Damascus University hit by mortar fire as battles rage
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At least 15 students died when mortar fire struck Damascus University on Thursday as fighting raged in several districts of the capital. State media said the school was targeted by "terrorists", its term for anti-regime rebels.
Mortar fire killed at least 15 students in Damascus on Thursday, with state media blaming "terrorists," its term for Syrian rebels who are increasingly targeting President Bashar al-Assad's seat of power.
The attack came as battles raged between insurgents and loyalists troops in districts on the edges of Damascus, 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.
The agency added that six other people were wounded by "mortars that targeted the faculty cafeteria".
Al-Ikhbariya, a pro-regime television channel, ran footage showing a bloodied patio filled with broken glass and upturned chairs. One image showed an architect's ruler abandoned on a cafeteria table.
The broadcaster also showed doctors treating seriously wounded young people, some of them unconscious.
Syria's national student union immediately denounced the attack.
"The National Students Union condemns the cowardly terrorist attack that targeted the architecture faculty of Damascus University," state television said.
Rebels fighting to oust Assad's regime have stepped up mortar attacks on central Damascus this year, including Umayyad Square in the middle of the capital, which houses state television's headquarters.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group that relies on sources on the ground for its information, also reported Thursday's attack, although it put the toll at 13 people dead.
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the escalation of mortar attacks on Damascus has instilled terror in the capital.
"The use of mortars should stop immediately. The vast majority of people killed in the mortar attacks on Damascus have been civilians," Abdel Rahman told AFP.
The carnage at Damascus University comes just over two months after a bloody rocket attack that killed more than 80 civilians in Aleppo University, the country's second-biggest institution of higher education.
"Students should be able to continue learning, this is a basic right. Neither the rebels nor the regime should target centres of education. What we saw today in Damascus is a war crime," Abdel Rahman added.
Meanwhile, battles raged on the outskirts of Damascus, despite an all-out army attempt to crush the insurgency in the areas, the Observatory said.
Among the afflicted neighbourhoods were Qaboon in the northeast, Yarmuk and Al-Hajar Al-Aswad in the south and Qadam in the southwest.
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 in violence across Syria, the group added.
More than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria's spiralling conflict and millions more have been displaced, the UN says.