U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned on Wednesday an attack at Aleppo University in Syria that killed scores of students and warned that the deliberate targeting of civilians was a war crime.
“Such heinous attacks are unacceptable and must stop immediately. All combating parties in Syria must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law,” Ban said in a statement, according to Reuters. “Deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian targets constitutes a war crime.”
Two explosions at Aleppo’s university on Tuesday killed at least 87 people, many of them students attending exams. The cause of the explosions was not clear but the Syrian government and opposition activists blamed each other.
On Wednesday, Syrian troops stepped up an offensive against the opposition forces in the north. Powerful suicide car bombs that killed about two dozen people in Idlib marked another escalation in the fight for control of northern Syria, a key battlefield in the country’s civil war.
The nearly simultaneous bombings in Idlib Wednesday bore the trademarks of Islamic militants, the most organized rebel fighters trying to topple President Bashar Assad’s government. More than 60,000 people have been killed in the 22-month conflict, according to the United Nations.
Assad’s warplanes struck rebel targets in both northern cities, still reeling from the deadly explosions. The Syrian army vowed to crush the armed opposition to “cleanse the homeland of their dirt.”
The army said in a statement that its troops killed and wounded dozens of “terrorist mercenaries” in Aleppo following the attacks on the university where students were taking mid-year exams. Assad’s regime regularly refers to rebels as “terrorists.”
Government troops and rebels have been locked in a deadly stalemate in Aleppo and other areas in the north since last summer. Six months later, the rebels hold large parts of the city. Still, they have been unable to overcome the regime’s far superior firepower.
With the two sides deadlocked on the northern front, rebels have increasingly targeted state security facilities and government institutions in other parts of the country, including in the capital, Damascus.