A bomb has struck a car wash in Aleppo, killing at least five people, a day after government troops opened fire to break up large protests against a violent university raid in Syria’s largest city.
Aleppo, an important economic hub, has largely stayed out of the revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that erupted nearly 14 months ago, but the raid on Aleppo University that killed four students earlier in the week has swelled the crowds of protesters.
On Friday last week, thousands marched against the university crackdown in what activists said were the largest protests in the city yet. However, it remained unclear if the regime is losing major ground in Aleppo.
Bomb attacks have become more common in Aleppo and Damascus, often targeting buildings associated with the security services, as the uprising grows increasingly militarized. However, the rebel Free Syrian Army, one of the largest armed groups, denied reports that it had claimed responsibility for Saturday’s blast.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on activists inside Syria, said five people were killed in the blast at the car wash.
Aleppo activist Mohammed Saeed said the car wash in the city’s southern Sukari neighborhood was owned by a man who serves in pro-government militias known as the shabiha. He put the death toll at six.
It was impossible to independently verify the casualty toll or other activist claims because al-Assad’s regime has prevented most media from working freely in the country.
Aleppo has been showing signs of increasing unrest since Thursday’s raid of university dorms in which four students were killed and dozens arrested. On Friday, security forces trying to break up widespread protests shot and killed a 16-year-old.
The UN said in late March that more than 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising started in March last year. Since then, more have been killed every day, with activists reporting daily death tolls that at times reached several dozen. On Friday, the main day for weekly anti-regime protests, at least 38 people were killed across Syria, the observatory said.
A truce was meant to take hold April 12, as part of a peace plan for Syria brokered by special envoy Kofi Annan. The deal has helped decrease violence in some areas, and brought 40 UN observers to Syria, but fighting has continued.
Annan and UN Secretary--General Ban Ki-moon have largely blamed the regime, which continues to attack opposition strongholds and refuses to withdraw troops from the streets. However, rebels also have kept up bombing and shooting attacks on soldiers and checkpoints.
In amateur video posted on Saturday, a UN observer in a bright blue beret and body armor inspects what residents of the town of Taftanaz tell him is a mass grave. The international group Human Rights Watch has said regime soldiers raiding the town on the Turkish border early last month killed 35 civilians execution-style and opened fire on others trying to flee.
The video shows a long line of headstones, placed close to each other in front of fresh mounds of earth. The observer is told each stone marks a grave. The observer walks along the stones, tapping some as he counts silently.
“Ok, I counted 52, including one soldier who refused orders and was executed as well,” the observer said.
Villagers tell him five more were burned beyond recognition and did not get a headstone.
“I feel very sad about this,” the observer said before arranging to return later to pick up a list with the names of the dead.
The video’s authenticity could not be verified.