Shells hit Damascus cafe; at least 10 die

Mortar rounds are striking Syrian capital more often
2013-03-29T00:00:00Z Shells hit Damascus cafe; at least 10 dieThe Associated Press The Associated Press
March 29, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Mortar shells crashed into an outdoor cafe at Damascus University on Thursday, killing at least 10 students in the deadliest of a rising number of mortar attacks in the heart of the Syrian capital.

The strikes have escalated as rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad try to enter the city, terrifying civilians whose support the opposition needs to advance its cause.

It was unclear who fired the rounds. The government blamed "terrorists," its blanket term for those fighting Assad's regime. Anti-Assad activists accused the regime of staging the attack to turn civilians against the rebels.

Mortar strikes on Damascus are relatively new in Syria's crisis, which began in March 2011 with protests calling for Assad's ouster, then evolved into a civil war. The U.N. says more than 70,000 people have died.

Since last month, mortar shells have hit previously safe parts of the capital with increasing frequency. The near-daily strikes have frightened residents, and many have begun to avoid open areas and put plastic on their windows to help block flying glass.

Some shells appear aimed at government targets. Others have hit near civilian targets, including the Sheraton Hotel and a soccer stadium. Mortar shells also have struck in areas to the east, including the Christian neighborhood of Bab Touma.

Thursday's strike was the deadliest yet.

State-run Al-Ikhbariya TV showed video of the university cafe where blood pooled on tiles. Later video showed people being treated in a hospital.

The dining facility belongs to the Faculty of Architecture in Damascus' central Baramkeh district.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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