See also Syria 1st-Hand: The Opposition's Quest for Arms and Ammunition br>
Bahrain 1st-Hand: "The World Looks Up to You" --- Attending the Mass Rally on Human Rights br>
Syria (and Beyond) LiveBlog: "Bring Your Tanks Here"
2105 GMT: A tale of two contrasting interviews and Bahrain....
Sheikh Ali Salman, the head of the opposition group Al Wefaq, tells The Financial Times:
The US and UK should call for an elected, representative government, and a timetable and a road map to achieve that. If this does not happen then they should say that this regime has lost legitimacy. This is what is suitable if they want to talk about democracy and not show double standards in the Arab spring.
Salman welcomed some of the regime's steps after the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report, notably allowing the Red Cross into prisons, but he was sceptical about others:
We don’t see an intention really to implement the report, they are just trying to provide a decorative picture. No one who reads the human rights report would think that the same government accused of the abuses could be allowed to implement the recommendations.
Salman set the condition of the end of the Prime Ministerial reign of more than 40 years of Sheikh Khalifa al-Khalifa --- if he did not resign, "the king should remove him, that is a normal, logical demand". He continued, “They don’t look at people as citizens who have rights – so long as this mentality is there, any changes will be limited."
Meanwhile, Con Coughlin of The Daily Telegraph uses an encounter with King Hamad to offer the effusive praise of "a fascinating insight into how the monarchies are managing to survive these challenging times....King Hamad has proved himself to be extremely adroit in dealing with the protesters' demands."
In the interview, the King declared:
What [has] happened was the result of individual acts, not government policy. It is not the policy of the Ministry of Interior to go and kill people on the roads. The policemen and soldiers involved in the killings did not take notice of the discipline side of matters.
If people have done something wrong then they should be held accountable. We have removed people from positions of authority so that this does not happen again.
The King continued, "I care about Bahrain. Bahrain is very dear to me. I will not allow people to play around with our laws."
1925 GMT: Large evening protests are reported in many cities and villages across the country. Three of the better videos below:
Deir Ba'alba section of Homs:
Al Atarib, Aleppo:
Now protesters in Duraz chanting "peaceful peaceful" as they walk towards the entrance of their village where riot police stand
Riot police prepare to attack peaceful protesters
They just attacked us now, tear gas everywhere. Protesters calling to riot police "why do u attack us! We're peaceful!!"
Protesters are out again, riot police now running into duraz and shooting as protesters chant "down down Hamad"
Riot police ran past me and are now shooting continuously into the village of Duraz. Smoke everywhere
Between the loud shots I hear protesters still chanting peaceful peaceful
didn't see even 1 rock in any of the protesters hands, they had their hands raised as 1 young man kept saying "we'll stay peaceful"
The LCC has documented 376 martyrs thus far in December alone; these were victims of army and security forces' gunfire. Among the martyrs are 28 male children; 6 female children; and 17 women. Of the total number of victims, 25 died under torture.
1832 GMT: The main Bahraini opposition group, Al Wefaq, has responded to the government's pledge to reform. AlWefaq's statement says that the regime is not serious about reform, and human rights violations continue despite promises that they will stop.
1814 GMT: Two videos have surfaced, both reportedly taken by the same videographer in Bab Sbaa, Homs. The first (below) shows loud gunfire, and the second clearly shows damage, reportedly caused by mortar fire:
1808 GMT: A hard to watch video - This video was reportedly taken today in Homs. According to the narrative attached to it, this man was hot in the chest and the other protesters cannot get to him because of the snipers. They try to drag him off the street using tools. After the 2 minute mark, some sort of explosive (perhaps a flash grenade) was shot or thrown at the protesters as they try to recover the body.
Afterwards, protesters examine the man's body and produce his ID card.
However, the newest report adds a detail that we did not know, that defectors and the Syrian army have clashed near an army barracks in Ruhaybah, northeast of Damascus. While there are no specific details within the report, and we have not found a second source, any clashes between defectors and the military, especially in the Dimashq governorate, is always newsworthy.
