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Ohio State students hold vigil for 150 killed in Syrian school explosion

Courtesy of MCT

Ohio State students led a vigil over the weekend after two explosions at Aleppo University in Northern Syria killed and injured more than 100 students.
The Jan. 15 explosions, thought to be caused by car bombs or airstrikes, killed more than 80 students, faculty and staff and injured about 150 more in the midst of the Aleppo’s exam week, according to multiple reports
It is unknown who is responsible for the explosions. President Bashar al-Assad’s government and opposition blame each other for the blasts that The New York Times called “among the worst” in the nearly two years of the Syrian conflict.
Cries of protest rang out Friday night as OSU’s Muslim Student Association hosted a candlelight vigil in front of the Wexner Center for the Arts near High Street to show its support.
“A couple of our board members are actually Syrian,” said Shine Hawramani, a fourth-year in comparative studies and co-president of MSA. “Some of their family members have been killed in the past year, so we want to try and do anything to raise awareness about what’s going on.”
Inspired by the Arab Spring, an uprising led primarily by young people and publicized through social media, Syrians became energized to rebel against the al-Assad regime.
More than 60,000 people have died since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, according to the United Nations.
Aleppo University is a government-run school in a government-controlled area. While the city of Aleppo has been at the center of anti-government demonstrations, the university, up until the Jan. 15 explosions, had not been, according to a New York Times report.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement released Wednesday that such attacks are unacceptable.
“All combating parties in Syria must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law,” Ki-moon said in a statement, according to Reuters. “Deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian targets constitutes a war crime.”
The Ministry of Education said in a statement that al-Assad would oversee reconstruction of the school “immediately to secure the functioning of the teaching process.”
Abdulrahman Alwattar, a second-year in public affairs, initiated the vigil.
“When you think back to our final exams, you’re really stressed out, you’re really worried. You don’t care about how you’re dressed that week or the makeup or anything like that,” he said. “You just care about getting through your exam and then relaxing afterwards.”
However, some of the students at Aleppo University never got that chance.
“It’s our duty to remember (the students who died), because if we were less fortunate and born in another part of the world to seek an education in Syria, it could mean risking our lives,” Alwattar said.
Sarah Almusbahi, a second-year in international studies, said the situation made her think about what it would have been like to be in the shoes of a student in Aleppo.
“When I heard what happened … it struck me because it was something I could relate to, especially being a student at a university,” she said. “Just imagining me being in the middle of an exam and then suddenly boom, and an explosion and I’d be dead and everyone I know would be dead.”
For Hawramani, the issue is about humanity and democracy. She said that while the United Nations and the United States passed multiple resolutions, including establishing a no-fly zone when Libya was undergoing a similar revolution, it seems as if nothing has been done to assist Syria despite the death toll being higher.
“I’m here even though I’m not Arab. Half my friends that are here are not Arab. We have no connection to Syria as a country at all, but the fact that people are dying and the world seems to be silent is what is really bothering me,” Hawramani said.
Ayman Bazerbashi, a fourth-year in biology, agrees with Hawramani. He said whether one has family there, or is Syrian, “it goes down to basic human rights.”
“I’m human. I’m seeing another person being taken advantage of, being tortured, being killed unjustly and indiscriminately,” Bazerbashi said. “At a basic human level it should make us feel that something is wrong, that something should be changed.”
Members of MSA said that universities all over the U.S. have been holding similar vigils in solidarity with the students killed in Aleppo this past week.
“It means a lot to me,” Alwattar said. “I’m Syrian, I have family there. So for me it really hits home. We try to keep (the students) in our prayers regardless of our faith and remember them and hopefully they’ll have their freedom soon.” 

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