BEIRUT - Syrian forces stormed student dormitories during an antigovernment protest at Aleppo University on Thursday, firing tear gas and bullets in an hours-long siege that killed at least four students and forced the closure of the state-run school, activists said.
It was not clear how long the university would remain closed after the siege, which began late Wednesday when about 1,500 students held a protest against President Bashar Assad’s regime. Proregime students attacked the crowd with knives before security forces swept in, firing tear gas, and then live ammunition, activists said.
United Nations truce observers toured other restive parts of the country Thursday, and residents told them of being too terrified to walk on the streets after dark as the 14-month-old uprising rages on.
The UN estimates 9,000 people have been killed since the revolt began, and a peace plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan nearly a month ago has done little to stem the bloodshed.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney conceded that the plan might be doomed. “If the regime’s intransigence continues, the international community is going to have to admit defeat,’’ he said, adding that new measures might have to be taken, including a return to the UN Security Council.
Raids and intermittent gunfire continued at the university for about five hours through early Thursday, witnesses said, adding that dozens of people were wounded, some critically, and 200 students were arrested.
“Some students ran to their rooms to take cover, but they were followed to their rooms, beaten up, and arrested,’’ student activist Thaer al-Ahmed said. “Others suffered cuts and broken bones as they tried to flee.’’
The student quarters, known as the University City, comprise 20 dormitories that house more than 5,000 students next to the university campus. Students there often shout anti-Assad slogans from their rooms at night.
It was an unusually violent incident in Aleppo, a major economic hub that has remained largely loyal to Assad and has been spared the kind of daily bloodshed that has plagued other Syrian cities.
There has been a string of bombings near government security buildings in Aleppo and the capital, Damascus, adding a mysterious element to the antigovernment revolt. US officials suggested Al Qaeda militants may be joining the fray.
For the most part, Aleppo has been quiet, but university students - many from rebellious areas such as the northern Idlib province - have been staging almost daily protests calling for the fall of Assad.
Amateur videos showed a large number of security forces apparently storming the dorms Wednesday night. Another showed a student protest earlier the same day with shouts of: “We don’t want you, Bashar!’’ One showed the campus with windows shattered and a man dousing a smoldering fire with a bucket of water. The authenticity of the videos could not be confirmed.
The Local Coordination Committees activist group said five students were killed and some 200 arrested in the raids, while the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at four. The Syrian government has prevented independent reporting in the country, making it impossible to independently verify casualty figures.
“Regime forces demanded through loudspeakers that the dorms be evacuated, then began detaining the students,’’ the LCC said in a statement.
Ahmed and the Observatory’s director Rami Abdul-Rahman said proregime students armed with knives tried to break up the protest before the security forces raided the dorms.
The cease-fire started to unravel almost as soon as it was supposed to begin on April 12.
The two sides have blamed each other for thwarting the truce, with Assad’s forces trying to repress demonstrators calling for him to step down. The regime also is facing an armed rebellion that has sprung up as peaceful protests have proved ineffective against his forces.
In other violence, state-run news agency SANA said that gunmen assassinated Ismail Haidar, the son of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party’s leader, on Wednesday. Haidar was shot to death by “terrorists’’ on the highway from Homs to Misyaf, it said.
Haidar’s father is also a member of the Popular Front for Change and Liberation, which calls for peaceful, democratic change in Syria but is considered by some to be close to the regime.