1629 GMT: Another report of fighting between Syrian defectors and the Syrian military in Idlib:
Idlib: Intensive clashes between the Free Army and the security forcess at the Sa'ah roundabout in Maaret Masreen. The shooting continues till now
So what does all this mean?
The city of Homs and Hama continue to be under siege, but this is not new news. The Syrian military seems content to continue to attack these cities, particularly, Homs, which has been facing nearly constant bombardment for months.
However, the regime has seen a surge in opposition in Daraa province, particularly in Dael and in the city of Daraa. Crackdowns have not worked. The regime seems to be moving against the villages in order to enforce its authority and frighten the citizens of Daraa province into line.
In Idlib, we've been seeing more defections, and reports that weapons smugglers are helping to arm the Syrian Free Army. The Syrian army has repeated made blitz-style attacks on prominent towns in the region, but today the Syrian Free Army appears to be launching a concerted defense of several of the villages around Ma'arrat Masreen.
As protests continue to grow, and the crackdown continues to escalate, and the defectors are increasingly bolder and stronger, it is increasingly clear that Assad is not capable of ending this crisis.
Rula Amin adds that the situation in Homs is out of control:
1617 GMT: Now the LCCS makes two troubling updates in the last 20 minutes, suggesting a large escalation in Daraa province:
Darra: Al-Jaa: Extreme and rapid shelling by tanks led to the martyrdom of Mr.Nawaf Abu-Tarka along with many injuries. The village is in dire condition, crimes against humanity are being committed and all basic services have been cut off along with any communication.
Darra: The army tanks are bombing several villages, some include the Madaras, the east and west side of Maseke, and the town of Al-Shiek
1612 GMT: We believe that the translation says that these defecting soldiers are rallying in Jabal al Zawiya, in Idlib province:
This video makes this LCCS report particularly striking:
Idlib: Jabal Zawyeh: Heavy arms firing by security forces in Ihsim town
1559 GMT: Earlier, we posted a video of soldiers running towards a mosque in Daraa. The LCCS reports that this video was taken in Nawa, Daraa, and those soldiers fired on the mourners (presumably right after the videographer stopped filming to run):
Daraa: Nawa: Army forces shoot fire on the funeral of the martyrs Omar Sharaf and Naeem Al-Rajih after it started from Ali Ibn Abi Taleb mosque chanting for toppling the regime
In an interview with the Yediot Ahronot daily published Tuesday, Peres singled out bills that would slash funding to dovish groups, silence Muslim calls to prayer and tighten a defamation law in a way that could hobble investigative reports.
While most governments are at least paying lip-service to democratic reforms, these bills represent a strong reaction by some Israeli policy makers to swim against the tide of the Arab Spring uprisings.
1546 GMT: A Syria-based television station dedicated to opposing the American mission in Iraq is closing its doors. Al-Rai TV, which was loyal to former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, was led by Mishan al-Jabouri, a former Iraqi politician in exile, said he would turn the station over to Qaddafi's daughter if she wanted the outlet.
1536 GMT: These students are reportedly from the School of Computer Engineering at Aleppo University:
'The Syrian troops have started an open warfare against defectors and pro-democracy protesters to crush the nine-month uprising against al-Assad,' said an army defector in the restive province of Idlib, which is the hub of deserters.
Ahmed Khalaf, one of the deserters based in Idlib near the Turkish border, told dpa by telephone that ten army defectors were killed in the province on Tuesday.
'The brave defectors died during the early hours of the morning when they confronted an army unit near Idlib,' he said.
He added that eleven civilians were killed when Syrian troops opened fire randomly on funeral processions in two villages, Maarret Masrin and Kfar Yahmul.
'In retaliation for the killing of civilians, our forces carried out an attack on an army unit near Idlib, killing seven army troops loyal to the regime,' Khalaf added.
