Syria's uprising appears to have intensified in the city of Aleppo after the killing of university students there. Protests are reportedly being staged across the nation in solidarity with the demonstrators in Aleppo.
Anti-regime activists staged large demonstrations in Aleppo on Friday, as tensions in Syria's second city rise over the killing of students in a university dormitory at the hands of government security forces earlier this month.
Security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition in an attempt to disperse the thousands of protesters who took to Aleppo's streets on Friday. The head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the violence in Syria, said the events showed "it's a real uprising happening in Aleppo these days."
"Thousands of people demonstrated in various districts (of Aleppo) despite the repression," Rami Abdel Rahman told the news agency AFP.
"These are the most important events in Aleppo since the beginning of the revolt," he said.
Aleppo, Syria's most populous city, has largely remained loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout most of the 15-month uprising. The city is an economic hub and has a large population of ethnic and religious minorities who have been skeptical of what a post-Assad future would bring.
'Heroes of Aleppo University'
On May 3, government security forces launched a night time raid against a dormitory at Aleppo University, killing four students. Around 15,000 people demonstrated outside the gates of Aleppo University on Thursday in the presence of UN observers. Security forces broke up the protest.
Aleppo-based activist Mohammad Saeed told the Associated Press that Friday's demonstrations were the largest yet, with more than 10,000 protesting in the Salaheddine and al-Shaar districts alone and thousand more protesting in other areas of the city.
"The number of protesters is increasing every day and today saw the biggest protests," said Saeed, adding that several people were wounded by government forces.
In solidarity with the students, protesters rallied across Syria on Friday in nationwide demonstrations dubbed "The Heroes of Aleppo University." The Observatory reported demonstrations in Damascus, Deir Ezzor, northeastern Hasaka, Homs in central Syria and northwestern Idlib.
Both the Observatory and the activist Local Coordination Committees also reported that the rebel-held city of Rastan came under intense shelling Friday morning.
Information out of Syria is nearly impossible to independently verify, as journalists have limited access to the beleaguered Middle Eastern nation.
'Al Qaeda behind it'
A cease-fire agreement, brokered by UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan, ostensibly went into effect on April 12. The agreement, however, has been violated on a near daily basis by both government forces and armed rebels.
On May 10, the capital Damascus suffered its most deadly single attack yet, when two suicide car bombs exploded outside of a military intelligence building. Some 55 people died in the attacks and around another 400 were wounded.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Thursday blamed those attacks on al Qaeda.
"Very alarmingly and surprisingly, a few days ago, there was a huge serious massive terrorist attack," Ban said. "I believe there must be al Qaeda behind it. This has created again a very serious problem."
The head of the UN observer mission, Norwegian Major General Robert Mood, told reporters in Damascus on Friday that his team "will reach full capacity in record time." Some 260 of the planned 300 observers are currently on the ground in Syria.
"No volume of observers can achieve a progressive drop and a permanent end to the violence if the commitment to give dialogue a chance is not genuine from all internal and external factors," Major General Mood acknowledged.
"We are very committed to the Syrian people, innocent women and children, to return back to normality," the general said. "But we must be given a real chance to do that from the fighting parties and their supporters."
The UN estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed in 15 months of violence in Syria.
slk/jm (AP, AFP)