Five children were killed while playing near a monastery in the Syrian Christian town of al-Suqaylabiyah in what is believed to be an attack carried out by Islamic extremists.
According to the nonprofit NGO International Christian Concern, Syrian opposition forces fired rockets into a regime-held Christian-majority town in northwestern Syria on Sunday, May 12.
Those killed included five children aged 6 to 10, and one woman on a nearby street. Eight others, including six children, were wounded.
“The kids went out to play after some days of calm,” Father Maher Haddad, a local priest, told the Associated Press. The report continued, “A rocket struck near a group of children, instantly killing five and wounding others … the woman was killed in a nearby street by a separate rocket.”
The Greek Orthodox town also suffered widespread material damage as a result of the attack.
While no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, the AP notes the rockets were fired from nearby Idlib, where Al-Qaeda affiliate Tahrir al-Sham and the Free Syrian Army remain active. Tahrir al-Sham has a history of attempting to seize Christian towns in the area of al-Suqaylabiyah.
Syrian state media says that the regime retaliated against the al-Suqaylabiyah attack by firing shells toward insurgents on the southern edge of Idlib province, the last major rebel stronghold in the country.
Fighting has escalated between government forces and non-state armed groups in northwest Syria in recent weeks, according to UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). Since April 30, Syrian troops have been on the offensive and have repeatedly launched airstrikes against rebel forces there.
The escalation in violence has prompted the displacement of more than 180,000 people in the territory and killed more than 120 people, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, said the ongoing Syrian Civil War is a “sad example of the indiscriminate killing of civilians and senseless violence.”
“As the situation escalates in Idlib, many have warned that an increase of targeted massacres would be the result,” she said. “It has started — with Christians paying a high cost as they are often viewed as vulnerable, second-class citizens. Their villages have become a pawn in a greater strategy for the multiple factions involved in the civil war. We must keep the families of the deceased in our prayers, and offer up continued prayers for the safety of those believers who find themselves caught between Syria’s warring sides.”
Open Doors ranks Syria as the 11th worst country in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians on its 2019 World Watch List.
The persecution watchdog notes that the country’s ongoing civil war has left the country in turmoil, and Christians have not been spared from that suffering.
“In government-controlled areas, there is less monitoring of Christians, due to the circumstances of war,” it says. “The political reputation of denominations, churches and local church leaders plays an important role in the level of persecution or oppression they face from groups that are fighting President Assad.”
In September 7, 2018, 12 Christians — including six children — in Mardeh, a Christian village in northeast Syria, were killed in a bomb attack. Twenty people were injured in this attack, which was reportedly committed by an al-Qaeda-linked opposition group and the Free Syrian Army.