Today's fighting is perhaps another major escalation, a sign that the Syrian defectors, who have been steadily growing in strength, are willing, and somewhat able, to challenge Assad's military in small-scale attacks.
Meanwhile, this video was reportedly taken in Daraa, at the funeral for the martyr. As the anti-Assad chants begin, soldiers run towards the mosque to respond. It is unclear what happened after the video ends:
1500 GMT: Some activists are reporting that today's protests on Aleppo University's campus is the largest protest in the city yet. Here's yet another video showing the crowd:
1448 GMT: The debate continues about the announcement by the UN's Navi Pillay that 5000 have been killed.
Several interesting points have been made. Listening to the BBC, the challenge, according to organizations that record civilian casualties in Iraq, is that the lists of casualties in Syria are harder to tie back to specific incidents. In other words, thanks in large part to the lack of professional and independent media, it is hard to specifically document each incident, not just each person who was killed.
However, activists argue that the 5000 figure is far too low, especially since so many have gone missing and are likely killed.
The VDC's latest count says 354 children are among the dead. Earlier this month Pillay updated journalists to say that 310 children were among those killled - a figure that matched the VDC's tally at the time.
As of this morning, 5130 have reportedly been killed, according to the VDC:
1441 GMT: The LCCS provides two updates in the last 25 minutes, detailing more reports of casualties in Idlib. In Kafer Yahmoul, a Turkish citizen was reported killed by security when his car was hit by bullets. In the nearby Ma'arrat Masreen, the LCCS reports, "the martyrdom of Mazen Al Kadi by the bullets of the security forces."
Protests are also reported at the Faculty of Science in Aleppo:
1424 GMT: Russia has sent yet another signal that it is unwilling to cooperate with the Syrian opposition, but it will stand by the Syrian regime. Russia's foreign minister, Sergi Lavrov, accused the opposition of failing to confront its militant "extremists", and even accused the opposition of creating a humanitarian crisis in order to drum up international support for intervention.
James Miller takes the liveblog.
1230 GMT: Tunisia's new president, Moncef Marzouki, was sworn in on Monday, promising, "I will be the guarantor of the national interests, the state of laws and institutions. I will be faithful to the martyrs and to the objectives of the revolution."
Marzouki paid tribute to those who died during the uprising against the Ben Ali regime, which fell in January, "Without their sacrifice, I wouldn’t be here in this place."
Earlier today, activists said 11 people had been killed by security forces, while State media said guards had slain two "terrorists" crossing from Turkey.
1139 GMT: Back to our opening story this moment and Britain's proclamation that all is well with "reform" in Bahrain. A day after King Hamad's meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London, the Foreign Office announces:
The Minister will discuss recent developments, in particular the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, and how the UK can work with Bahrain across a range of issues, from supporting implementation of the BICI recommendations to increasing trade relations.
Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Alistair Burt, today arrived in Manama for a two-day visit to Bahrain.
The Minister will also meet a variety of senior members of the Government and host a series of round tables discussions with representatives from businesses, the media and civil society. He will also meet members of the British community living and working in Bahrain.
Speaking ahead of the visit, Minister Burt said:
“My visit to Bahrain over the next two days will give me the opportunity to build on His Majesty King Hamad’s visit to the UK earlier this week. The British Government has welcomed the Government of Bahrain’s unprecedented decision to establish an Independent Commission of Inquiry and accept its findings. I look forward to discussing the steps it has taken so far, making clear the importance of swiftly implementing the report’s recommendations, and finding ways that the British Government can provide practical assistance. I urge all groups in Bahrain, in particular the opposition, to engage fully to seize this moment for reconciliation and broader reform. As Bahrain looks to the future the UK will continue to stand with it as a close friend and ally”.
After a wave of strikes and workers' action fuelled and empowered Egypt’s 18-day uprising, the burgeoning labour movement, subsequently empowered, began asserting itself: unilaterally declaring an independent trade union federation to rival its state-run counterpart and undertaking steps to dismantle the power dynamics and structure of the state's union. Recently, however, Egypt’s workers and unionists have found themselves fighting to maintain their gains.
