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Friday
Nov252011

Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) LiveBlog: At a Crossroads for Reconciliation?

A protest after dawn prayers in the Kafarsouseh section of the Syrian capital Damascus

See today's video entries, Syria Video Special: Friday's Protests Across the Country --- Set 1 and Set 2

Our Separate Egypt LiveBlog: One Week Later.....


2220 GMT: While we look for confirmation that defected soldiers have killed 40 in Deir Ez Zor, the Syrian regime is claiming that they killed 16 "terrorists" in al Rastan, Homs:

Syrian security forces bust a "terrorist gang" in the central province of Homs, killing 16 of its members, arresting dozens and seizing large quantities of arms, state television said on Friday.

The operation was carried out in the town of Rastan in Homs, one of the main hubs of protest against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the report said, without specifying when it was launched.

2211 GMT: Another report from Shakeeb Al-Jabri:

Reports from Tal Kalakh of "3 military martyrs in clashes which erupted after defection;" allegiance of those fallen not given.

2203 GMT: Now the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights is also reporting clashes between security forces and the Syrian Free Army in Deir Ez Zor:

There is heavy gunfire tonight in the neighbourhood of Al-Jubaila, Takaya Street and Al-Nahreen Street, in Deir Ezzor district, near the police headquarter. There are reports of clashes between Syrian free army and defectors.

2158 GMT: A source posts this video, reportedly showing a protest leaving the Al-Hassan mosque in the important Midan district of Damascus (MAP):

2135 GMT: A high-profile Syrian activist living in Lebanon has a series of unconfirmed, but important, updates:

Omar bin Khattab Battalion claims its has blown up a bus carrying 25 security forces and shibbiha in Deir Ezzor.

Omar bin Khattab Battalion claims it has killed 40 regime "dogs" in Deir Ezzor so far.

Eagles of the Homeland Battalion claims regime forces evacuated a building overlooking Ghassan Aboud Sq. in Deir Ezzor, occupied it.

First time I hear of this "Eagles of the Homeland Battalion."

This information corresponds somewhat to a report that we received earlier from the LCCS, which has just made this update:

Deir Ezzor: The army is surrounding the Ghassan Abboud area and deploying snipers on rooftops. Secuirty and army operatives are conducting house-to-house searches for defected soldiers. There is continuous heavy gunfire by heavy weapons and machineguns

2123 GMT: In perhaps another sign that the Syrian regime is more fragile than it was even two weeks ago, activists are reporting a brief protest in the port-city and Assad stronghold of Tartus (MAP). The city has been the chosen site for some pro-regime protests, and any anti-regime protests there are more signs that the opposition is bold enough to challenge areas that have traditionally been loyal to the government. This is protest creep:

2050 GMT: Meanwhile, in Yemen, they have begun to implement the Gulf Cooperation Council's plan for a peaceful transfer of power:

Amid today's protests, opposition parties that signed the Gulf deal selected Mohammed Basindwa as prime minister, according to The Associated Press citing opposition leaders.

Under the deal's terms, the vice president is expected to charge him in the next few days with forming a national unity government.

Basindwa, though an independent, has held numerous positions in Saleh's government, including foreign and information minister.

2028 GMT: The LCCS reports an escalation in Deir Ez Zor:

Deir Ezzor : many tanks, troops, and buses full of security forces agents and thugs are moving on the main street heading towards Ghassan Abboud roundabout where violent clashes with defectors are taking place

Der Ezzor: At least 5 persons got injured in clashes going on between Assad's army and Free army of which the most fierce is going on in Ghassan Aboud square district. Checkpoints prevent residences who are coming from suburbs to city of getting in

1946 GMT: The AlWefaq society has posted a video from today's protest that marched from the Muqshaa area to Jannosan, west of the capital Manama. The theme... the activists were marching for the step-down of the government.

1942 GMT: Another video that reportedly shows, at least, dozens of members of the Syrian Free Army in Jabel al Zawiya, Idlib Province (MAP):

1927 GMT: The UAE has become the latest country to pass a travel ban, a voluntary order to its citizens to halt travel to Syria, and to leave if they are already inside Syria. This news is another sign that the Arab League may pass sanctions on Syria, perhaps even going as far as banning all flights in and out of the country, effectively isolating it from the outside.

1908 GMT: The BBC has an audio report from journalists who crossed the border into Syria. Sadly, the audio is not embeddable, but you can follow the link here:

The BBC has obtained first hand evidence that the struggle for democracy in Syria is becoming an armed insurgency, with some members of the government forces defecting to form the Free Syria Army.

