UNICEF: 11 children killed in Afrin during Turkish military operation

Children are being killed across Syria in the ongoing civil war, with 11 killed in the Kurdish-held district of Afrin since the start of the joint Turkish–Free Syrian Army (FSA) military operation in the area, humanitarian aid news portal ReliefWeb reported United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as saying.

“UNICEF received alarming reports of at least 11 children killed and many more injured in ongoing violence in Afrin district, northwest Syria,” the UN agency said.

The Turkish Armed Forces, which has frequently reiterated that it is taking the utmost care during the operation to not harm any civilians, said on Saturday that at least 394 PKK/KCK/PYD-YPG fighters have been “neutralized” since the beginning of Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region. Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply that the militants in question either surrendered or were killed or captured.

Fran Equiza, the head of the UNICEF operations in Syria, “strongly denounced the rising number of child casualties” in the country. “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,” Equiza said in a statement on Friday.

“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,” the statement added.

According to UNICEF, in the past few days, at least 23 children have reportedly been killed due to the conflict in Afrin, Idlib, Saraqab, Khan Shaykun and Damascus. The UN agency noted that the Jan. 22 attack in Damascus was the heaviest in weeks, which allegedly occurred as children were leaving school.

It also stated that the displaced families who fled from violence are living in extremely difficult conditions and are exposed to the harsh winter while others have reportedly been prevented from leaving areas of hospitality.

In Afrin, families are fleeing to other areas within the district, seeking protection in camps already crowded with over 125,000 previously displaced people, living in shockingly difficult conditions and exposed to harsh winter weather. People attempting to flee the area in search of safety, have reportedly been prevented from leaving Afrin.

“In Afrin, violence is reported to be so intense that families are confined to the basements of their building,” according to UNICEF, adding that the majority of shops in Afrin are closed, and UNICEF-supported child protection services have been suspended.

“Wars have laws, and these laws are being broken every single day in Syria,” Equiza stated, calling all conflicting parties to protect children at all times and to allow safe passage to all people wishing to leave areas under attack.

Violence is reported to be so intense that families are confined to the basements of their buildings. The majority of shops are closed and UNICEF-supported child protection services, including a child-friendly space and psychosocial support activities, had to be suspended.

UNICEF reminded all parties to the Syrian civil war that they should abide by international law. “Wars have laws and these laws are being broken every single day in Syria. Once again, UNICEF reminds all parties to the conflict of their obligations to protect children at all times,” it said.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also announced on Friday that the military operation in Afrin had forced them to temporary halt humanitarian shipments across the border from Turkey into Syria. During the past week, 123 trucks of humanitarian aid have been put on hold, according to Jens Laerke, a spokesperson for the UN relief wing.

Turkish forces launched a military offensive  on January 20, 2018 against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Afrin in the northern Syria, opening a new front in the nearly seven-year-old Syrian war. The military campaign includes the use of air power, artillery, and ground troops which has alarmed UNICEF and other humanitarian organizations in the area.

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