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Mortar shells hit Damascus college; deaths reported

By Joe Sterling and Hamdi Alkhshali, CNN
updated 6:53 AM EDT, Fri March 29, 2013
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
  • NEW: The death toll now stands at 10, the government and an opposition group say
  • More than 100 killed in warfare across Syria on Thursday, opposition group says
  • Many people are wounded in the shelling
  • The former head of U.N. peacekeepers in Syria suggests a no-fly zone

(CNN) -- Mortar fire hammered a college in Syria's capital, the government and rebels said, killing at least 10 people.

Shells hit the Architecture College at the University of Damascus.

State media earlier said 15 people were killed but eventually changed the toll to 10 dead in mortar fire by "terrorists" -- the name the government uses to describe anti-government groups.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said a shell struck the cafeteria of the architectural engineering faculty.

Mohammad Amer al-Mardini, the university rector, is quoted by SANA as saying that along with the 10 dead, 29 were wounded.

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"No one, in any position in the world, can imagine there is an act more criminal than this one," al-Mardini is quoted as saying.

"If the aim behind this criminal act was to close the University of Damascus, with its history and deep-rootedness, then we stress that it won't shut down in defiance of the enemies."

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 10 civilians were killed by mortar shells at the architecture college and that the number of dead was likely to rise. It said several shells fell inside the campus.

The opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said 12 people died in the incident. They were among at least 107 killed in warfare across the nation Thursday, the group said.

The crisis in Syria began two years ago when the government of Bashar al-Assad cracked down on peaceful protesters. That clampdown morphed into a full-blown civil war.

More than 70,000 people are believed to have been killed, the United Nations estimates. The warfare has spawned a vast humanitarian and displacement crisis.

Time for a no-fly zone?

International diplomacy has failed to forge peace as the warring rages daily.

Syrian rebels have been obtaining weapons from entities outside the country and have seized arms from the well-stocked military. But Western nations have been reluctant to arm factions opposing the Assad government.

One official who helped a failed effort to bring about a cease-fire in Syria says it's time for a bit of a change.

Norwegian Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, former head of the U.N. monitoring team in Syria, told the BBC on Wednesday that it's time for the world to consider imposing a no-fly zone, an area over which aircraft are not allowed to fly.

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Al-Assad's government regularly has used its aircraft to attack rebel positions.

"To level the playing field now in the military terms would be to consider no-fly zones, to consider whether the Patriots in Turkey could have a role also in taking on some responsibility for the northern part of Syria," he said. Patriots, which are surface-to-air missiles, have been deployed to Turkey to protect the country.

The U.N. Security Council imposed a no-fly zone in Libya in 2011 to halt the violence by the Moammar Gadhafi government. That effort helped rebels there topple Gadhafi. No-fly zones were also imposed by Western nations in Iraq during the rule of Saddam Hussein.

A no-fly zone would help an interim government take hold in territory that rebels have seized from the Syrian military. The opposition has chosen Ghassan Hitto, a Syrian-American, to be the prime minister of that government.

Mood said a no-fly zone should be accompanied by planning for a transition.

"The next thing to argue is incredibly important. It is useless to discuss or to consider a no-fly zone unless you are thinking beyond it, unless you are already then starting to plan."

If the government should quickly collapse, he asks, "what next then?"

He also says the world must look at how international diplomacy can be used to "achieve results with military means that strengthen the moderates inside Syria."

The world must also think about reconstruction after the war is ended and getting humanitarian aid "to the women and children and the suffering Syrian population."

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