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Friday
Dec232011

Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) LiveBlog: The Damascus Bombs

Footage from the scene of one of the bombings this morning in Damascus (Warning: Graphic Images)

See also Bahrain Special: Last Night It Rained Tear Gas
Iraq Aftermath: US Marine "I Am Sorry for the Role I Played in Fallujah"
Palestine Music Feature: The CD Highlighting Israel’s Imprisonment of Children
Thursday's Syria, Bahrain, Egypt (& Beyond) LiveBlog: Protest Resurgent


UPDATE: EA has received reports that the Baba Amr district in Homs has been attacked by Syrian forces. As such, we have launched a new liveblog (as it is now the 24th), where we will cover the latest developments on the attack.

2359 GMT: A prayer service tonight for 9 martyrs killed in the Baba Amr district of Homs:

Another day, another Friday, another steep price for freedom in Syria. And yet, even as we close the liveblog, new reports of death and violence pour in:

The LCCS reports that a man, Hamed Sleik, was killed today in Douma. "He is married and has a daughter. He was hit by fire from he security forces today near Khanshour Mosque. He was then arrested by the security forces and executed in prison."

But we need to remember two things to maintain perspective. First of all, each coffin, each number, is a mother or a father, a son or a daughter, a friend, a colleague, and a martyr to the tragedy that balances the hope of Arab Spring.

But the other thing to remember is that beyond the killing and the violence, the blood and the smoke, people are still protesting in Syria. They are still turning out, in impressive numbers, across the country. When things are busy, we struggle to document the sheer scope of the protests for logistical reasons, and EA, and the rest of the media, tends to report the "blood and guts," because it needs to be reported. Easily lost, however, is the bravery and defiance of those who don't get shot.

And at the end of the day, that, not the violence, is the surest sign yet that the opposition in Syria will not rest until they see the fall of the regime.

2338 GMT: A Bahraini regime supporter reports that a Sunni gathering was attacked by teargas tonight. Apparently, the Sunnis were gathering to express frustration at the lack of action against "terrorists," and may have been mistaken for anti-regime protesters.

This report, however, matches other reports that we've been receiving, that the government's failure to meet the demands of the protests has led to a significant disruption in daily life. Last night, some Bahrainis were so fed up with the amount of tear gas in the streets that they were taking to the internet to condemn the police, despite not necessarily sympathizing with the protesters.

In other words, there is a growing consensus in Bahrain that the status quo just isn't working for anybody anymore.

2235 GMT: LCCS is now reporting that 21 people were killed by security forces nationwide, 2 of them children. Then have also posted a video gallery showing many night protests this evening.

However, even at this late hour there are still fresh reports of gunfire and shelling in Homs.

2109 GMT: Prominent Syrian activists report that two large explosions have rocked the Al Qussour district of Homs in the last few minutes, and explosions and gunfire are harassing the city of Talbiseh, near the southern gate.

2058 GMT: An activist from the CFDPC posts these videos, a protest earlier today in Ghabaghib, Daraa province, and the shabiha firing on it:

2030 GMT: Defiant chanting drowns out the nearly constant explosions and gunfire in the Khalidiya district of Homs this evening:

1950 GMT: The sun has set, but several locations in Homs are reportedly under attack after nighttime anti-government protests, according to the LCCS. The Karm Al-Zaitoun, Al-Cornish, Joret Al-Sheyah, Deir Baalbah, Bayada and Khalidiya districts are all facing gunfire from regime forces (Map of Homs). But the LCCS reports that the Bab Dreib district may be getting it the worst:

Homs: Sound of explosions was heard in Bab Drieb neighborhood accompanied by heavy shooting and sound of another explosions was heard and heavy shooting in the police command in the ceneter of Homs.

1903 GMT: An EA correspondent shares this video:

"Today clashes in Sitra just next to the Police station, heavy use for teargas and black smoke due to tire burning."

It's still unclear who is burning the tires, but activists have burned tires in the past in order to counter the tear gas and provide roadblocks which, according to the protesters, helps prevent them from being runover by police jeeps.

1850 GMT: An activist associated with the CFDPC shares this video with EA Worldview:

This demonstration kicked off outside Hussein Khattab mosque in Midan, we can see security forces and demonstrators chant "the Syrian army are traitors."

1842 GMT: Back from a quick lunch break.

Earlier we reported that the headquarters of the opposition party, AlWefaq, was attacked by tear gas in Bahrain. This picture gives a good indication of the scale of the attack:

1736 GMT: Though at least 8 people were killed today in Homs (according to LCCS), and though the city is often attacked by artillery shells, tanks, and machine guns, the people of Homs are not in hiding. This video was reportedly taken earlier today in the Khalidiya district of Homs. Beyond the large, defiant crowd, not the "prison" that has been set up. Its occupants - foreign minister Walid al Muallem, Maher Assad (commander of the Republican Guard and the army's elite Fourth Armored Division and brother of the President), and of course President Bashar al Assad.

