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Libya (and Beyond) LiveBlog: A Long, Long Tug-of-War

1615 GMT: Abdel Karim Rihawi of the Arab League of Human Rights has claimed that security forces killed two protesters and wounded in Deir Ez Zor in northeastern Syria on Thursday.

Rihawi said the mood was "tense and residents are observing a general strike". Videos indicate there have been stoppages in other cities in the country.

At least seven people were reportedly slain late Wednesday in Idlib Province in the northwest by security forces.

1515 GMT: The Libyan regime has halted all cooperation with Italian energy firm ENI, Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali Al-Mahmoudi has said.

ENI, with a presence in Libya since the 1950s, is the biggest foreign oil company in the country, but it has suspended operations and establishing ties with the opposition.

Al-Mahmoudi said the regime was in talks with Russian, Chinese and American firms over new projects in Libya, but he did not give details except to say US firms could invest because Washington is not taking a direct role in the NATO bombing of Libya.

1459 GMT: Protesters march today in Al Khamis, Yemen:

1447 GMT: The Wall Street Journal has an account from Aleppo, Syria, of the "Mukhabarat," the "not-so-secret police force" that the occupies many cities in Syria:

In Bashar Assad's Syria, the Mukhabarat are nothing less than a professional bureaucracy specializing in the production and dissemination of fear.

Its objective is semi-officially "stability," which in practice means silencing any individuality and stifling ideas that question the status quo. In achieving compliance, the Mukhabarat bars no holds. The Syrian state will split apart families like Ahmed's, enter homes arbitrarily, detain citizens without due process, torture and kill. The Mukhabarat does not enforce laws, never mind those passed "by consent of the governed"—it simply enforces the will of the state, whatever it may be, using any means necessary or expedient.

The Mukhabarat's agents are everywhere, inescapable in their unofficial uniform of black leather jackets and dress pants. That they are easily recognizable points to the second misleading aspect of describing them as "secret police": Much of the power of the Mukhabarat lies not in its secrecy, but in its visibility. Its personnel mingle with pedestrians on crowded streets, sit in cafes, or just stand on street corners, watching.

1438 GMT: The Russian envoy to Africa, Mikhail Margelov, has stated that he believes Colonel Gaddafi has a "suicide plan" if the rebels capture the capital city, Tripoli:

The Libyan prime minister in Tripoli told me: 'If the rebels occupy the city, we will cover it with missiles and blow it up'. I believe that the Gaddafi regime does have such a suicidal plan.

Gaddafi has not yet used a single surface-to-surface missile, while he has more than enough of them. This raises doubts that the [Gaddafi] regime is running out of arms... but he has quite enough missiles and explosives.

1431 GMT: The Guardian has posted this map, showing the embattled town of Qawalish, Libya (lost and recaptured by the rebels in the last 24 hours) in the center, and the key city of Gharyan to the northeast.

View Libya rebel campaign in Nafusa mountains in a larger map

1424 GMT: The Syrian Free Press has uploaded this video of today's general strike in Douma, Damascus:

1421 GMT: While the rebels are fighting over towns that would allow them to advance towards Tripoli, the Libyan civilians are still faced with the daily danger of Gaddafi's assaults. In this picture (AFP), two children stand in their bedroom in Ajdabiya, where one of Gaddafi's rockets has blown a hole in the wall.

1413 GMT: According to the British defense ministry, NATO may be running out of ground targets to attack in Libya, as Gaddafi forces have begun heavily utilizing civilian vehicles and buildings. This change in Gaddafi's tactics might make it harder for NATO to support the rebel advances towards Tripoli.

1409 GMT: The Libyan rebels have retaken the city of Qawalish, a key access point in the rebel advance on Libya. Yesterday, the rebels were overrun by Gaddafi forces. Today, however, the rebels are digging in hard, adding tanks and more heavy equipment to the front lines. The rebels will not lose this key city so easily again.

In this video, Al Jazeera reports from the front lines.

1404 GMT: In Homs, Syria, the city is facing another day of general strike. After weeks, and months, of protest and strike, one has to wonder what kind of an economic toll Arab Spring is having on the government, and the people, of Syria.

1348 GMT: 20 year old Bahraini poet Ayat al-Qurmozi, who was released from prison yesterday, claims that she was tortured in prison and is now under house arrest. Qurmozi is reporting that as part of her release she was forced to sign a paper that she would not leave her home or join protests. Already, however, it is obvious that Ayat will not be silenced.

1340 GMT: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is reporting that 30 activists were arrested in the Midan District of Damascus yesterday. Among those arrested were leading Syrian actress May Skaf and writer Rima Fleihan.

It's important to note that Midan is in the center of Damascus. Any protests there are magnified by that fact.

1335 GMT: The Cartoon of the day, expressing the uphill battle that the military faces in winning the hearts in minds in Egypt.

1324 GMT: James Miller reporting for duty. Scott Lucas has email this reliable report from a contact in Bahrain:

"The acting US ambassador in Bahrain visited the prime minister in his office yesterday (Tues.) and visited today (Wed.) with Sheikh Al-Mahmood, head of the Gathering of National Unity party. The visit of the acting ambassador came at a time of increasing criticisms by Sunni journalists and in the speeches of Sheikh Al-Mahmood and others over the alleged biased support given to the opposition by the US."

We haven't been able to find this in other news sites, but Dr. Lucas describes our source as reliable. This means that the State Department is attempting to reassure the regime behind closed doors, but without making a public spectacle. This is the opposite of what is happening in Syria, where the US has become increasingly critical of the Assad regime. This is also a signal that the Obama administration does not believe that Arab Spring will topple the Bahraini government, so there is no reason to publicly pick sides.

0630 GMT: The Los Angeles Times reports on financial difficulties for Libya's opposition government, quoting an advisor on finances and oil, “We’re getting decimated on the financial front lines.”

The National Transitional Council has been buying fuel in Europe on credit; however, a European financial company that provided $500 million in loans told the council that it could no longer take the risk and shut down the credit line. About $100 million donated by Qatar has nearly been spent, and $200 million promised by Turkey has yet to arrive.

The natural gas pipeline that normally fuels electricity production in Benghazi and other eastern cities is shut down. Several tankers loaded with fuel from Europe left the Benghazi port without unloading after the Council couldn’t pay cash. The fuel shortages have brought "brownouts" of six hours each day in the opposition centre of Benghazi.

0515 GMT: After a brief flutter last week that there might be a decisive turn in the Libyan conflict, with insurgents advancing towards Tripoli from the southwest, the inconclusive state of the battle was put in sharp relief on Wednesday as regime forces pushed back.

Muammar Qaddafi's troops, which had checked the insurgent advance at Gharyan last week, re-captured Qawalish in the plains below the Nafusa mountains. They moved quickly towards the opposition stronghold of Zintan, causing some anxiety before insurgent reinforcements reinforced the front-line.

“Our people were asleep on the job,” said Salem Mufti, an opposition fighter. “It was a surprise that Qaddafi soldiers came so fast.”

Colonel Muhammad Khabasha, who defected to the insurgents in February, echoed, “The attack was quick. The Gaddafi soldiers moved on the blacktop with heavy equipment."

Another colonel, Juma Ibrahim, reassured, “We will take [Qawalish] back from them very quickly, maybe today, maybe tomorrow, don’t you worry,” but the impression of the day was that it would be one more --- albeit a telling one --- in a drawn-out campaign without the prospect of resolution. 

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