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Students Killed As Mortar Slams Into Syrian University

A mortar shell hit part of Damascus University in Syria's capital on Thursday, killing at least 10 students and wounding a number of others, according to the official Syrian news agency, which says the shell fell on an outdoor café in 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 says the Syrian government is blaming the attack on "terrorists" — a term the regime uses to refer to rebels fighting to oust President Bashar Assad, according to The Associated Press. Syrian activists are also reporting the attack but aren't assigning responsibility, she adds.

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 Assad.

Fighting has stepped up in the Syrian capital this week, and Reuters says 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" that oppose Assad. The AP report also 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 the camp near the Turkish town of Akcakale. Witnesses told Reuters that Turkish authorities rounded up hundreds of Syrians on Thursday, put them on buses and drove them to the border.

Turkey is sharply denying the reports of deportations, according to the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News. An unnamed Turkish official told the paper:

"We refute the deportation claims; nearly 500 people return every day to Syria of their own free will. The status we provide for Syrian refugees is temporary protection; without their will, not a single Syrian national can be sent back."

Still, the claims of forcible repatriation have disturbed the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which tells The Guardian that it is investigating the matter.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Korva Coleman is a newscaster for NPR.