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Syria (and Beyond) LiveBlog: As Dozens Die in a Kidnapping, Damascus Responds to Arab League

See also Syria Feature: Reflections on Razan Ghazzawi, Now Detained
Monday's Bahrain, Syria (and Beyond) LiveBlog: Sorting Out "Shameless Acts of Terror"

2110 GMT: Tonight's mass demonstration in Deir Ez Zor in northeast Syria:

A protest in the Bab Houd section of Homs, holding up signs calling for protection from genocide:

And in the Dar Azza section of Aleppo:

2048 GMT: Yemen Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwa said today that an interim government will be formed in the next 48 hours.

The announcement came as forces of President Saleh and those of dissident military and tribes pulled back from some positions in the southern city of Taiz, after at least 20 people were killed in the last five days.

2028 GMT: Amidst more than 24 hours of confusion over casualty claims from Syria, the Local Coordination Committees say the death toll on Monday and Tuesday is 65, including five children, with 53 of the slain in Homs.

1848 GMT: The Syrian army is simply not large enough to remain stationed everywhere there are large scale protests. As a result, the pattern has been that in some of the smaller towns and cities, the military mobilizes large strike forces, often breaking up protests, making arrests, and sometimes attacking civilians in the process. With that in mind, an activist reports a convoy moving against a town in Idlib province:

Idlib: Jabel Azzawiyeh: 20 tanks and a military vihicle with soldiers trucks arrived to Arrami village

1837 GMT: On the geopolitical front, France and the US appear to have conducted a coordinated move in Syria. Both the US and France are returning their ambassadors, Robert Ford and Eric Chavallier, respectively, having pulled them from Syria 6 weeks ago after an escalation of rights abuses and several attacks by Assad supporters on embassies and staff. Meanwhile, the Assad regime has produced terms that will, according to the regime, allow for foreign observers to enter the country.

And while all this was going on, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was meeting with members of the Syrian opposition:

The top U.S. diplomat said she was listening to their plans to oust the Assad regime and shift their country to democracy. She urged them to protect universal rights, the rule of law and minorities. She also urged the different opposition groups in the coalition to work together.

“If Syrians unite, they together can succeed in moving their country to that better future,” Clinton said. “We are well aware that there is a lot of hard work to be done. There are many Syrians in exile. We are committed to helping their country make this transition.”

In other words, while France and Turkey, and possibly Jordan, work up a plan to establish a no-fly zone, or "humanitarian corridors," or "buffer zones," the US, coordinated with the Arab League and its own allies, is offering the Assad regime a last-chance door of escape. The Arab League negotiations will give Assad a fair chance at reform, the presence of the ambassadors will provide someone on the ground to ensure that Assad follows through while negotiating directly with the regime, and at the same time Clinton is sending the message to Assad that the US is ready to play hard ball if Assad doesn't end the violence.

1651 GMT: The LCCS is now reporting that "shabiha" assaulted students at a university in Deir Ez Zor as well:

Deir Ezzor: Security forces and shabiha today assaulted a demonstration that took place in front of the Faculty of Sciences. They beat one of the students who was inside the building, and another who was outside, before arresting both.

Earlier, the LCCS shared this video, reportedly showing students protesting on campus of a school in Deir Ez Zor today. It is unclear if this is the same school:

1645 GMT: Earlier, we said that ABC's Barbara Walters has interviewed Syrian President Bashar al Assad, and it will air tomorrow. We also expressed some doubt as to whether she will hold him accountable. Well, The Huffington Post has published the trailer for the interview.

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1636 GMT: Our sources in Syria have reported a growing trend of discontent among students at the university in Aleppo. For several weeks we've seen reports of protests, and those reports have been accompanied by reports of arrests. Security forces are now constantly positioned near the gates of the university, and sometimes the IDs of people walking in and out of the university are checked.

Now, the LCCS reports that a student was killed today:

Martyrdom of a student of the Agricultural Engineering Faculty as a results of the severe beatings he got from the Shabiha on campus.

The report is significant. How were "Shabiha," plain-clothed Assad loyalists, but not official police, allowed to go onto campus and attack students, unless they had the blessings of the security forces that have had the university under surveillance for weeks, or longer? No doubt, students have already begun to ask this same question. Expect more protests, and more clashes, from the university, which is becoming a hotbed of discontent in the middle of a city that has, thus far, resisted mass protests.

1622 GMT: According to Syrian State TV, SANA, the military has blocked 35 "armed terrorists" from crossing into Syria from Turkey.

Meanwhile, The Guardian Reports that the Free Syrian Army has renewed its pledge not to conduct offensive attacks against the Syrian regime. Instead, they have maintained that they are only defending civilians.