1730 GMT: EA has been able to confirm that there were large protests in the central, and crucial, Midan district of Damascus. These protesters are outside the Zein al-Abdeen mosque, openly challenging the security forces in the presence of a large security contingent.

1721 GMT: The Syrian Revolution General Commission has released a statement denouncing the bomb attacks in Damascus:

The Syrian Revolution General Commission a representative of the people’s movement in Syria and a group that plans, organizes and leads integral parts of the Syrian Revolution reaffirms the following:

“The Syrian Revolution has maintained all actions to remain peaceful and has never adopted any military tactics”

The bombings that took place in Damascus today were a familiar pathetic move from the Syrian government and a feeble attempt to plant fear and terror in the hearts of civilians. These bombings were strategically planned during the beginning few days of the International observers presence on Syrian grounds in effort to damage our peaceful movement against oppression and injustice.

This is a repeated action Syrians have experienced back in the 80s when the Assad regime would murder their own police officers, bomb civilian and governmental buildings only to blame it on any movement they did not approve of. The very similar bombings that used to take place in the 80s were the regime’s excuse in entering different cities and committing more horrific annihilations on innocent civilians.

We hereby denounce the Syrian Regime’s bombings of public buildings and declare that the Syrian people are very aware of this regime’s tactics. We are now more persistent to continue their mission until freedom is achieved.

1714 GMT: The CFDPC reports that electricity has been cut in the Damascus suburb of Harasta, and EA correspondents have seen multiple videos that suggest a heavy security presence in the area.

1710 GMT: While we continue to monitor today's developments in Syria, the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria have a stark reminder: according to their figures, 56 people have been killed by security forces, 4 of them children, since the arrival of the Arab League observers.

1706 GMT: This video, reportedly taken in Douma today, was posted before reports of violence (see update 1646), showing a heavy security presence and the arrest of several men:

1653 GMT: Turning back to Bahrain, here is yet another video, reportedly taken today in Sitra, of a police officer throwing a molotov cocktail at protesters. Reports like this are now widespread:

1646 GMT: The Coalition of Free Damascenes For Peaceful Change reports that violence has broken out in Douma, an important suburb of Damascus. According to eyewitness reports, security forces fired on peaceful protests. The video below reportedly shows a protester injured in the attack:

1642 GMT: The following video reportedly shows an attack on a mosque in Kafrenbaudh, Hama governorate:

1630 GMT: A disturbing series of videos from Al Quria, Deir Ez Zor, show army attacking the area. These were reportedly taken on December 19th:

We have not yet been able to confirm the violence in the area.

1614 GMT: The LCCS reports that heavy gunfire has broken out in Zamalka, Damascus.

Also, this video confirms reports EA has been receiving all morning, that a heavy security presence has deployed in Irdeen, Damascus. It is not the only video we've seen, but it is the best quality:

1600 GMT: Another video from Sitra of aggressive and indiscriminate policing has surfaced. The video shows an officer running towards a group of protesters and throwing what appears to be a molotov cocktail towards them.

1542 GMT: Things are bad in Bahrain. We've heard the terrible reports, and seen small videos and snippets, but we were not prepared for the videos posted below. These were taken today in Sitra. The images are just - baffling. What are the police even trying to accomplish? It appears that the entire city is on fire.

An EA correspondent agrees with our bewilderment:

"They are escalating their brutality!! It's unbelievable what they are doing!!!

"They don't understand that this won't work. People won't stop protesting. The number of people joining the protests is increasing, actually. By those acts they are creating a community with nothing to lose!! I just can't imagine how things will turn once this happen...

There are already signs of this. Last night, we saw several Tweets expressing frustration at the police response to this, not from activists in Bahrain, but by residents who have been trying to stay out of the conflict.

1534 GMT: While activists and our correspondents on the ground in Bahrain are reporting on the tear gas and the arrests, the media has caught a developing story. The weekly meeting of the main opposition party, Alwefaq, has also been disrupted by tear gas:

Police forcibly broke up the Al Wefaq party’s weekly meeting Friday and also used tear gas to disperse hundreds of opposition supporters attempting to protest in the island kingdom’s capital.

