Dozens of people were killed when two explosions tore through one of Syria's biggest universities on the first day of exams, in what could prove to be the deadliest bombing in nearly two years of violence.
Mohammed Wahid Akkad, the governor of Aleppo, Syria's most populous city, said at least 80 people were killed, mostly students, and 160 injured. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed 52 deaths after receiving reports from doctors and students, but said the toll could rise beyond 90. It said there were at least 40 people critically wounded.
The university lies in a government-held area that is more than a mile away from the nearest rebel zone.
State television said the deaths were the result of two rockets launched by "terrorists", the standard term used to describe the rebels. A military source said the devastation was caused by a stray surface-to-air missile fired by rebels.
Activists rejected the suggestion that insurgents were behind the attack, saying government jets were seen overhead at the time.
"The warplanes of this criminal regime do not respect a mosque, a church or a university," said a student who gave his name as Abu Tayem.
A Twitter user called Ahmedosios, who posted pictures of bodies and severed limbs online, added: "A plane hit with two shells. We saw the plane with our own eyes. I am not going to doubt my eyes and believe regime media."
Video footage showed students carrying their books out of the university after one of the explosions, hurrying away from rising smoke. The camera then shook to the sound of another explosion and people began running.
Other footage posted by students showed tearful survivors taking refuge in a campus building. The university was the site of protests against the Assad regime in Aleppo, the commercial centre which joined the uprising late.
Rebels have previously carried out bombings against government targets in Aleppo. In October, at least 48 people were killed in a double blast in the city's main square. In May, a twin suicide car bomb detonated by one of the Islamist rebel groups outside the main military intelligence compound in the capital, Damascus, killed 55.
The UN estimates that at least 60,000 people have been killed since protests in March 2011 turned into an uprising against Mr Assad, who has resisted all international efforts to force a compromise.
Russia – Mr Assad's long-standing ally and arms supplier – blocked the initiative, calling it "ill-timed and counter-productive".
Moscow said it had suspended operations at its consulate in Aleppo after the explosions.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)