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Families mourn victims slain in Syria school attack

Mortar shelling killed 4 children and bus driver

DAMASCUS — Families in a central neighborhood of the Syrian capital wept quietly Tuesday as they retrieved the bodies of four children and their bus driver killed in a mortar attack on their school in a predominantly Christian area a day earlier.

The strike was the latest rebel reprisal to hit Damascus as government troops press ahead with a crushing weekslong advance into opposition-held suburbs, often relying on indiscriminate artillery fire themselves. Such mortar attacks by rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad have been on the rise.

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‘‘Those children were angels,’’ said Marwan Qabalan, a family friend picking up the body of 9-year-old Vaniciya Mekho from the morgue. He said the girl’s parents could not bear to see her, still dressed in a school uniform and covered with blood.

Often-random rebel mortar fire has hit shops, churches, homes, and embassies in the capital this year, killing dozens of civilians. But Monday’s shelling of Risaleh school in the Bab Sharqi neighborhood shocked residents in particular because the casualties were children.

A fifth pupil died early Tuesday. Four other children and two supervisors were also wounded in the strike, and another mortar attack the same day on nearby John of Damascus school wounded 11.

Also Tuesday, Kurds announced a transitional autonomous administration to run day-to-day affairs in regions they dominate in Syria’s northeast. Nawaf Khalil, a spokesman for the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, said the announcement was made in the city of Qamishli.

The Kurdish move could be a first step toward setting up an autonomous region similar to one they administer in northern Iraq. It was not immediately clear however if other groups supported the announcement by the PYD and a few other small groups.

In Damascus, the morgue visit was organized for journalists by Syrian officials who otherwise typically restrict reporters’ access to events. All victims were Christians.

Associated Press TV footage showed pallbearers placing a small white coffin with a gold cross on the lid into the back of a hearse. Three men carried out another coffin, as women dressed in black cried out: ‘‘What a waste, what a shame!’’

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