BBC correspondent Paul Wood and cameraman Fred Scott were smuggled into Syria from Lebanon and have spent the last week undercover in the main centre of the opposition to the regime, Homs - the first journalists to have spent time with the Free Syrian Army inside the country.

The report is offers important insight into the mechanisms of the revolution.

1835 GMT: Earlier, we reported large protests in the Jobar district of Damascus. Activist Alexander Page shares this video, reportedly showing security forces gathering in front of the Al Kabeer Mosque in the neighborhood in order to prevent protests from forming:

1808 GMT: Back from a lunch break, and the LCCS catches us up on developments in Syria.

Multiple neighborhoods of Ho]ms are reporting evening protests, but at least one neighborhood is also reporting renewed crisis:

Homs : Tal Kalakh : security forces and thugs are attacking villages surrounding the city with machine guns. They are shooting at residential areas and four are reported wounded

The LCCS is also carrying reports of raids in the Sayl neighborhood of the important Damascus suburb of Harasta (MAP), as well as growing protests in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani (MAP).

This video was reportedly taken earlier today at an anti-government protest in Al Maliha, another suburb close to the capital (MAP):

There are also reports of protests near Aleppo. According to the LCCS, in Raytan, " A massive nighttime demonstration is taking place; participants are chanting for the toppling of the regime and saluting the army defectors."

There are also reports of protests this evening the in Marjeh district of Aleppo, though we're not exactly sure where that is:

Aleppo : A night demonstration in Al Marjeh Neighbourhood chanting for the downfall of the regime, Homs and all other invaded Syrian cities

1656 GMT: Another routine Friday video, hundreds of thousands of people gathered for prayer and an anti-regime rally in Ibb, Yemen:

1647 GMT: We've posted two more videos in our separate entry, 1 from the Aleppo suburb of Haratan, just northeast of the city limits, and the second reportedly taken today in Aleppo itself.

An anecdotal analysis - watching these videos, from both Aleppo and Damascus, is like watching an archer zero in on a target on a windy day, each hit growing closer to the bulls-eye. We'll call it "protest creep." In Damascus, it's been happening for months, and now we finally have evidence that the opposition is making headway into the capital. Now, we're seeing an accelerated version of that in Aleppo, which has fewer suburbs. Again, we'd caution that these are small protests, and are far from a sign that the two largest cities in Syria are on the verge of joning Homs or Hama. But if this trend continues, Assad will have a new, and very serious, problem on his hands in the only two large cities where he has been able to maintain support.

1642 GMT: The LCCS is reporting that 26 civilians have been killed today in Syria, including "14 martyrs in Homs, 10 martyrs in Karnaz in Hama, 2 martyrs in both Deir Ezzor and Damascus Suburbs, and a martyr in both Daraa and Damascus." This number does not appear to include the 10 members of the Syrian military who have reportedly been killed in Homs.

1627 GMT: The London-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights has documented the deaths of at least 8 civilians today in Homs alone.

2 people from the neighbourhood of Kerm Al-Zeyton and a boy from the city of Talbeesa, in Homs, were killed in gunfire. Another 2 people died today: a man died from injuries by a sniper’s bullet yesterday in Al-Turkman neighbourhood and an elderly man in Al-Hawla died from injuries sustained yesterday in gunfire in Taldo.

Besides, 2 people died in the city Rastan, Homs, from injuries sustained in gunfire yesterday when the farms, west of the city, were raided.

And according to local people, the body of a man was thrown from a security forces’ car in the neighbourhood of Al-Meedan.

The LCCS has two fresh reports (within the last 30 minutes) of violence in Homs, sparking concerns that this number will rise:

Homs: Martyrdom of Yamen Jameel Faham in Bab Drieb from being shot by security

Homs: Heavy shooting and explosions echoed in most of the city's neighborhoods

1617 GMT: Activists post this bloody video, reportedly that aftermath of an attack on civilians by Syrian security forces in the Damascus suburb of Ad Dumayr (MAP), approximately 30 km east-north-east of the capital:

1606 GMT: In our separate video entry, Scott Lucas has posted a video of a large protest in the Al Bab suburb of Aleppo, an important suburb just outside the center of the city (MAP). The previous video that we posted from Aleppo did not have a location associated with it. It appears that the two videos were taken with two different cameras, and it was not immediately obvious whether the two videos were taken at the same rally or two different ones. Regardless, both videos show that the Assad stronghold of Aleppo is nowhere not as secure as Assad would like, as over the last few days we've seen more videos from Aleppo than we've seen in months.

