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Syria: Eight children struck by gunfire while leaving school in Turkish-controlled Afrin

Several children sustained injuries after Turkish-backed forces reportedly opened fire in village west of the city, local residents said
Members of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army man a checkpoint in Afrin, on 22 June 2018 (MEE/Harun al-Aswad)

Indiscriminate shooting wounded eight children as they were leaving school on Sunday in the Afrin area of northwest Syria, according to local media and sources speaking to Middle East Eye.

Most of the wounds were light, caused by scattered shrapnel from bullets that randomly hit a children's school located in the village of Mirkan, west of Afrin, in the north of Aleppo province.

The area is under the control of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA), but MEE was unable to verify the perpetrator of the shooting.

Sources, who requested anonymity, sent MEE pictures showing several of the wounded children, some of whom had blood dripping from their heads and faces.

The Syrian Civil Defence team said the children were wounded by bullets fired from heavy weapons when they were leaving their school.

"The children were taken to the nearest hospital in Afrin city to follow up on their health," the team said on Facebook.

A medical source told MEE that the children are in good condition, except for a child who was struck near his eye.

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The village of Mirkan is under the control of the Levant Front, an alliance of rebel groups affiliated with the SNA, whose factions have shared control over the villages of Afrin since they took them from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units in early 2018.

Since then, the Kurdish-majority region has been subjected to widespread violations and deadly internal clashes between rebels, which have resulted in civilian casualties.

Local media reported that the shooting occurred during an attempt by members of the Hamza Division to arrest a Kurdish teacher who had punished one of the sons of the faction's members.

A leader in the Levant Front stationed in the area categorically denied reports that children were wounded as a result of internal fighting or during an attempt to arrest a teacher.

He told MEE that the shooting came from the areas under the control of the Hamza Division, a rebel faction in the SNA, which includes about 28 factions.

"The bullets came from a heavy weapon about seven kilometres from the village, and unfortunately some bullets landed on civilian homes and others near the school."

"It was about six shots. I do not have details of the procedures for holding the members accountable, because it is related to the faction leadership and the military police," he added.

Another leader indicated that the bullets were fired during a test of the efficiency of a heavy weapon by the members of the Hamza Division.

The director of the media office of the Hamza Division did not respond to MEE's requests for comment by the time of publication.

The war in Syria has killed an estimated 500,000 people since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of peaceful demonstrations.