The leader of Catholics in Syria has issued a desperate plea for international help, describing how one child was killed and 60 others were injured when a bomb landed on a school playground during a spate of attacks in Damascus.
Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III reported that several children received 'life-changing' injuries in the blast that took place while they were singing the Syrian National Anthem during early morning assembly at the Armenian Catholic School in Damascus' Old City.
Describing how the children suffered injuries to the face, chest, eyes and stomach, the Patriarch said that a further 10 children were injured at about the same time during other blasts in Damascus, one in front of St Abraham's Melkite Church and another in the suburb of Duel'a.
He said that in another suburb – Jaramana – up to 40 shells had fallen within 48 hours.
In a report, sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Patriarch Gregorios said after the attacks on Tuesday (15th April): "May the world heed the cries, tears and the prayers of the children of Syria."
The Patriarch, who is President of the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchs (bishops) in Syria, added: "What is the point of all this carnage tantamount to a war of extermination?
"These attacks on our schools, children, churches and homes are criminal attacks with the aim of intimidating Christians who find themselves increasingly targeted."
Appealing to the "world's conscience in the name of our children", the Patriarch called for help from the United Nations and the European Union
The Patriarch, who is based in Damascus, said: "Where are the United Nations and the European Union? Do you want to kill this nation?"
He went on to call on Pope Francis to intervene. He said: "Syria, appeals to you, Most Holy Father Francis. Help [Syria] out of this crisis.
"We need your prayer, your strong speech, your bold interventions. Send your messengers West and East into the world's capital cities, to bring your message of peace for Syria."
In his report to ACN, the Patriarch described how the disaster had followed the "general rejoicing" over news the day before (Monday, 14th April) that the largely Christian town of Ma'alula, had been "liberated" by the Syrian army.
He wrote: "The inhabitants of Ma'alula are exultant. Lift up your heads, your deliverance is nigh."
Late last year, Aid to the Church in Need provided emergency support for children who fled Ma'alula and went to Damascus, receiving help in a programme organised by Patriarch Gregorios.
The charity has provided emergency help for Christians and others both displaced in Syria and those living as refugees in neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan.
Among those ACN supported were people trapped in the Old City of Homs cared for by Jesuit priest Fr Frans van der Lugt, murdered 10 days ago.