1520 GMT: According to the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria, 16 people have been killed today by security forces:

eight (8) in Homs, three (3) in Ghabaghib in Daraa, two (2) in Hama and two martyrs (2) in Idlib and one (1) martyr in Douma in Damascus Suburbs

1515 GMT: This video was reportedly taken yesterday in AlMugsha, Bahrain. It was apparently taken by two women inside a home. Outside, the street fills with tear gas, and police make arrests. According to an EA correspondent in Bahrain, this was taken after a funeral procession was disrupted by police:

1504 GMT: Several activists in Bahrain are reporting a worrying escalation of violence in Sitra. "Huge bangs" are being reported. Pictures emerging show large clouds of black smoke rising above Sitra Island. Abu_Haider tweets:

"#Sitra is in alert status Now @ 5:10 PM [1410 GMT].. Huge Huge numbers of police mercenaries Vehicles & main enterance is blocked."

Video and pictures of Sitra island taken from the road:

1456 GMT: The day started by reports of these bombings in Damascus, which immediately appeared to be the work of Syria insurgent fighters. However, that narrative appears to be crumbling. Not only do the eyewitness accounts point to something highly suspicious, so too do the actions of the syrian government. The Guardian has another excellent example:

The Syrian state media appeared to be laying the ground work for its claims of a terrorist attack yesterday.

On Thursday Sana reported Lebanese government concerns that members of al-Qaida were infiltrating Syria via East Lebanon.

1447 GMT: Activist Alexander Page has translated for EA a report from an Witness in Damascus - also a resident just near the State Security Dectiorate where the bombing too place today. The report comes from within the ground network who report to the Coaltion of Free Damascenes for Peaceful Change:

"Half an hour before the bombing took place, there was a significantly high security presence. One side of the road was cut off 10 minutes before the explosion itself. As soon as the road was opened an explosion was heard, and then another one followed about 5 minutes later. Heavy gunfire then started by the security forces for 30 minutes. There were no clashes, but gunfire coming from the state security building. Yesterday there was a warning by the government that people should not take to the streets on Friday as there was suspicion of a terrorist attack and pointing out it could be a bombing in central Damascus."

1443 GMT: The LCCS is reporting that, so far, 12 people have been killed today across Syria, "8 in Homs, 2 martyrs each in Hama and Douma."

However, that report is 30 minutes old, and already new reports of violence are pouring in. Just relying on reports from the LCCS for the moment, they report an attack in Deir Bielbe, Homs, which has left at least 1 person dead, heavy gunfire in the Inshaat district of Homs (map of Homs), a 28 year old who was reportedly tortured to death in prison in Idlib, and a peaceful demonstration was reported attacked, killing 1, in Ghabaghib, Daraa.

Despite these reports of violence, there are also impressive demonstrations in the city of Homs:

This video was reportedly taken today in the Rifaye district of Homs:

This was reportedly taken today in the hard-hit neighborhood of Bab al Dreib, Homs:

1411 GMT: The Syrian government-run television, SANA, is already giving airtime to analysts who have blamed the US, Israel, Europe, and Al Qaeda for today's explosion.

Meanwhile, The Guardian speaks to an activist in Daraa is doubts the government's version of events:

Streets around the bomb sites were closed by the security forces hours before the explosions took place, witnesses told activists.

Horan, an anti-government activist in Dera'a, said:

"Three or four people have told me that the streets were closed by the security services before the bombing."

Speaking via Skype he said:

"In normal circumstances it is very difficult to get to these streets, because it the place of the intelligence headquarters, so how did a bomber get there? This has been done by the regime, we are sure about that."

He suspected that the bodies shown on state TV were planted by the government.

Several demonstrators are killed every day by the regime. I'm sure that some of the bodies [they showed] were those of demonstrators. They have planted bodies to before, they took dead people from Dera'a [in the south] and showed the media bodies in Jisr al-Shughour (near the Turkish border).

This activist is not the only one who is skeptical. Kareem Lailah, Editor-in-Chief of Syrian revolution newspaper (Syrian Hurriyat), sends this tweet:

How on earth 140 civilians were in the explosion location, while it is national security branch in restricted area??

While the Free Syrian Army has denied responsibility and has condemned the attack, and these activists have expressed doubt that this event wasn't staged, it is also conceivable that the attack was not launched through official channels.

1405 GMT: An EA correspondent in Bahrain shares this photo, black smoke rising above Bilad Alqadim. According to the correspondent, Sitra, and many villages, are covered in smoke today.

He also reports gunfire in his village, which we are not disclosing for anonymity sake.

James Miller takes the liveblog.

1335 GMT: More images of the Bahraini police's use of tear gas on opposition headquarters Al Wefaq:

1315 GMT: We have had a rush of video from demonstrations across Syria, including in the coastal city of Lattakia, which has been relatively quiet for months. This footage reportedly shows security forces firing on a march in Jbeileh in Deir Ez Zor Province in the northeast:

Military supported with tanks patrol the centre of Kafrnabel in the northwest:

Burning the Iran and Hezbollah flags in Hameh in Damascus:

The Damascus suburb of Saqba:

Binnish in the northwest:

Anadan in Aleppo Province:

Hamadiya in Hama:

1310 GMT: Pictures from today's rally in Tahrir Square in Cairo --- an overhead view of a cordon of men protecting women as they protest:

Women chant slogans against the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces:

1255 GMT: An EA correspondent sent this report from Bahrain 20 minutes ago:

Just joined a protest near our home.. Police came and tear-gassed.

