Syrian protesters claim security forces fired live rounds at crowd

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Syrian forces opened fire on thousands of protesters in Aleppo yesterday, a day after a raid on dormitories at the city’s main university killed four students and forced the closure of the state-run school.

A local activist said the protests, showing solidarity with the students, were the largest since the start of the uprising against President Bashar Assad in March 2011. Security forces were accused of firing live rounds and making random arrests.

“With our blood, we sacrifice for you students,” people shouted.

The renewed violence came as an official for international envoy Kofi Annan said he believes his six-point peace plan for Syria remains “on track” as the truce monitoring team grows to a sixth of its UN-authorised size, and despite warnings from the Obama administration which offered a bleaker view that it may be time for the world to acknowledge the ceasefire is not holding in Syria, and other approaches might be needed.

Ahmad Fawzi, Mr Annan’s spokesman, told a UN briefing in Geneva negotiations were being “conducted under the radar” involving the Syrian government and its opposition to cease all hostilities, and “there are small signs of compliance”, despite continuing violations of truce conditions such as heavy weapons in populated areas.

“The Annan plan is on track,” Mr Fawzi said. “And a crisis that has been going on for more than a year is not going to be resolved in a day or a week.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters: “If the regime’s intransigence continues, the international community is going to have to admit defeat.”

Most observers and diplomats agree that the Annan plan has done little to stem the bloodshed, but so far other nations that back it have been unwilling to say it is dead. US officials say the plan is failing mainly because of Syrian government violations.

President Assad’s government and the opposition are blaming each other for flouting the ceasefire.

Mr Annan, the joint UN-Arab League envoy, is scheduled to brief the UN Security Council on Tuesday by video conference from Geneva with the latest assessment on implementation of his plan.

UN truce observers have been touring restive parts of the country where the UN estimates 9,000 people have been killed since the revolt began.

The head of the UN observers, Norwegian Major General Robert Mood, told reporters in Syria that there is still “a good chance and an opportunity” to break the cycle of violence.

Mr Fawzi said Maj Gen Mood’s team would have “around 50” observers on the ground by now, and that the United Nations has obtained commitments from nations for 150 of the 300 observers that the UN Security Council authorised. “It’s not an advance team any longer,” Mr Fawzi said. “The numbers are growing every day.”

He also said Maj Gen Mood’s truce observers are not being targeted, despite suicide blasts occurring near a hotel where some of them were staying.

But Mr Fawzi acknowledged “there are days when things are progressing in a satisfactory manner, and there are days where we feel that it’s a rough ride”. He said, however, that even on days when there is progress “we are horrified by the extent of violence we see on the ground”.

Activists said thousands had massed for demonstrations, spurred on by the violence at Aleppo University, when students were thrown out of their dorms with their belongings, and the arrests of dozens during the night.

Aleppo University announced it was closing until final exams on May 13 following the siege that began late on Wednesday, when about 1,500 students staged a protest against Assad. Pro-regime students reportedly attacked the crowd with knives before security forces swept in, firing tear gas and then live ammunition.

“The people are incensed by what happened at the university,” said the activist, Mohammed Saeed.

Yesterday, tens of thousands of people demonstrated as they streamed out of mosques. Friday, the Muslim holy day, is the main day of anti-government protests.