At least two devastating explosions, possibly caused by aircraft missiles or bombs, struck the campus of Aleppo University on Tuesday as students were taking exams, a major escalation of the violent struggle for control of Syria’s largest city in the ongoing conflict. The opposition and government blamed each other for the blasts, and opposition sympathizers said more than 50 people were killed.
The university’s own press office issued a statement accusing Syrian air force MiG fighter planes of targeting the campus in two missile attacks three minutes apart, destroying buildings and causing “massive destruction in the surrounding roads.” The statement denounced the attacks as a “criminal act.”
It was unclear if the press office statement reflected the view of the leadership of the university, which is in a government-controlled part of the city.
Aleppo, in northern Syria, has essentially been under siege since July, with insurgents and government forces in a stalemate.
Once the commercial center of Syria, Aleppo has been struck by numerous shellings, bombings and airstrikes.
But the university has been conducting classes and trying to provide some appearance of normalcy despite the mayhem and deprivation that have ravaged other parts of the city, and the campus area had been largely spared until Tuesday.
Activists also reported that violence convulsed some suburbs of Damascus, the capital, where members of the insurgent Free Syrian Army were engaged in combat with government forces in the Ain Tarma and Zamalka neighborhoods.
The fighting erupted after a campaign of Syrian Air Force attacks over the past few days apparently aimed at expunging insurgents who were located in strategic areas.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-government group based in Britain with a network of contacts in Syria, reported 52 people were killed and dozens injured in the explosions at Aleppo University.
Syria’s state-run SANA news service did not specify the number of casualties, but did say that the explosions came on the first day of exams.
SANA attributed the death and destruction to at least two rockets fired by what it called terrorists, the government’s blanket description for the armed insurgency against President Bashar Assad.