Now moat of Sitra villages are going out protesting. Roads blocked and youth gathered outside. Police on main roads tear gassing the villages.

1245 GMT: In Bahrain, police have again used tear gas on marches, including in front of the headquarters of the opposition society Al Wefaq.

1235 GMT: Back from a break to find Syria's Dunia TV reporting that the death toll from this morning's Damascus bombs is now more than 40 with more than 100 wounded.

Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad has told the Associated Press that more than 30 people were killed, and 100 wounded.

An activist reports that Al Jazeera Arabic Live, BBC Arabic, France24 are blocked in Damascus. Al-Arabiya is available, but the signal is weak.

Al Jazeera confirms that it is suffering interference because it is broadcasting live from anti-regime protests.

Claimed footage of the arrival of the military in the Damascus suburb of Qattana to prevent demonstrations

1125 GMT: Speaking to Al Jazeera English, the head of the Free Syrian Army, has condemned the Damascus bombings and denied that the FSA were involved.

1115 GMT: Smoke above the Syrian capital Damascus this morning after the two bombings:

1035 GMT: Al-Manar, the TV channel of Lebanon's Hezbollah, is reporting 30 dead and 55 wounded from this morning's two bombs outside state security buildings in Damascus.

1030 GMT: Video has been posted of a march outside a mosque in Duraz in Bahrain after the Friday prayer, with the crowds protesting the demolition of Shia places of worship by the regime.

1020 GMT: AFP reports on dozens of wounded Syrians being smuggled into Lebanon daily via secret routes established by the Free Syrian Army. The injured are taken in by Lebanese who have set up makeshift clinics.

1015 GMT: Numbers in Tahrir Square in Cairo are reportedly low this morning, with hundreds in front of the stage listening to the Friday Prayer sermon.

0935 GMT: Syrian State TV says several civilians and soldiers have been killed in the two bombings in Damascus. It is airing footage of victims being transferred to ambulances and shots of dead people and damaged buildings.

0925 GMT: Activists on Twitter have reported two large explosions in the Kfarsouseh area of the Syrian capital Damascus this morning, with the blasts heard several kilometres away in Barzeh. One activist says there are sounds of gunfire and ambulance sirens in the Muhajreen area in the north of the city.

State TV has reported two attacks by "terrorist" suicide bombers with cars filled with explosives. It continued, "Initial enquiries hold Al-Qaeda responsible."

Witnesses say a car tried to ram its way into a State Security compound, while another car exploded in front of a security service building in the same area.

0705 GMT: In Syria, seven Arab League officials have arrived to prepare for the entry of observers next week. There was no significant news around their mission; meanwhile, activists on Thursday reported that at least 23 people, including 14 in Homs and six in Idlib, were slain by security forces.

The number was a decrease in the death toll earlier this week, possibly because the regime military had established its presence across Idlib Province --- particularly in Jabal al-Zawiya, where scores of people were reportedly killed on Monday and Tuesday --- in the northwest. Al Jazeera English's Zeina Khodr reported, from the words of an activist, "According to this activist, Jabal al-Zawiya is under the total control of the Syrian army. Many people have fled the area. They are taking shelter in fields in that province. [Residents] were not able to escape into Turkey because the Syrian army beefed up its presence along the border."

0640 GMT: On Wednesday night, EA's Josh Shahryar wrote a feature highlighting the demonstrations and clashes across Bahrain. Yesterday morning, we noted the waywardness of the headline "Protest Re-Emerges", given that it had never gone away.

Both seem doubly appropriate this morning. Bahrain was marked, indeed covered, on Thursday morning by protests and the now-standard response by the security forces, tear-gassing not only the public spaces but houses where they think demonstrators may be hiding to escape the effects of the toxic gas.

Bahraini journalist Amira Al Husseini wrote last night, "When you shut your eyes, the sting is still there." Dr Fatima Haji sent the message, "I have severe abdominal pain and vomitting. This is not tear gas!!! What toxins you are using??!!!"

There is likely to be an escalation beyond this now-established ritual. An EA correspondent, checking a video report of protesters throwing Molotov cocktails at police, noted, "The 14 February Coalition issued a statement two days ago [Tuesday]. They insisted that the protests must be peaceful but, due to the increase of police brutality on the last weeks people have the right to defend themselves in any possible way."

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    Response: Kendra Wyant
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