Protests in Syria's Aleppo after university raid
BEIRUT – Syrian forces opened fire on thousands of protesters in Aleppo Friday, a day after a raid on dormitories at the city's main university killed four students and forced the closure of the state-run school.
An Aleppo-based activist said the protests were the largest since the start of the uprising against President Bashar Assad in March 2011. There was no immediate word of casualties.
"The people are incensed by what happened at the university," said the activist, Mohammed Saeed. "Everyone wants to express solidarity with those students."
Saeed said security forces were out in full force, firing live ammunition to disperse protesters and arresting people randomly.
"With our blood, we sacrifice for you students!" people shouted.
The raid at Aleppo University was an unusually violent incident for the city, a major economic hub that has remained largely loyal to President Bashar Assad over the course of the country's 14-month uprising.
The attack on a university campus, considered something of a safe space even within Syria's upheaval, sparked outrage among many residents there.
Activists said large protests formed Thursday night in solidarity with students who were thrown out of their dorms along with their belongings. Dozens of protesters were arrested during the night, activists said.
On Friday, tens of thousands of people demonstrated as they streamed out of mosques in several districts of the city. Friday, the Muslim holy day, is the main day of anti-government protests in Syria, when thousands of demonstrators around the county have been taking to the streets, calling for Assad's ouster.
Aleppo University announced it was closing until final exams on May 13 following the siege that began late Wednesday, when around 1,500 students staged a protest against Assad. Pro-regime students attacked the crowd with knives before security forces swept in, firing tear gas and then live ammunition, activists said.
The Syrian National Council opposition group called for a nationwide university strike in solidarity with Aleppo University, but no classes were scheduled on Friday, the start of the weekend in Syria.
The university incident further highlighted concerns that a peace plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan nearly a month ago has done little to stop the bloodshed.
A spokesman for Annan said Friday the international envoy believes his peace plan for Syrian remains "on track" — a day after the Obama administration offered a far bleaker view.
Ahmad Fawzi, Annan's spokesman, told a U.N. briefing in Geneva that "there are small signs of compliance," despite continuing violations.
On Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said 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 U.N. 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.
"It is clear and we will not deny that the plan has not been succeeding thus far," Carney said.
In Lebanon Friday, a military prosecutor charged 21 people in the case of a ship carrying weapons for Syrian rebels that originated in Libya and was intercepted off the Lebanese coast last week.
Military prosecutor Saqr Saqr said they were charged with buying large quantities of weapons with the aim of carrying out "terrorist acts."
A judicial official said they included 13 Syrians, four Lebanese, two Egyptians, a Libyan and an Indian. Seven are at large, while the rest are in Lebanese custody, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.