BEIRUT – Twin blasts ripped through a university campus in Syria’s largest city on Tuesday as students were taking exams, setting cars alight, blowing the walls off dormitory rooms and killing more than 80 people, according to anti-regime activists and a government official.
The opposition and the government blamed each other for the explosions inside Aleppo University, which marked a major escalation in the struggle for control of the hotly contested commercial hub.
Activists said forces loyal to President Bashar Assad launched airstrikes on the area, while Syrian state media said a “terrorist group” – the government’s shorthand for rebels – hit it with rockets.
Either way, the explosions shattered the relative calm of the sprawling, tree-lined campus, signaling the creep of Syria’s civil war into areas that were previously spared the violence that has killed more than 60,000 people and reduced entire neighborhoods to rubble.
The competing narratives about what caused the blasts highlighted the difficulty of confirming reports from inside Syria.
The Syrian government bars most media from working in the country, making independent confirmation of events difficult. Both anti-regime activists and the Syrian government sift the information they give to journalists to boost their cause. Civilians stuck in the middle avoid talking to the media, fearing reprisals from both sides for speaking their minds.
Aleppo has been the focus of a violent struggle for control since rebel forces, mostly from rural areas north of the city, began clashing with government troops last summer.
The university is in the city’s northwest, a sector still controlled by the government. Both activists and the Assad regime said those killed in Tuesday’s blasts were mostly students taking their midyear exams and civilians who sought refuge in the university dorms after fleeing violence elsewhere.