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Syria (and Beyond) LiveBlog: The "New Normal"

Video yesterday of security forces firing at youths in Saqa, near Hama

See also Syria Video Special: The Destruction of Deir Ez Zor
Syria Video Analysis: Assessing Propaganda and "Truth" on Both Sides
Wednesday's Syria (and Beyond) LiveBlog: Raising Shoes to Assad

1756 GMT: Semih Idiz offers an analysis on whether or not a visit by Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to Syria will be effective. His conclusion is that Turkey has little recourse, and Assad is likely trying to bide time for his reforms to kick in (and I would add, he is attempting to discourage the opposition by killing it, a tactic which seems to be failing thus far). However, Idiz offers this interesting paragraph, hinting that even Assad will find it difficult to change Syria:

Regardless of his talk about reforms, Assad is not in a position to allow this even if he wanted to, given the privileges the Alawite minority has secured for itself over the decades and which it is unlikely to give up without a fight. The question for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan then is what happens if Assad does not comply with Turkey’s demands.

1747 GMT: The international human rights organisation Avaaz is reporting that 2 people have been killed today in a renewed military campaign against the city of Hama, Syria.

1743 GMT: US President Barack Obama and Turkey Prime Minister Erdogan conferred today, over the phone, about the ongoing crisis in Syria:

The White House says that in a call Obama made to Erdogan Thursday, the pair agreed that the violence in Syria must stop and the demands of the Syrian people for a transition to democracy must be met. Obama and Erdogan agreed to consult closely in the coming days as the situation in Syria develops.

1709 GMT: The LCCS is reporting that 12 people have been killed today in Syria, 11 in Qussair, outside of Homs.

An activist is also reporting that a 30 year old man was shot and killed by security forces, in front of his family, while he was being arrested in Lattakia. This report is unconfirmed.

1603 GMT: Despite our earlier update that President Saleh said he is "positive" on the prospect of transition in Yemen, a Yemeni official, speaking anaonymously, says Saleh still has major objections to a transition plan that the US favors:,/p>

The Associated Press reports that a Yemeni official says the country's president objects to key issues of a US-backed deal that has him transferring power to the country's opposition in return for immunity from prosecution.

1511 GMT: Reuters is reporting that the opposition fighters in Libya have pushed their advance near Zawiya, another step towards Tripoli:

They pushed north to a settlement called Bir Shuaib, taking them within 25 km (15 miles) of their target of Zawiyah, a town less than 50 km from Tripoli, the stronghold of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

“We’ve gone past Nasr village and right now we’re about 25 km from Zawiyah,” said Faris, a rebel fighter. Rebels prevented reporters from getting up to the new front line to see for themselves.

1502 GMT: The Gaddafi government in Libya has banned the use of unlicensed Thuraya satellite phones, often used by journalists and their sources, and has said that anyone using such a device will be considered a NATO spy:

"Any citizen who owns a device of the Thuraya brand must carry a permit allowing its use according to the laws and regulations in force," JANA (state news agency) said.

"Spies among the traitors and the agents of ... NATO use the Thuraya telephones to give crusaders the coordinates of some locations to be bombed, which has caused the deaths of a large number of civilians," it said.

1455 GMT: The Obama administration has added the Commercial Bank of Syria and its Lebanon-based subsidiary, the Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank, and mobile phone company Syriatel to the list of companies subject to US sanctions, effectively freezing their assets and blocking them from doing business with the US.

1444 GMT: In Egypt, 20 members of the Al Wasat political party have resigned in protest over the appointment of a presidential candidate without their consent. The members are upset at the appointment of Selim al-Awa by Vice President Essam Sultan, claiming that Sultan is appointing his friends, and that al-Awa is too radical.

1428 GMT: Here is another interesting video. The video, from a source we don't usually rely upon, claims to show vans armed with communication disruption devices on the streets of Daraa, Syria. Also, the website Interzone Uprisings has also posted the video. It would be great to get some feedback on anyone who has been in the military, but this is the first time that we have heard about such a van being used in Syria. We would note, though, that communications have been regularly disrupted in many embattled areas.

1359 GMT: The activist group Niser Syria has posted the testimony of a man who claims he and his family were in Hama at the start of the most recent military campaign. We don;t know the authenticity of the claim, and we'd love to have feedback on it.

The video is in Arabic, but an English translation is posted below the video. Here is an excerpt:

The morning of the 4th of Ramadan (Aug), on Thursday. While on the way back; they (my family) got off (the taxi) at 200 meters from the bridge. They got off as the taxi driver told them: "I cannot go in, get off." While they were getting off the sister was the 1st out. As soon as she did- she is 16 yrs old- They shot her in the leg here (he points to his upper leg)... My brother started to waive to them, saying "there are women with us, women with us..." So they shot him by a bullet, it entered his head from here (points to his forehead) & got out from here (points to the right side of his head). He was martyred, he was 28 yrs old, and he has a daughter who is 10 months old. My sister stood up again, in terror, so they shot her in the neck, was martyred. My brother, he has a 10 months old daughter, he was martyred, & my 16 yrs old sister was martyred too.

