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Aleppo University student describes chaos, carnage after blasts

By Ashley Fantz and Salma Abdelaziz, CNN
January 17, 2013 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war: In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war:
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Aleppo University dental student describes horrific day trying to help the injured after blasts
  • Students and activists believe Bashar al-Assad's regime targeted campus
  • Violence had largely escaped the school, which was known for anti-government protests
  • Two blasts at Aleppo University killed at least 87 Tuesday, opposition says

(CNN) -- A Syrian college student who tried to help another after two bombs exploded at their university experienced an unthinkably gruesome moment.

Simon, an Aleppo University dental student, ran to help a young woman he saw walking zombie-like and clearly injured. He shouted to her and reached out.

"I came to hold her hand ... to help her ..." Simon said. "It came off of her. I was holding her dismembered hand in mine."

Death came to Aleppo University, a place that has somehow avoided much of the carnage of the Syrian war. A video purportedly showing the blasts was posted on YouTube.

Homes, people bombed in Syria
Syrian cluster bomb kills children
Syrian city caught in crossfire

At least 87 people were killed and dozens were wounded after twin blasts shook the campus on Tuesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based group that is speaking for rebels fighting to oust the country's president.

The death toll is expected to rise, but the observatory says the majority of the dead are students and civilians who've had to flee their homes because of the war and have been living in the university dorms.

"I was on campus when I heard a plane over head from a distance," Simon recalled to CNN.

"Suddenly a loud explosion erupted just 50 meters away at the gates of the College of Architecture," he said. "Since many roads in Aleppo are blocked, this is one of the few roadways that is open for those traveling though Aleppo."

At least 10 cars were blown to nothing, killing the people inside, he said.

Minutes later a second blast exploded a few meters away.

"But this time, thank God, it was mainly material damage, not casualties," he said.

He ran to help the injured and began loading Suzuki trucks with the wounded and the dead. It was chaos. He was following his instincts in that moment.

Each vehicle sped off with about 10 bodies.

"I counted," he said. "At least 50 bodies."

When he got to the hospital, he saw an awful scene. The hospital was full of so many who appeared critically wounded.

By the time CNN spoke with him, Simon was trying to process what he'd experienced.

Students on campus believe the government specifically targeted the school.

"Aleppo University is known as the university of the revolution," Simon said. "We staged a peaceful protest last week, and this is why were targeted. Our pro-government professors would always threaten us and say 'we swear we will shell this university.'"

Simon told CNN that 15 minutes after the explosions, Al Duniya TV, a pro-government station, was on the scene.

"We were wondering how they got there so fast," he said.

He said that when the bombs went off, the university gates were closed, and campus security would not open them.

"Students were trying to climb the fences to get out, but security pushed them back," he said.

The students then turned on the Duniya TV crew and began beating them.

He said the crew was reporting that there had been a ground explosion, but he and others were sure that it was aerial shelling, suggesting that the government targeted the campus.

"They were lying in front of our eyes!" Simon said.

Then, men known as Shabiha appeared, he said.

The Shabiha is a group of typically hulking men who are regarded as the shadowy arm of the government and are infamous for their strong-arm tactics.

The men began shouting speeches praising President Bashar al-Assad.

"Just 15 guys chanting for Assad," Simon said.

While parents were likely learning whether their kids were dead or alive, the international community did what it has done virtually since the outbreak of violence in Syria -- issue condemnations of the bloodshed.

"The United States is appalled by the Syrian regime's deadly attack yesterday near the University of Aleppo, which reportedly killed more than 80 people and injured more than 150 people," said U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland in a written statement issued Wednesday.

The United States understood through eyewitness accounts that "regime planes launched aerial strikes in the vicinity of university facilities," it continued.

"We condemn any attack on unarmed civilians and continue to emphasize that those responsible for unlawful killings and other violations of international law will be identified and held accountable."

The United Nations posted a response on its website on Wednesday.

"Deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian targets constitutes a war crime. Such heinous attacks are unacceptable and must stop immediately," a spokesman for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said.

More than 60,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria, and hundreds of thousands more have been displaced since the uprising against al-Assad began in March 2011, according to the United Nations.

On Thursday, at least 123 people across the country died, according to local committees recording such information.

Anti-government activist Abu Rami told CNN that 13 families were killed in Homs. The alleged massacre occurred in the farming village of Husweyeh with a population of about 1,500. Rami said the families killed were Sunnis, suggesting that the killers were motivated by sect differences. Sunnis, Christians and Alawites in the village were spared, he said.

Rami feels that the lack of military action by the international community has given al-Assad "the green light...to do whatever to end" the uprising against him.

Thousands of "Syrian souls" will pay for that, he said.

Back at Aleppo University, Simon tells CNN that the bombings have changed him and other young people who might have demonstrated to bring change.

Now, it's different. They have lost so much. So now they are going to fight fearlessly with everything.

Classes are out for two days, he said.

"I wish we didn't have to wait two more days," he said. "I want to go back to school now."

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