(Reuters) - Syrian security men and students wielding knives attacked a protest march at Aleppo University on Thursday, activists said, killing four and rounding up dozens of demonstrators who were demanding President Bashar al-Assad step down.
In an unusually bloody incident for Syria's hitherto fairly peaceful commercial hub and second city, video posted on the Internet showed young people chanting slogans against the ruling family and being drowned out by gunfire. Activists posted images of a bloodied corpse and what they said was a burning dormitory.
A British-based opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said at least four were killed and some 28 other students were wounded, three critically. Some 200 were arrested in the latest violence to breached a three-week-old U.N. truce.
Knife-wielding youths had joined the security forces in the attack on fellow students on the Aleppo campus, the group said, adding that teargas had been fired on what started as the latest of an almost daily series of peaceful protests by the students.
"Freedom forever in spite of you, Assad!" chanted the young demonstrators in a video shot in early morning twilight.
There was no comment from officials and it was not possible to verify the account from the northern city whose relatively prosperous, business-oriented population has been slow to join the 14-month-old revolt against the Assad's four-decade rule.
Syria's middle classes, and substantial religious and ethnic minorities, are fearful that an uprising dominated by Sunni Muslims, who form 80 percent of the population, against an elite around Assad, which is drawn largely from his Alawite minority, could descend into the kind of sectarian and ethnic bloodbath they have watched destroy neighboring Iraq over recent years.
From Aleppo, anti-Assad activists uploaded a picture of one young man who they said was killed, his shirt drenched in blood, and a video of a burning residence block, its windows shattered. Dormitory hallways appeared to have been smashed up and men were dragging furniture outside as students screamed.
The violence was one of many breaches of the three-week-old ceasefire in Syria, where 31 United Nations observers are touring to monitor the truce between state forces and rebels. Around 300 are expected to be deployed by the end of May.
On Thursday afternoon, protests again erupted at Aleppo University to denounce the overnight assault.
"It is hard to get any information from the students right now. The situation is tense. Security forces are surrounding the campus," said an activist in the city called Mustafa.
While most opposition areas in Syria have been overtaken by an armed revolt against Assad, peaceful anti-Assad protests had been staged almost daily at the university in Aleppo.
It is hard to assess if those protests reflect widespread sentiment among the younger generation native to the city or whether students living there who hail from rebellious hotspots like Idlib and Deraa might be taking a lead in Aleppo.