DAMASCUS  - Mortar fire killed at least 15 students in Damascus on Thursday, with state media blaming “terrorists,” as an MP from the southern province of Daraa painted a bleak picture of the situation there.

The Damascus University attack came as battles raged between insurgents and loyalist troops in districts on the edges of the city, and as warplanes targeted rebel enclaves in Irbin and other towns east of the capital. “A total of 15 students were killed in a mortar attack launched by terrorists targeting the architecture faculty,” said Damascus University dean Amer Mardini, quoted by the official SANA news agency.

SANA said six other people were wounded by mortars targeting the faculty cafeteria. The national student union denounced the “cowardly terrorist attack that targeted the architecture faculty of Damascus University,” state TV said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the toll in Thursday’s attack at 13 dead.

Daraa MP Walid al-Zohbi, in an unusual outburst broadcast live on state TV, said insurgents have seized large parts of the south. “Syria is no longer going through a crisis. It is plunged in total war. Terrorism has spread in Syria and so has chaos. This is reality, and all Syrians know it,” he told parliament. Zohbi said the military has withdrawn from many positions and “terrorists from Al-Nusra Front have taken their place,” he added of the jihadist group classed by Washington as “terrorists”. Some MPs tried to silence Zohbi, but he refused to be interrupted.

Fighting also raged on the outskirts of Damascus, despite an all-out army attempt to crush the insurgency, the Observatory said. The air force unleashed new strikes on Irbin, Deir Salman and Nashabiyeh east of Damascus, the Observatory said. Thursday’s violence comes a day after at least 148 people were killed across the country, the watchdog added. More than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria’s spiralling conflict and millions more have been displaced, the UN says.

The UN refugee agency also sounded the alarm on Thursday over reports that Turkey deported Syrians after clashes in a camp where they had sought refuge, but Ankara rejected claims they were forced back home.

Russia said Thursday it will strongly oppose any bid to give Syria’s UN seat to the rebel coalition fighting President Bashar al-Assad. Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said recognizing the Syrian National Council would “undercut the standing of the UN.” Churkin reaffirmed Russia’s condemnation of the Arab League for naming the coalition as the legitimate government and said the League was now playing a “negative” role in the two-year-old Syrian conflict.