Anger flares in Syria after raid on Aleppo University

BEIRUT, Lebanon - Syrian opposition groups were organizing mass protests on Friday, a day after a raid by security forces on dormitories at Aleppo University killed four students and forced the closure of the state-run school.

The dormitory raid was an unusually violent incident for the northwestern city of Aleppo, a major economic hub that has remained largely loyal to President Bashar al-Assad over the course of the country’s 14-month uprising.

A Syrian man rides his bicycle as he passes by destroyed buildings in the Baba Amr neighborhood during the UN observers’ visit to the city of Homs, central Syria.

The attack on a university campus, considered something of a safe space even within Syria’s upheaval, sparked outrage among many residents there. Friday is the day of weekly anti-government protests in Syria, when thousands of demonstrators take to the street calling for Assad’s ouster.

The university announced it was closing until final exams on May 13 following the siege that began late Wednesday when around 1,500 students held a protest against Assad’s regime. Pro-regime students attacked the crowd with knives before security forces swept in, firing tear gas and then live ammunition in attacks that lasted several hours, activists said.

The Syrian National Council opposition group called for a nationwide university strike in solidarity with Aleppo University, but no classes were scheduled anyway on Friday, the start of the weekend in Syria. The group also called on UN observers in Syria to reveal what happened in Aleppo and said the international community through its silence was encouraging the Assad regime to continue with its brutal crackdown on dissent.

“International observers must move to reveal what went on in Aleppo, and the UN Security Council must issue firm decisions to force the Syrian regime to stop tampering with the security and stability of Syria and the region,” an SNC statement issued late Thursday said. The university incident further highlighted concerns that a peace plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan nearly a month ago has done little to stem the bloodshed.

White House spokesman Jay Carney Wednesday admitted the plan might be doomed.

“If the regime’s intransigence continues, the international community is going to have to admit defeat,” he said, adding that new measures might have to be taken, including a return to the UN Security Council. He gave no further details. It was the clearest statement yet that the Obama administration sees little chance for the cease-fire largely ignored by Syrian forces loyal to Assad. Syrian rebels have also kept up their attacks against government forces.

UN: Peace plan is ‘on track’

Meanwhile, international envoy Kofi Annan believes his six-point peace plan for Syria remains “on track” as the truce monitoring team grows to a sixth of its UN-authorized size, an official said Friday.

The assessment came a day after the Obama administration offered a bleaker view that it may be time for the world to acknowledge the cease-fire is not holding in Syria, and other approach might be needed.

Ahmad Fawzi, Annan’s spokesman, told a UN briefing in Geneva that negotiations are being “conducted under the radar” involving the Syrian government and its opposition to cease all hostilities, and “there are small signs of compliance,” despite continuing violations of truce conditions such as heavy weapons in populated areas.

“The Annan plan is on track,” Fawzi insisted. “And a crisis that has been going on for more than a year is not going to be resolved in a day or a week.”

Most observers and diplomats agree that the Annan plan has done little to stem the bloodshed, but so far other nations that back it have been unwilling to say it is dead. US officials say the plan is failing mainly because of Syrian government violations.

Annan, the joint UN-Arab League envoy, is scheduled to brief the UN Security Council on Tuesday by videoconference from Geneva with the latest assessment on implementation of his six-point peace plan.  UN truce observers have been touring restive parts of the country where the UN estimates 9,000 people have been killed since the revolt began more than a year ago.

The head of the UN observers, Norwegian Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, told reporters on Thursday in Syria that there is still “a good chance and an opportunity” to break the cycle of violence. Fawzi said Mood’s team will have “around 50” observers on the ground by the end of Friday, and that the United Nations has obtained commitments from nations for 150 of the 300 observers that the UN Security Council authorized.

“It’s not an advance team any longer,” Fawzi said. “The numbers are growing every day.”

He also said Mood’s truce observers are not being targeted, despite suicide blasts occurring near a hotel where some of them were staying.

Source: Associated Press

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