Meanwhile, we continue to hunt down videos and reports of protests in Damascus. While we shouldn't exaggerate the importance of these reports, they are striking, showing at the very least that the opposition is growing bolder and Assad's control of the streets growing weaker.

1600 GMT: Al Jazeera shares this unconfirmed report, that there is more trouble in the center of Damascus, west of our other reports (MAP):

"Security forces arrest many protesters in Salhiyeh area in the heart of #Damascus now. #Syria"

1551 GMT: Activists are reporting that a protest in the Guerran district of al Hasaka was disrupted by security forces. Tear gas can clearly be seen in the video, and gunfire was reported, though it is not immediately clear if there are any casualties.

1544 GMT: Two very important updates from the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria, both made within the last 10 minutes. The first, "massive" protests have started in the very central Jobar district of Damascus (MAP). The second update is just as important, that the Saqba district, just a few kilometers away, is under attack (MAP):

Damascus Suburbs: Saqba: Shelling from armored vehicles and heavy weapons in the city resulted the fall of more than 15 wounded.

1536 GMT: The following video reportedly shows a protest in Jebel al Zawiya, in Idlib Province. Towards the end of the video, armed soldiers can be seen. According to some reports, these soldiers defected recently, and are defending the protest against the military, sparking the celebration:

1506 GMT: Among the literally hundreds of videos of protests in Syria that we've seen posted today, perhaps half a dozen have showed a large protest in Ghabagheb, Daraa province. Now, the LCCS reports that this protest has come under attack:

Daraa: Ghabagheb: A women was injured by security gunfire today when they shot disperse a demonstration marched from Omari mosque after Friday prayer. Musab Qasem Al Habous was arrested from the same demonstrations

1500 GMT: Reuters provides more details from the Syrian military's claim that "terrorists" attacked and killed 6 soldiers near Homs:

"An armed terrorist group undertook an evil assassination plot that martyred six pilots, a technical officer and three other personnel on an air force base between Homs and Palmyra," the military spokesman said on state television. (Reuters)

1443 GMT: Scott Lucas has posted a potentially important video, reportedly a peaceful protest in Aleppo. The videographer has blurred the faces of the protesters in order to protect their identities, and there are few landmarks that could help verify the video. Still, the video comes from a reliable source, and we'll keep our eyes open for reports and details from Aleppo.

1437 GMT: A mistake, and a cover up, in Saudi Arabia --- Fawaz Bin Naser Bin Abdulaziz, a member of the ruling family, sent a tweet earlier that has since been deleted. Ali Alsaffar has posted a translation, as well as a picture of the original tweet stream:

Here is the tweet of in which a royal family mem. called 4 "Cleansing #Qatif from the agents of Iran" b4 he deleted it. http://pic.twitter.com/47PpCWOX

1429 GMT: An activist shares the video below, taken earlier, showing plain-clothed "Shabiha" and military vehicles taking positions in Hama, Syria. Another activist posts this video, the streets of Hama covered in bullet casings and blood.

1423 GMT: The Syrian armed forces, using Syrian State TV, have announced that 6 elite soldiers have been killed in an ambush in Homs. Al Jazeera notes that SANA is calling this a "terrorist attack," but it is likely the work of Syrian defectors who have been fighting against the army to defend the embattled city in recent weeks.

1416 GMT: The AFP supplies details of clashes in Yemen, where more fighting has taken place and casualties are reported by other source:

Dissident troops from the First Armoured Brigade led by General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar exchanged mortar and machinegun fire in the early hours with forces of the central security services commanded by Saleh's nephew Yehya, residents said.

The fighting, which spread to the heart of the capital, lasted more than two hours. There was no immediate word on any casualties.

Tensions soared in the Al-Hasaba neighbourhood of north Sanaa -- scene of months of sporadic fighting between security forces and dissident tribesmen -- as rival gunmen set up roadblocks across the area.

The AFP also reports that 5 were killed yesterday in a similar attack.

