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Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) LiveBlog: Sanctions on Damascus

Doctors and nurses in Bahrain this morning, before their appeal against sentences of 5 to 15 years in prison

2106 GMT: Another striking claim, a reliable activist tweets that a protest left the Haydariyeh district, near the center of Aleppo.

2056 GMT: The (reliable) claim of the day - this video was reportedly taken tonight in the Old City, the district at the very heart of Damascus:

2034 GMT: Back from a lunch/Iran/fight-with-former-Bush-diplomat break to find that the LCCS has released their latest death toll - 18 killed so far in Syria, and no mention of casualties in Rankus:

Todays’ martyrs in Syria reached so far 18 martyrs among them is a little girl, 11 martyrs in Homs 3 of them from Talkalakh, 2 martyrs each in both of Idlib and Hama suburb, 1 martyr in each of Hasakeh, Deir Ezzor, and in Quneitra

1846 GMT: The LCCS is reporting that a protest in the Midan area of Damascus has been fired upon by Syrian security forces:

Damascus : security forces open fire on a night demonstration in Nahr Aysheh in Al Midan area, demonstrators took off from Al Dahadeel area in a big demonstration in retaliation to killing the soldier. Security forces are now chasing them and conducting a random detention campaign in the area

The LCCS is also reporting shooting in Idlib, near the Abou Thir Al Ghifari mosque in the center of the city.

1835 GMT: The following is a series of reports from a Twitter account, Ameer, whom we have not been following. The claims made match some patterns that we've seen, but the specific claim retweeted by Ameer, that 15 have been killed in Rankus, is a suspect number without verification, but one that we will examine further. This stream starts 2 hours ago:

Huge arrest campaign is underway in Al-Rhebeh town near Damascus The town is under siege, military checkpoints at all entrances.

Huge arrest campaign is underway in Al-Rhebeh town near Damascus The town is under siege, military checkpoints at all entrances.

Power outage in Al-Zabadani city and the adjacent towns of Madaya, Buken and Bludan. Damascus' suburbs, #Syria

In the last few days, Syrian regime has increased the level of crackdown and violence in all suburbs of Damascus. #Syria

Heavy gunfire in Al-Zabadani city, near Damascus. Electricity is off, protesters are in the streets. #Syria

RT @_Zazo_ more than 15 martyrs today in #rankos with heavy existence of military and heavy artillery shelling #syria #kalamoon

More reinforcements are heading toward Rankous town near Damascus. Information leakage from inside the town is very scarce.

Reports of helicopters hovering over Erbeen and Hamourya, eastern suburbs of Damascus. #Syria

The first accounts match our own news sources. The Casualty count is news to us, though inside the realm of possibility, based on the amount of violence being reported in Rankus. The report that more tanks are being deployed there is also news, but matches patterns we've been seeing. We have no verification of helicopters near eastern Damascus.

1810 GMT: While we continue to search for evidence of what is happening north of Damascus, large protests continue near the city. Large demonstrations are reported in Harasta, and we've received this video reportedly taken this evening in Zamalka:

1804 GMT: Many activists have reported a large protest in Idlib city. According to an activist, this is the livestream:

1757 GMT: Another activist tweets news about a military campaign north of Damascus, this report coming from the village of Rankus:

Random shelling on houses in #Rankus now, and initial reports about lots of dead and injured. #Syria

1746 GMT: This video reportedly shows opposition figures creating a trash fire to block the road and stop tanks from entering into Al Tall, a suburb north of Damascus close to where several unconfirmed reports of fighting have come in from in the last hour. The videographer appears to say the location and today's date (My Arabic is very bad, so we'd appreciate confirmation in the comments section):

What we're seeing is a series of unconfirmed reports that suggest a pattern, a possible escalation, or even a possible attack from the Syrian Free Army north of the capital. Again, we'll stress that these are unconfirmed and isolated reports, but they have our undivided attention at the moment.

1734 GMT: The LCCS shares this video, reportedly showing Assad tanks shelling the Ali Bin Abi Taleb school in Houleh, Homs:

1716 GMT: An activist supplies this report, more violence north of Damascus (MAP):

Damascus Suburbs : Zabadani : sounds of dense shooting from the station area

Neither report is confirmed, and no details are available right now.

1711 GMT: The LCCS reports that there has been a large explosion of unknown origin in Barzeh, a suburb close to the capital city, Damascus (MAP). We'll monitor the claim to see if we can find details.

