UN mission chief says Syrian army must cease fire first

The head of the UN mission in Syria said on Thursday that government forces must make the first move to end nearly 14-months of bloodshed after a watchdog said a security force raid on a university campus left four students dead.

Major General Robert Mood, the veteran Norwegian peacekeeper in charge of the hard-won military observer mission overseeing a troubled UN-backed ceasefire, made the call during a visit to Syria's third-largest city Homs, which has seen some of the deadliest fighting of the conflict.

"If you have two individuals using on each other all their weapons, who is going to be the first one to move the finger? Who is going to be the first one to make the move?" Mood asked.

"My approach to that is that the strongest party needs to make the first move," he told reporters.

"I was referring to the Syrian government and the Syrian army. They have the strength, they have the position and they also have the potential generosity to make the first step in a good direction.”

Mood's comments came after a human rights watchdog reported a bloody pre-dawn raid by security force backed by militia on the main university campus in Syria's second-largest city Aleppo, previously largely spared the bloodshed rocking the country since March last year.

Four students were killed and 28 wounded, three of them critically, when government forces and armed supporters stormed dormitories following a campus demonstration, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Another 200 students were arrested in what the Britain-based watchdog said could prove a turning point of the uprising in the northern regional capital.

"The city of Aleppo hasn't joined the anti-regime revolt thus far but the seriousness of these events will push residents to mobilize in solidarity with the students," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

"Security forces stormed the university in response to increased student protests lately inside and outside the campus," he said.

"The university suspended classes because neither the management nor the security forces seem able to control the situation."

Students described scenes of panic as regime troops entered the dormitories, with some pupils jumping from windows to avoid arrest.

"Security forces raided the dormitories and threw out students and their belongings," Mohammad al-Halabi, an activist on the ground, told AFP via Skype, adding some of the rooms were torched.

The raid took place despite the UN-backed ceasefire that went into effect on April 12 and the presence in the country of the observer mission headed by Mood.

The Norwegian insisted that the UN observers, who started deploying in Syria last month, had not had their movements restricted by the Syrian authorities.

"Whether we have experienced any hampering in our freedom of movement, my answer is no. We have made our plans and we have moved where we wanted to move," he said.

"The starting point is that we have received very explicit and clear commitments from both sides that they want to move in the direction of less violence. But there is a lot of suspicion," he added.

"[Regarding] the situation on the ground ... in the specific locations we have seen more commitments on the ground by the action of the government forces. So we have seen positive signs on the ground."

An advance team of unarmed UN observers arrived in Syria on April 16 and their presence has slowly increased, with the monitors due to reach their full complement of around 300 in the coming weeks.

Mood said that from Friday there would be eight observers in the southern province of Daraa, 12 in Homs, eight in Hama and four in the northwestern province of Edleb, adding that their presence was having a positive effect.

"Since I arrived on the ground we have seen less shelling with artillery, less mortar fire."

The United Nations has accused both sides to the conflict of failing to abide by the terms of the ceasefire which it has admitted has not been holding.

Elsewhere in Syria on Thursday, six civilians, including a woman and child, were killed by gunfire that targeted a bus near the town of Saraqeb in Edleb province in the northwest, the Observatory said.

Two other civilians as well as an army defector and a soldier were also killed.

-AFP/NOW Lebanon

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