1120 GMT: Egyptian authorities have transferred the case of 28 people, including detained blogger Alaa Abd-El Fattah, from state security prosecutors to investigative judges, raising the possibility of a trial in a civilian criminal court with the right to appeal.
Abd-El Fattah has been detained since 30 October in connection with clashes three weeks earlier in Cairo that left 27 people dead, most of them Christians. The activist has been accused of stealing a military weapon, deliberately destroying military property and attacking security forces. He has refused to answer questions put by military prosecutors, as he does not recognise their claimed authority.
State news agency SANA reports that guards killed two armed "terrorists" among a group of 15 who were trying to enter Syria across the Turkish border.
As it stands, around 1 in 4 civilians may have died as a result of this non-discriminate weapon, the use of which against other nations is actually banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Furthermore, many of those killed were not even taking part in the protests, making the circumstances especially tragic. Unfortunately though, it is hard to be optimistic about the commissioning of such an investigation. If it were to happen, it would undoubtedly be hailed, and then probably ignored.
0709 GMT: Syrian State media SANA's reform narrative this morning: "Within Atmosphere of Democracy and Free Will, the Syrians Cast Their Votes to Elect Their Representatives at Local Administration Councils."
That proclamation may not get much traction. There is no mention in SANA's story of turnout in a ballot that the opposition denounced as "utterly meaningless". And "democracy and free will" are already overshadowed by the announcement from Navi Pillay, the head of human rights for the United Nations: "It is my estimation that the total number of people killed since the protests began earlier this year is now likely to exceed 5,000. This situation is intolerable,".
Pillay noted that, when she last briefed the Human Rights Council in August, the UN's estimate of deaths was 2000.
0700 GMT: At last night's Doha Debate, a prominent media event, the motion was "This House has no confidence in Bahrain’s promises to reform."
At the end of the debate, which included Nabeel Rajab of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, 78% of the audience voted Yes.
0630 GMT: The slogan of "reforms are underway" is one often deployed by Syrian State media in recent months, amidst the rise of opposition to the Assad regime. This morning, however, we start with its presentation in the visit of Bahrain's King Hamad to British Prime Minister David Cameron.
The Bahraini monarch's day in London was part of an effort by both countries to promote "reform" after a tense autumn --- indeed, you can say that it was a British reward for the King. London had been extremely worried that the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, ordered by the King to consider the events around protests from February, would not appear; when it was delayed in September and October, British criticism was displayed through a statement by Foreign Secretary William Hague to Parliament.
The report finally came out on 23 November; what's more, the Bahraini regime has taken headline steps such as the announcement of another commission to consider the BICI recommendation and the replacement of the head of security forces. So the line yesterday, promoted by the Foreign Office, including Twitter messages from Foreign Secretary William Hague, and the BBC --- despite days of protests and clashes and the front-line incident of the death of a 5-day-old girl from inhalation of tear gas --- was to declare the King's "bold steps" as a "moderate reformer" in a process fully supported by Britain.
Both sides played their part after the chat at the Prime Minister's residence at 10 Downing Street. The BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner, the chief messenger for the "bold steps" of the "moderate reformer", put out the King's statement that he had had a "very good meeting" and that he had decided "to invite all parties, including those in opposition, to post an adviser in his office to monitor the reconciliation and reform process".
Cameron's spokesman said, "[The Prime Minister] urged the king to deliver swiftly on the commitments he has made to implement the recommendations from the inquiry and to drive forward reform and reconciliation in the country, engaging with the opposition as part of that process."
The story has quickly fallen down the BBC's pages, so attention to the Bahraini regime's international politics and the message of "reform" may now shift to Washington: will the Obama Administration, which held up a $53 million arms sale pending the appearance of the BICI report, now send the weapons?