Which makes the report that they have destroyed two buses filled with soldiers in Hama even more poignant. Either the FSA is not following their statements, or, as they claim, the city of Hama was under imminent threat of attack from soliers:

In its latest Facebook update the FSA said it killed 22 troops by bombing two buses carrying troops in Hama. It said the attack was launched in retaliation for the kidnapping of civilians by the security forces.

1611 GMT: The LCCS now reports that 33 people have died across Syria, "with 30 martyrs in Homs, among them one child, and one martyr each in Idlib, Hama and Aleppo."

The LCCS is also reporting the name of a specific martyr in Idlib. However, for over an hour we've had report, and a graphic video to match it, of a different martyr in Idlib province, inferring that perhaps the violence is wider spread in the area than this number currently suggests.

"Idlib: Martyrdom of Mohammad Ismaeel Al-Dabaan from heavy shooting by security on the international road connecting Maaret Al-Nouman and Khansheikhon."

1600 GMT: Some extremely sad, and extremely disturbing, videos have started to emerge from Homs. This video shows an old man and a 6 hour-old child, reportedly killed by security forces in fresh violence in Baba Amr Homs. Meanwhile, this disturbing video shows a body in the trunk of a car, someone reportedly killed at the Khalid ibn al-Walid mosque in Homs. The damage around the area is also evident. Yet another graphic video shows the body of Abdel Karim Taher Amer, reportedly killed by security forces. There appear to be clear signs of torture on his body.

1554 GMT: Protesters in Taiz, Yemen, greet a vehicle filled with foreign journalists as heroes, including Tom Finn (the younger man with the camera phone). Frankly, Tom is our hero too, as he's been providing fantastic coverage from the ground in Yemen for months on end:

1541 GMT: The American ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, is reportedly returning to Damascus this evening after being gone for 6 weeks.

1531 GMT: The Emir of Kuwait has announced that he is temporarily dissolving parliament.

Last month protesters briefly took the Parliamentary building, complaining about a whitewash of allegations that regime officials funneled payoffs to bank accounts outside the country. Rallies in Kuwait's central Erada Square have followed.

The Emir's statement, carried by the Kuwait News Agency, declared, “Due to the deteriorating conditions that led to obstruction of process of achievements and threatened the country’s higher interests, it became necessary to resort to the people to select their representatives, overcome existing obstacles and realize national interests."

1524 GMT: The death toll appears to once again be skyrocketing in Syria. The LCCS reports that 31 people have been killed today across the country, "with 30 martyrs in Homs, among them one child, and one martyr in Aleppo."

1510 GMT: Activists post this video, reportedly taken during today's protest in Taiz, Yemen, a protest being labeled "the bloody march," in memory of recent martyrs and in defiance of the government:

1501 GMT: Earlier, we covered a claim made by the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights that the Syrian government is not really in control of at least 10% of the country, particularly in Daraa. Now, AFP has this report, that defectors and the Syrian army are fighting a pitched battle outside Dael:

"There are fierce battles in Daraa between groups of deserters and the regular security forces trying to break into Dael and raid the town to make arrests," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement.

It said the security forces were making arrests around Dael, and "carrying out acts of vandalism, burning motorcycles and shops and wildly firing live ammunition and sound grenades to terrify residents."

1453 GMT: A few more video "snapshots" of the situation today in Syria. With fuel sanctions, a drop in the economy, and the military reportedly intercepting fuel trucks in order to both punish the civilians, particularly in Homs and Daraa, and in order to fuel their own armored convoys, there are fuel shortages reported everywhere. This video was reportedly taken today in Harahh, Daraa, where vehicles and tractors are lining up at the only fuel station that still has diesel:

Earlier, the LCCS reported stat students were protesting in Daraya, Damascus, and the protests were disrupted by teargas. This video was reportedly taken at the start of the protests:

1447 GMT: It has been harder, in recent days, to get timely videos from Homs, Syria. This video, however, reportedly shows a civilian vehicle that has been hit by a tank shell in the Khalidiya district of Homs. Again, it matches reports from the area:

1443 GMT: This video has emerged reportedly showing the protests today on the campus of Aleppo University. While the video is impossible to verify, it matches the descriptions provided by the LCCS:

1429 GMT: Alexander Page, a member of the Syrian opposition, has released the names of 22 civilians whom he says have been killed since this morning, all of them in Homs.

1418 GMT: The LCCS is reporting that 16 people, including a child, have been killed in Homs by Assad loyalists.

So far, the LCCS is reporting large protests in Idlib city and Ma'arrat an Nouman, security patrolling the streets of Hama, and student protests in Daraya, Damascus, which was disrupted by tear gas. This is the "new normal."

However, there is also a report of protests in Aleppo, at the university. A large crowd of students and faculty reported marched from the Science Faculty toward the Faculty of Economics, and security forces have made arrests. There is an unconfirmed report of wounded students, and even a fatality. Also, "shabiha" reportedly stormed the school of Electrical Engineering, trapping students inside after they raised the flag of the revolution above the school.