1701 GMT: Some disturbing images from Syria, Tweeted by an activist. We'll warn the viewers that the videos show, clearly, exactly what they are described as showing. These match some of the other eyewitness accounts that we've received:

EXTREMELY GRAPHIC: Ziad al-Masri & Abdu al-Hussain were reportedly killed and run over by tanks in Beyada, Homs #SYRIA

GRAPHIC: Mohammad Taljeh was reportedly killed by security forces in Tak Kalakh today, his face covered in blood

1634 GMT: The Syrian trade and economy minister has said that new Arab League sanctions will hurt the country, but won't cripple in. According to the AFP, some European experts agree:

A European economic expert based in the Syrian capital agreed that the sanctions, while of symbolic importance as a first for the Arab League, were not foolproof.

"Taking a closer look, there's a big margin of maneuver, and we'll have to wait two weeks to see how the measures are implemented," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

According to the country's office of statistics, trade with fellow Arab states accounted for 52.5 percent of Syrian exports and 16.4 percent of its imports in 2009.

Its leading trade partners in the region are Iraq, with a 31-percent share, followed by Lebanon, with more than 12 percent -- both neighbors which said they will not implement the Arab sanctions.

We'd caution against dismissing Arab League sanctions as ineffective, however. First of all, the impact of continued unrest and EU sanctions have already had a devastating effect. The additional AL sanctions will absolutely be felt. Secondly, the Arab League has been constantly reconsidering their stance on Syria, gradually ramping up their pressure with each passing week. Many activists have been frustrated at the pace that the Arab League has followed, as they have given the Assad regime many chances to reform. Now, the AL is moving into action on Syria, and it is very possible that these new sanctions could be the first move among many.

1606 GMT: Consider this a mini "What EA is reading" alert, though we may touch on these stories later. The Kuwait Times provides an excellent overview of the current tensions in the country, especially as 3 of the 16 cabinet members may resign in protest. Yazan Al-Saadi takes us deeper, examining the root causes if recent unrest in Kuwait, arguing that what is happening there is much deeper than the traditional "Arab Spring" narratives and pointing out the, for the meantime, instability is, paradoxically, sustainable in Kuwait.

Shifting to Saudi Arabia, The Guardian's Hayder al-Khoei examines the media coverage of recent violence in the country, specifically the civilian deaths in Qatif, incidents that have been barely covered, even by Al Jazeera.

Finally, we have the full text of a UN report on human rights abuses in Syria, released earlier today. We'll read the entire report and share our own analysis when we have a chance, but readers who want a head start can read the report here.

1545 GMT: International pressure on Syria is growing, Turkey, Jordan, and France are contemplating some sort of no-fly zone, and attacks from the Syrian Free Army are on the increase. Activists have been reporting that Assad forces are digging in, building bunkers, hiding tanks under canopies, and that the pace of these activities is increasing. Activists are also speculating that these efforts are designed to both improve defenses in case of attack, and hide Assad's military from satellite images, decreasing the available evidence that international bodies have that points of a military occupation.

Activists post this video, a small bunker on a busy street in Hama:

1535 GMT: CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom discusses the BICI report on rights abuses in Bahrain, and asks whether the report will have any effect on conditions in the prisons and on the streets. Within the interview, Ayat Al-Gormezi speaks about her time in prison. Gormezi was imprisoned for reciting an anti-regime poem, but was released before her 1 year sentence was served:

1514 GMT: According to a new UN human rights report, the Syrian military is guilty of atrocities, including the murder of 256 children:

A panel of independent experts says at least 256 children were killed by government forces as of early November, with some boys sexually tortured and a 2-year-old girl shot to death just to prevent her from growing up to be a demonstrator.

1451 GMT: The LCCS is reporting a new, fierce wave of attack on the city of Homs. Civilian casualties are reported in the Jub Al Jandali and Al Wa'er districts (MAP), and multiple casualties are reported in the Boyaba Al-Sharqiya village. This was reportedly the scene in Tall Kalakh, Homs, where civilian buildings reportedly came under attack by the military:

1443 GMT: An EA correspondent in Bahrain sends us videos of yesterday's protests organized by the Feb14 Coalition, in order to protest death sentences handed down to civilians. This video was taken in Alma'ameer village:

We also received videos from the protest in Barbar village, Jid-Hafs village, and this video taken in Sanabis:

1418 GMT: At 0845 GMT, Scott Lucas described the ridiculously-funny-yet-dangerously-surreal scene in a Bahrain court, complete with a picture of Wile E Coyote. Now, an EA correspondent in Bahrain shares this picture which was leaked from the courtroom showing prosecutors producing swords from a box of weapons allegedly wielded by medics in the Salmaniya Medical Centre back in March:

1407 GMT: James Miller reports for duty and finds that the 7 people have been killed so far in Syria:

Todays’ martyrs in Syria reached so far 7 martyrs: 2 martyrs in Hama suburb, 1 martyr in Idlib, 1 martyr in Hasakeh, 1 martyr in Deir Ezzor, 1 in Quneitra and 1 martyr in Homs.

