Twelve infants killed in stair 'stampede'

8th December 2000 at 00:00

THE death toll of children killed in a school stairway accident last week has risen to 12.

Primary pupils at the Salim Melkou Al Jariagha school in

the northern city of Aleppo

were crushed beneath older children as they rushed down a narrow stairwell at the end of

the school day.

The accident happened when three young boys tripped on the stairs. Pupils behind them stopped, but they were knocked down by older children who had just been released from their classroom on the landing above. In the ensuing stampede many were trampled on. Most of the dead and injured were only six years old.

Anxious parents, desperate for news, complained that the school authorities refused to tell them exactly what had happened.

"We were just told we had to go to the hospital, we didn't know if our boy was alive or dead," said Mahmoud Saleh, whose three sons all go to Al Jariagha school.

Mahmoud's youngest child, Mustafa, only survived the accident because an older pupil dragged him out from under the older children and dropped him over the stair rail to safety.

The Syrian education authorities ae carrying out a full inquiry into the incident. The school's headteacher, Khalid Aboud Mohammed, whose son was among those killed in the accident, is being questioned.

Akram Zaitoni, the head of the education department in Aleppo, said he would be investigating whether staff at the school had been negligent in failing to supervise the orderly departure of the pupils.

Teachers in the region have hit back at suggestions that their colleagues were to blame for the accident and pointed the finger at a national shortage of staff.

On the day of the accident one teacher at Al Jariagha was away sick, putting further strain on an already depleted staff.

"The whole thing happened in a matter of seconds," said one teacher at the school who asked not to be named. "We should not be held responsible for a government policy that creates these staff shortages."

The accident has sparked off a broader debate in Syria about acceptable levels of supervision in schools.

Teachers representatives are pressing for a general review of staffing levels at the beginning and end of the school day and at break times.

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