Aleppo students killed, injured in campus attacks

Syrian forces targeted student dormitories during an anti-government protest at Aleppo University early on Thursday, firing teargas and bullets into the crowd. Four students were killed in the attack, 28 people were injured and around 200 students were reportedly arrested.

Three of the wounded were in a critical condition, according to a statement from the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The student quarters, known as ‘University City’, comprises 20 dormitories that house more than 5,000 students next to the university campus. Students there often shout anti-President Bashar al-Assad slogans from their rooms at night.

According to the Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre, or SUIC: “University students have always played a key role in the revolution, especially the students of Aleppo University.” Media also reported student demonstrations at Deir Ezzor University, the Daraa campus of Damascus University and other campuses.

Video footage and locals in Aleppo reported that knife-wielding pro-regime students attacked around 1,500 other students who were protesting against the Assad regime. This was followed by an attack by security forces, who fired teargas and then live ammunition at the protestors.

Students and their belongings were also thrown out of dormitories. Video clips posted on YouTube show ransacked student rooms, smashed windows, damaged walls and some fire damage. Some students have reportedly returned home but other continued demonstrating.

As a result Aleppo University, the second largest institution in Syria after the University of Damascus, suspended classes until final examinations next Friday, according to a message posted on its website.

The SUIC said: “To avoid embarrassment during the presence of the UN observers, the regime has now decided to close the university grounds ‘for maintenance’ until their mission expires on 13 May.”

An advance team of UN observers arrived in Syria on 16 April and their presence has slowly increased, with the monitors due to reach their full complement of around 300 in the coming weeks.

They are in Syria to monitor the ceasefire and implementation of the six-point peace plan brokered by the former UN secretary-general and Arab League Envoy, Kofi Annan. The plan calls for a halt to fighting, the withdrawal of heavy weapons from urban areas, a humanitarian ceasefire, media access, an inclusive political process, the right to demonstrate and the release of detainees.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the university’s closure had sent “ripples across Syria as some in the opposition wondered aloud whether the major city was finally fully joining the uprising”.

It said that while Aleppo had largely been on the sidelines since the uprising against al-Assad began more than a year ago, after the attack “demonstrations were held throughout the day across the city in support of the students, including a large group of lawyers who protested at the Palace of Justice”.

This is not the first attack on students at the Aleppo Univerity in the northern city of Aleppo, which is Syria's second biggest city after the capital Damascus.

Earlier this year the Syrian Emergency Taskforce (SETF) issued a statement requesting that the Arab League send an observer mission to review and report on the conditions under which students were living as they attempt to complete their education.

The SETF also called on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to raise the matter urgently before the Human Rights Council, with a view to issuing a statement condemning any and all acts committed against the civilian population in Syria.

Syrian academics have for some time held small protests, but recently student protests in Aleppo have been escalating.

The academic community has formed a Union of Free Syrian Professors and has joined forces with the Union of Syrian Free Students (USFS) against the Syrian regime, which Bashar al-Assad's family has controlled for 42 years.

"Once again, we [are] raising SOS signs and are calling upon international and regional higher education and students organisations to provide some sort of protection to Syrian universities’ staff and students before it becomes too late,” a spokesperson of the USFS told University World News.

The UN estimates that at least 9,000 people have died in the conflict since March 2011, while opposition groups put the death toll at more than 11,000.