Syrian security forces stormed a protest march and killed four people at Aleppo University early Thursday. The U.S. condemned the incident and accused President Bashar al-Assad of making "no effort" to honor a three-week-old U.N.-brokered truce.
Amateur video showed about 1,500 students in the northern city of Aleppo chanting against the Assad family's four-decade-long rule being drowned out by gunfire. Pro-government students armed with knives attacked the crowd before security forces swept in, firing tear gas and live ammunition.
Student activists said raids on dormitories and intermittent gunfire continued for about five hours. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 28 students were wounded overnight, three critically. Another 200 were arrested.
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Aleppo is a major Syrian commercial hub that has remained largely loyal to Mr. Assad. But university students, many from rebellious areas, such as Homs and Idlib provinces, have been staging almost daily protests calling for his ouster.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney admitted the peace plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan may have failed. "If the regime's intransigence continues," he said, "the international community [will] have to admit defeat," adding that political transition is "urgently needed" in Syria.
Meanwhile, the head of the United Nations monitoring mission dispatched to Syria under the plan said pro-Assad forces must make the first move to end 14 months of bloodshed.
Major-General Robert Mood made the call while visiting Syria's third-largest city - Homs - which has seen some of the deadliest fighting of the conflict. He said his approach is that "the strongest party needs to make the first move."
The veteran Norwegian peacekeeper said the mission is growing steadily, with a total of 50 monitors in the country - a number he said would double within weeks.
Several dozen U.N. observers visited flashpoint areas Thursday. They are assessing government and rebel compliance with the Annan cease-fire plan.
VOA's Middle East correspondent Elizabeth Arrott toured Hama and Homs with U.N. observers Thursday and saw scenes of widespread destruction.
"There is a corridor north of Damascus between Homs and Hama that has been very, very hard hit by the fighting and the unrest," she said. "And it's very clear. For example, in one town, the outskirts of Arasa which is still very much a flashpoint town, on the northern side of the town, every house has holes blasted through them. In Homs, you see holes in the houses, windows blasted out, widespread destruction in the whole area."
Mood told reporters he hopes the observers' presence will have a "calming effect" to end the violence and put negotiations on a political track.
Monitors reported earlier that the Syrian military had heavy weapons stationed in some cities. The U.N. team said both the government and opposition have violated terms of the peace plan.
The United Nations estimates at least 9,000 people have been killed in the crackdown, while the government says it has lost at least 2,600 of its forces to "foreign-backed terrorists."
Despite the turmoil, Syria plans to hold a parliamentary election on Monday under a new constitution which has allowed the creation of new political parties. The opposition dismisses the vote as a sham.