them, 192,000 are in need of humanitarian aid and 125,000 are IDPs displaced from other parts of Syria.
On average, 388 trucks carrying humanitarian aid to the war-torn country pass from Turkey to Syria through the authorized crossing points of Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salam from various agencies following UN Security Council resolutions.
“Wars have laws and these laws are being broken every single day in Syria,” said Equiza, adding that all parties in the conflict must “honor obligations to protect children at all times and to allow safe passage to all people wishing to leave areas under attack.”
Turkey began its ‘Operation Olive Branch’ one week ago with the stated aim of clearing Kurdish fighters from its border areas. Ankara considers the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the armed YPG extensions of the PKK in Turkey, a named terror organization. YPG denies the accusations.
The YPG, under the umbrella of the SDF, have been a key ally of the global anti-ISIS coalition fighting the extremist group in northern Syria.
UNICEF reported the deaths of at least 23 children within the past few days alone as a result of fighting in Afrin, Khan Shaykhoun, Saraqab, Idlib and Damascus.
“Nearly seven years into the conflict, children continue to be the hardest hit by unprecedented destruction, displacement and death. They have lost lives, homes and childhoods. Enough is enough,” Equiza added.
An attack on January 22 in Damascus, which UNICEF states was the heaviest in several weeks, allegedly occurred as children were leaving school. Three of the 23 deaths reported were a result of the attack.
Even families who have managed to flee the fighting are living in harsh winter conditions while others have reportedly been prevented from fleeing areas where hostility has increased.
The Syrian civil war that began in 2011, coupled the ISIS conflict, has already claimed the lives of more than 400,000 people and caused the worst refugee crisis since World War II.