1155 GMT: In the United Arab Emirates, the lawyer for the five political activists sentenced this weekend for insulting the country's leaders  says they have received a presidential pardon and will be released from custody.

The office of President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has not confirmed the claim.

Doctors and nurses in Bahrain this morning, before their appeal against sentences of 5 to 15 years in prison

1015 GMT: The appeal hearing of the 20 doctors and nurses in Bahrain has been adjourned until 9 January --- the defendants outside the court:

Bahrain's State news agency says that the appeal of two protesters sentenced to death for killing two policeman has also been postponed to 9 January.

0955 GMT:,Al-Watan claims that the Emir of Kuwait will hold an emergency meeting with his Cabinet to avoid government collapse amid growing protests.

The Kuwaiti newspaper said at least three ministers --- Justice, Health, and Development affairs, had resigned.

0845 GMT: The appeal hearing of the 20 doctors and nurses (see 0740 GMT) has opened in Bahrain with the prosecutor, presenting evidence against defendants, opening boxes with weapons he says were found in Salmaniya Medical Centre.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom reports, "Bahrain medics cracking up as prosecutor presents more weapons to judge. Swords were just shown."

And, during a break in the hearing, "Medics outside court now - outraged. Saying they've never seen weapons in their lives."

The possible quote of the day comes from a Bahraini activist: "Waiting for [the prosecutor] to start pulling out lamps and hat stands from the box, Mary Poppins style".

An analyst chips in, "Photographic evidence of medic with unidentified weapon":

0815 GMT: Protesters risk sending out two large public messages in Bahrain: "We Are Peaceful" and "Our Government is Killing Us":

0810 GMT: An interesting story unfolds, concerning both Libya and Syria....

This weekend a Libyan brigade detained Abdulhakim Belhadj, head of the Tripoli Military Council and the former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, at Tripoli airport, accusing him of travelling on a fake passport.

Now a military official working with Mr Belhadj claims, "[He] met with Free Syrian Army leaders in Istanbul and on the border with Turkey. Mustafa Abdul Jalil (the interim Libyan leader) sent him there."

According to the official, a letter from Abdul Jalil persuaded the brigade to let Belhadj fly out of Libya. He said Belhadj discussed sending Libyan fighters to train troops.

0805 GMT: Amnesty International has urged officials in the United Arab Emirates to release five activists following their conviction on Sunday by the Federal Supreme Court for on-line insults to the country's leaders.

Nasser bin Ghaith, Fahad Salim Dalk, Hassan Ali al-Khamis and Ahmed Abdul Khaleq received two years’ imprisonment for criminal defamation, while Ahmed Mansoor was given three years.

The five men were convicted on the basis of blogs and on-line petitions calling for reforms.

0755 GMT: Largely overlooked by the world, mass protests continue each Sunday in Morocco, calling for meaningful political reforms. They took place again yesterday, despite Friday's Parliamentary elections --- Mamfakinch offers a map for all their videos.

0740 GMT: In Bahrain, 20 doctors and nurses return to court today for an appeal of sentences of 5 to 15 years handed down in October.

The medical staff, charged with offences against national security, were sentenced by a military tribunal but, amidst international outcry over the cases, the regime moved the appeal to a civilian court.

0620 GMT: On Sunday the Arab League approved sanctions, effectively immediately, on the Assad regime. Measures include a halt to transactions with the Syrian Central Bank and Arab government funding for projects in Syria, a travel ban on Syrian officials to League countries, and a freeze on the regime's assets.

The measures are significant both in themselves and as part of a wider, longer-term process. Throughout the last two weeks, governments such as the US, France, and Turkey have been signalling that they no longer have any hope for President Assad, whatever his assurances about "reforms". So --- although specifics of the cases are very different --- the general approach follows that applied to Libya: a complementary two-step between the League and other countries in ratcheting up pressure which is effectively seeking "regime modification", if not "regime change".

We will be watching whether those steps go to other bodies, including the United Nations, and go beyond the economic, such as a "protection zone" in parts of Syria.

Protesters in Khalidiya in Homs last night chant, "We want the toppling of the regime":

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