Hundreds of students protested in Syria's northern city of Aleppo yesterday after President Bashar al-Assad's security forces stormed the university, allegedly using live ammunition against students and slinging their belongings out of windows during a rampage that left part of the campus in flames.
The raid left at least four students dead and scores were arrested, according to activists, who said the attack lasted into the early hours of yesterday morning and followed a large anti-government rally which drew 1,500 demonstrators. At least 20 more students were reportedly arrested yesterday as they continued to hold protests.
"Most of the students were back in their dormitories when the security forces came in but others ran there for safety. The security forces were armed with machine guns and rifles and (were) shooting at them," said Abdurrahaman Abu Huthaifa, an activist with the Syrian Revolution Co-ordinators Union in Aleppo. "There was panic, students tried to use desks and tables to barricade themselves in but the shabbiha [government militias] broke them down. We had desperate calls and text messages from people inside saying they were in need of medical supplies."
Videos posted online showed the aftermath of the attack, with shattered glass on the floor and a man trying to douse smouldering flames with a bucket of water. The university announced it will be closed for at least 10 days.
Mr Huthaifa said it was difficult to verify the number killed as the security forces had taken many of the seriously injured, and possibly some of the bodies, with them when they left the campus. The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC) put the number at five, with 200 arrested, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said four had died.
Aleppo, Syria's most populous city and home to a large population of Alawites – the minority sect to which the ruling Assad family belong – has not seen such widespread protests as in the opposition bastions of Hama and Homs to the south, but the university has been the site of frequent demonstrations.
The raid came after what is thought to have been the heaviest day of casualties for the Syrian army so far during the 13-month long uprising. At least 20 troops were reportedly killed by rebels on Wednesday, including 15 in an ambush in Aleppo.
The continued ceasefire violations come despite the presence of UN monitors in the country.
The head of the UN team of observers, Major General Robert Mood, visited Homs and Hama where he said there is still "a good chance and an opportunity" to break the cycle of violence. However the LCC said that gunfire and shells continued in the devastated city of Homs, killing eight, even as the observers visited.
The continued bloodshed and the slow pace of UN deployment has reduced hopes for the monitoring mission. Just 24 of the 30 member advance team were in the country on Wednesday.