1406 GMT: We have our first picture from a rally in Manchester, England, where protesters are holding signs and chanting in solidarity with imprisoned medics in Bahrain:

1400 GMT: James Miller reports for duty.

Activists have posted this video, reportedly taken today in Qalamoun, north of Damascus (MAP):

Now, the LCCS says that a rally has come under attack in Qamishli, a largely Kurdish town on the border with Turkey (MAP):

Qamishli: Security forces are throwing teargas toward the demonstrators who reached the city center, several of the demonstrators were arrested, among the detainees is the activist Jwan Nasr Eldin Ibrahim

1205 GMT: Health workers in Manchester in Britain plan to protest outside the Manchester Royal Infirmary from 1230 to 1400 GMT in support of Bahraini medical staff facing lengthy prison terms.

Almost 50 doctors and nurses have been imprisoned amidst the protests. Twenty of them were given sentences of 5 to 15 years last months for alleged acts against national security.

1125 GMT: First clips of today's protest in Syria are arriving --- Abu Kamal in the east:

1035 GMT: Al Jazeera English's report, with dramatic footage, of Thursday's funeral in Bahrain for Abdulnadi Qadhem, the man allegedly killed in an incident with a police jeep, and the attempt by security forces to disperse the procession:

1025 GMT: Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said, at a joint press conference with his Jordanian counterpart in Istanbul, that a new Arab League demand for Syria to end violence and allow observers is the "last chance" for the Assad regime.

Davutoğlu said of the League's ultimatum, which expires today, "It is a last chance, a new chance for Syria. We think it is now vital to put an end to the suffering of the Syrian people."

In contrast, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Alexander Lukashevich said at a press briefing, "At this stage, what we need is not resolutions, sanctions or pressure, but inter-Syrian dialogue."

1020 GMT: Video from the Yemeni capital Sana'a of a struggle between young anti-regime protesters and the opposition Islah faction (wearing blue shirts) for control of a stage:

0900 GMT: Look out for competing rallies in Bahrain today, with the opposition marching just outside of the capital Manama and regime supporters folks demonstrating in al-Rifa'a.

0825 GMT: As Parliamentary elections are held today in Morocco, Muhammad al-Khodayri reports on a singer who will not be able to participate:

From the early days of the protests in Morocco, rapper al-Haked’s anti-regime songs echoed in the streets, until he was arrested on dubious grounds.

Calling himself “The Spiteful” (al-Haked), an anonymous protester released a rap song on YouTube only a day after the start of the February 20 protest movement in Morocco.

Directly addressing the king in the name of the people, the song broke new ground in political speech, sharply criticizing the regime. Back then, nobody knew who he was.

Yet since September 9, al-Haked has been languishing in Casablanca’s Akasha prison. He was arrested on charges of assault and battery, but many believe that his real crime was political activity, since his lyrics set a new standard for direct criticism of the Moroccan regime.

0700 GMT: The Financial Times headlined last night, "Bahrain at Crossroads on Path to Reconciliation":

Even though the [Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry], led by war crimes professor Cherif Bassiouni, did not point the finger of blame [for systematic abuses] at higher-level officials, it has shattered the hardliners’ narrative, including the supposed links with Tehran.

Western officials, convinced that the long-term stability of Bahrain and indeed the survival of the royal family rest on reaching a power-sharing deal with the Shia, are now hoping that the crown prince’s hand will be strengthened by the report, allowing him to initiate a credible dialogue with opposition parties.

Even before it was posted, the article may have been out-of-date. Wednesday's release of the Commission's report --- distorted beyond recognition in the accounts by Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority and State media --- was overtaken yesterday by clashes in Ala'ali, after the funeral of a man who allegedly died following an incident with a police jeep.

And the reference to Crown Prince Salman, considered the "moderate" in the Royal Family, appears to be wishfulness by those Western officials, rather than reality, at the moment. So far there is no indication that the Crown Prince, eclipsed in March when his efforts at dialogue with the opposition were overtaken by the crackdown on dissent, is in a position to bring "reconciliation".

In Syria, any thought of a crossroads for reconciliation may be long-gone. Almost unnoticed by mainstream media, at least 28 people --- 26 in Homs, one in Hama, and one in Daraa Province --- were killed by security forces on Thursday. The Syrian military, with tanks, reportedly shelled the hideouts of defecting troops in Rastan, near Homs.

The Arab League said on Thursday that it would give the Assad regime an extra day to sign a protocol allowing monitors into the country.

The League has said it will proceed with plans for economic sanctions, such a suspension of commercial flights to Syria and a halt to dealings with the Central Bank, if there is no agreement. A spokesman said the League's Economic and Social Council would meet on Saturday to discuss the measures.

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