ALEPPO - More than 80 people were killed when twin explosions rocked Aleppo University on Tuesday, the governor of Syria’s second city, Mohammed Wahid Akkad, and a source at the university hospital said.
“So far there are 82 fatalities and more than 160 wounded in a terrorist attack that targeted students on their first day of exams at the University of Aleppo ,” Akkad told AFP by telephone.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that at least 52 people had been killed in the blasts but said the figure could rise dramatically. As well as students , the campus houses some 30,000 people who have fled homes in areas of the city ravaged by fighting since July last year.
Video footage posted by students on the Internet showed tearful survivors taking refuge in a campus building. Activists said missiles fired by government jets were responsible for the blasts. A military source said it was a stray surface-to-air missile fired by rebels.
The explosions struck an area near the university dormitories and the architecture faculty, the Observatory said.
State television said “terrorists launched two rockets” at the university complex, which lies in a government-controlled area of the battleground city. Meanwhile, the army on Tuesday pounded rebel zones with shells and air strikes, killing dozens after a senior official said Assad should be allowed to run for election in 2014. “We are opening the way for democracy, or deeper democracy. In a democracy you don’t tell somebody not to run,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad in an interview with the BBC on Monday.
He repeated the Syrian regime’s insistence that calls for Assad to step down immediately are foreign-backed and illegitimate.
“It is a coup d’etat if we listen to what those armed groups and those elements of Syria are proposing,” said Muqdad. “The president now and many other candidates who may run (in the 2014 elections) will go to the people, put their programmes and be elected by the people,” Muqdad told the BBC. Muqdad’s remarks come after Assad unveiled in a rare speech on January 5 in Damascus his own three-step peace initiative for the strife-torn country.
Elsewhere in Syria, an artillery attack on the town of Houla in the central province of Homs meanwhile killed 12 people, including seven minors, the Observatory said. In Homs city, warplanes struck the besieged districts of Jobar and Sultaniyeh, while in the northern province of Aleppo , an air raid in on the rebel-held town of Al-Bab killed at least ten people, including three women and two children. Near Damascus, warplanes raided the southeast and northeast outskirts of the capital, where the army is pressing its bid to take back rebel strongholds, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists, doctors and lawyers across Syria to compile its reports.
Russia said Tuesday it would be “counterproductive” to refer war crimes committed in the Syria conflict to the International Criminal Court as proposed by dozens of states led by Switzerland. “We view this initiative as untimely and counterproductive to solving today’s main goal - an immediate end to the bloodshed in Syria,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Switzerland sent a petition on Monday demanding referral from the 15-member UN Security Council - the only body that can send the case to the ICC but where Russia wields veto power. The letters’ signatories included many European and Latin American nations as well as Australia and Japan. Only the Security Council has the right to refer the Syria case to the Hague-based court because Syria is not an ICC member. But Russia - a traditional Syria ally that vetoed three prior Council resolutions sanctioning President Bashar al-Assad - argued that a war crimes referral could only escalate the crisis.