Tuning into the movements of the military, LCCS report that 200 tanks are moving towards the city of al Rastan, Homs. Though we have no video or picture evidence, it's worth noting that the Syrian opposition sometimes calls all armored vehicles "tanks," which does not make this report any less alarming.

1406 GMT: Without a permanent and independent presence of journalists or international observers, covering Syria is like weaving a tapestry from eyewitness reports, Youtube videos, and the rare reports by brave journalists who do manage to sneak into the country. Today, The Guardian has several reports that indicate that perhaps 10% of the country is no longer under the control of the government.

Rami Abdulrahman, of the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, reports that Dael, and other cities in Daraa province, as well as parts of the As Suwayda region, are not in control of the Assad regime.

The International Crisis Group is also reporting that the Assad regime is starting to lose its grip on parts of the country:

There no longer is a permanent loyalist military presence in parts of Idlib, Hama and Homs governorates, a situation that enables the armed opposition to further regroup and organise. The governorates of Dayr Zor and Deraa appear on the verge of following a similar path. As defections mount and the army is under ever greater stress, there is reason to doubt that the regime can muster sufficient military resources to reverse the trend. Talk about creating safe-havens on the Turkish and Jordanian borders could soon be moot; in many ways, Syrians appear on their way to doing that on their own.

1357 GMT: ABC's Barbara Walters interviewed Syrian President Bashar al Assad in Damascus, and the interview will debut Wednesday (show times). The interview is being described as "no-holds-barred." We'll see.

1345 GMT: In Yemen, a civilian was killed and many others were wounded in Taiz when a rocket hit a bus in which they were passengers. Yesterday, Yememni soldiers withdrew tanks from the city, per the ceasefire agreement brokered on Saturday, but snipers still fired on civilians, and video clearly showed soldiers firing into the crowd. One person died.

The UN has once again condemned the violence, but the pattern in that country is now, and has been for several months, outward signs that the government is attempting to establish peace (removing tanks) while they are still not honoring their agreements (deploying snipers).

"We condemn continuing attacks on civilians particularly in Taiz where we are seeing reports that 22 people have been killed in shooting and shelling since Thursday last week (December 1), including two children," Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, told a news briefing.

"The continued use of disproportionate force by part of the government security forces despite commitments made to investigate serious human rights violations is extremely disappointing," she said. "The killings must stop immediately and we urge all sides to halt the use of violent force."

James Miller takes the liveblog.

1255 GMT: A student demonstration in Ma'arat al-Numan in northwest Syria today:

1240 GMT: For weeks, we have been covering the story of Egyptian activist/blogger Alaa Abd-El Fattah, held on a series of rolling 15-day detentions by a military court since October.

This morning, Abd-El Fattah's wife Manal gave birth to a son, Khaled.

0905 GMT: Tom Finn reports from Taiz in Yemen, where at least 20 people have been killed by regime fire since Thursday, on a protest against President Saleh: "Angry crowd storming through Taiz shouting, 'We swear by God we will choose his execution' & "the nation wants to freeze his assets'....Posters of Guevara and Mandela bobbing in time to cries of 'peacefully, peacefully'."

0845 GMT: Sky News posts a gripping video, from correspondent Stuart Ramsay, of daily life in Homs amidst sniper fire and deaths.

0555 GMT: The Assad regime's response to the demand of the Arab League for an end to violence and the entry of observers to monitor the situation has been leaked, initially via journalist Sultan Sooud al Qassemi on the Internet.

Syria says in the letter that it will sign the agreement on three conditions: 1) an end to the League's sanctions, imposed last week and the restoration of Syria's membership; 2) signature of the document in Damascus, rather than the League headquarters in Cairo; 3) a message to the United Nations Security Council that the League and Syria have achieved "positive results".

An extract from the letter, translated by Al Akhbar:

1) The Syrian government would like the signing of the protocol between the League and the [Syrian government] to take place in Damascus based on the Arab Action plan that was agreed on in Doha on 30/10/2011.

2) All decisions made by the League’s council in the absence of Syria, including the suspension of Syria’s membership and the issuing of sanctions by the ministerial committee and the ministerial councils against Syria, will be considered null at the time of the signing of the protocol between the two parties.

3) Following the signing of the protocol, the Secretary General of the League will notify the UN Secretary General in a written letter that includes the agreement and the positive results that have been reached, and will ask him [the UN Secretary General] to distribute the letter to the president and members of the Security Council and the member states as an official document.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, via an activist, that shabiba --- armed regime supporters --- had kidnapped and killed at least 34 people from districts of Homs challenging President Assad's rule. There was some confusion over the kidnappings, which began on Sunday, and yesterday's casualties across Syria, including the unverified claim that more than 60 bodies had been taken to Homs hospitals in the last 48 hours.

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