Mortar Hits Syrian University; Turkey Denies It Deported Refugees

NPR icon by Korva Coleman
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SANA

A deadly mortar shell fell on students at Damascus University today in Syria's capital, and there are reports that at least 15 students are dead. Six people were hurt, according to the official Syrian news agency, which says the shell fell on the architecture department.

NPR's Susannah George is following the attack from neighboring Lebanon: "State TV footage shows puddles of blood in a colorful school cafeteria, and an awning is torn above where the mortar allegedly landed."

She adds the Syrian government is blaming terrorists for the attack; Syrian activists are also reporting the attack but aren't saying who's responsible. What's key is where the mortar shell landed. Susanna says Damascus University is in the central part of the capital, just a few kilometers away from the strategic neighborhood of Malki. That's home to many Syrian government buildings and one of the main palaces belonging to Syrian president Bashar Assad.

Fighting has stepped up in the Syrian capital this week and Reuters reports rebels are using more mortar shells. The Associated Press is reporting at length how rebels are receiving an increased number of more powerful arms shipments from "Mideast powers" who oppose Assad. The report says rebels have a "master plan" to take Damascus; at present, they can't break into the fortified capital and are hitting parts of the city with mortars.

Meanwhile, there are conflicting reports about the fate of several hundred Syrian refugees at a border camp in Turkey. Clashes broke out Wednesday between Syrians and Turkish authorities at a refugee camp near the Turkish town of Akcakale. Witnesses told Reuters that today, Turkish authorities rounded up hundreds of Syrians, put them in buses and drove them to the border.

But Turkey is sharply denying the report, according to the Turkish Hurriyet news, saying between 50 and 60 Syrians voluntarily decided to leave the refugee camp overnight, and that nobody was forcibly repatriated. Still, the report has disturbed the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which told the Guardian news it's investigating the matter.

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