A series of devastating explosions struck the Aleppo University campus in Syria on Tuesday, antigovernment activists and Syrian state television reported, in what appeared to be a major expansion of the violent struggle for control of the largest city in the nearly two-year-old Syrian conflict. Each side blamed the other for the blasts, and the activists said more than 50 people were killed.
Activists also reported that violence convulsed some suburbs of Damascus, the capital, where members of the insurgent Free Syrian Army were engaged in combat with government forces in the Ain Tarma and Zamalka neighborhoods. The fighting erupted after a campaign of Syrian Air Force attacks over the past few days apparently aimed at expunging insurgents from strategic areas.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an antigovernment group based in Britain with a network of contacts in Syria, reported a death toll of 52 and dozens of injuries in the explosions at Aleppo University, which was in a government-controlled part of Aleppo and had been conducting classes despite the mayhem and deprivation that have ravaged other parts of the city.
Aleppo, in northern Syria, has essentially been under siege since July, with insurgents and government forces in a stalemate. The city, which was once the commercial epicenter of Syria, has been struck by numerous shellings, bombings and airstrikes, but the university area had been largely spared until Tuesday.
Antigovernment activists said the university dormitories, which had been housing both students and civilians displaced by fighting elsewhere, were hit by one missile fired by Syrian military forces. They said buildings housing the architecture and humanities departments were also hit by missiles fired by the military.
Syria’s state-run SANA news service did not specify the number of casualties but said the explosions came on the first day of exams. SANA attributed the death and destruction to at least two rockets fired by what it called terrorists, the government’s blanket description for the armed insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad.
Photographs and video uploaded on the Internet by antigovernment groups and SANA showed extensive destruction of dormitory buildings, the hulks of several burned vehicles and bodies on the ground.
The United Nations has estimated that more than 60,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising against Mr. Assad began in March 2011.
Mr. Assad appeared to further distance himself on Monday from any thought of relinquishing power via a BBC interview with his deputy foreign minister, Faisal Muqdad. Mr. Muqdad suggested that Mr. Assad would run for re-election next year when his term expires. “We are opening the way for democracy, or deeper democracy,” he said. “In a democracy you don’t tell somebody not to run.”
Groups opposed to Mr. Assad have said they will not even consider political dialogue to resolve the conflict unless Mr. Assad resigns or is removed from power first. The special peace envoy from the United Nations and the Arab League, Lakhdar Brahimi, has urged Mr. Assad to step down and said he cannot be part of any transitional government. The Syrian government has accused Mr. Brahimi of bias toward the insurgency.
With diplomacy still deadlocked, more than 50 member states in the United Nations submitted an unusual written appeal to the Security Council on Monday to at least request an investigation by the International Criminal Court into possible war crimes and atrocities committed in Syria, by both the loyalist and the insurgent sides.
But whatever chance of such a move appeared to be ended on Tuesday by Russia, the biggest foreign defender of the Syrian government, which has vetoed three Security Council proposals on Syrian intervention since the conflict began.
“We consider this initiative ill-timed and counterproductive if we are to achieve the current priority goal — an immediate end to bloodshed in Syria,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We are convinced that speculation about international criminal prosecution and the search for guilty parties will only serve to keep the opposing sides in hard-line positions and complicate the search for a path of political-diplomatic settlement of the Syrian conflict.”
Rick Gladstone reported from New York, and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon. Ellen Barry contributed reporting from Moscow.