I swear by God that I saw with my own eye...Families under the bridge

1355 GMT: The Yemeni State News Agency, SABA, said today that President Saleh is "positive" on the prospects of a transfer of power, and would continue to work with the GCC initiative:

"The GPC is committed to look for solutions for the dispute with the opposition," Saleh said, stressing the need to "find a mechanism to implement (the proposal) in a way that would guarantee a peaceful and smooth transfer of power."

1333 GMT: Yesterday was another terrible day of violence in Syria, but today we mark yet another. The Jerusalem Post is reporting that 5 civilians have been killed and 16 wounded in the town of Qusair, near Lebanon's northern border:

The Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union said it had the names of nine killed, including one woman and a baby, from random gunfire by the attacking forces, who also cut off electricity and communications on Qusair.

Also on Thursday, Syrian armored forces on an offensive to crush popular unrest stormed an important town on the main highway in a northern province near the border with Turkey on Thursday and at least 100 people were arrested, a resident and local activists said.

"Around 14 tanks and armored vehicles entered Saraqeb this morning, accompanied by 50 buses, pick-ups and security cars. They started firing randomly and storming houses," said the resident, who fled the town in Idlib province, 50 km (30 miles) southeast of Turkey's Iskenderun (Hatay) province.

1325 GMT: James Miller, reporting for duty.

This video, reportedly taken yesterday (it matches our accounts of what happened in yesterday's liveblog) claims to show Bab Amr, Homs. 3 men appear to be dead, another wounded, while gunshots fill the air. As many as 18 people may have died yesterday in Homs, according to several human rights groups.

1135 GMT: Yemen's State news agency claims that President Ali Abdullah Saleh has reconsidered a peace plan brokered by the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council and has declared the need to "continue to deal positively with the Gulf initiative".

Saleh reportedly said his party "is committed to look for solutions for the dispute with the opposition" and to "find a mechanism to implement (the proposal) in a way that would guarantee a peaceful and smooth transfer of power".

Saleh, still recovering in Saudi Arabia from wounds suffered in a bombing at the start of June, balked on several occasions this spring when it was time to sign the GCC-brokered agreement for a transition of power and his departure from office.

1130 GMT: The Secretary-General and several staff members of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, commissioned by the regime to investigate the events of February and March, have resigned. No details have been given other than that the departure of Kamran Choudhry, the Secretary-General, was "for personal reasons".

1010 GMT: Simeon Kerr writes for the Financial Times, "Libya Rebels' Finances Precarious":

Laden with 22 boxes of cash, the Air Libya jet struggled to take off from Benghazi airport. Officials from Libya’s rebel council last week delivered $10m in local currency to 50,000 families in the western mountains of Nafusa, whose relatives are battling Colonel Muammer Gaddafi’s forces on Tripoli’s southern flank....

Illustrating the haphazard nature of cash flow, the finance team was still 11m dinars ($7.6m) short hours before the aeroplane was scheduled for take off last week. A “concerned citizen” covered the shortfall at the 11th hour, prompting a frantic search for money-counters. “It was like a movie – there were guns everywhere and piles of cash on the floor of the hotel suite,” says one official.

The rebels’ finances are precarious and overstretched. The TFM [Temporary Financial Mechanism] has taken out $155m in loans, overseen by an international board to ensure transparency. About $120m is earmarked for diesel to keep power cuts in the rebel-held areas to a minimum.

Qatar, the rebels’ main military supplier, Turkey and France have also made hundreds of millions of dollars of bilateral loans and development funds available to the rebel council. Germany and the UK are also in the process of making loans and releasing frozen Libyan assets.

Officials want more help from the UK government, including the release of 1.4bn dinars in newly-printed bills held by De La Rue, the London-listed currency printing firm.

0910 GMT: The Syrian military has continued operations in the northwest, moving in to the town of Saraqib early Thursday morning, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Residents reported hearing heavy gunfire and seeing troops break down doors of local businesses during a search of the city for activists.

Citing local reports, the Observatory said about 70 people were arrested.

In recent days, the military has also moved into Taftanaz, Sirmeen, and Binnish in Idlib Provine.

An activist said security forces killed two people in Hama after evening prayers on Wednesday. Syrian authorities have claimed that the military withdrew from Hama after a 10-day occupation.

0800 GMT: The BBC's Matthew Price was one of the foreign journalists taken by the Libyan regime to see casualties and damage in the key town of Zliten, east of Tripoli --- the regime claims 85 civilians were killed in a NATO airstrike. He assesses:

Most of the bodies in the mortuary were men of fighting age.

The government itself also indicated that the area is a strategic one - it said Nato's only reason for hitting the site was to "open the southern gate" to the town of Zliten so the rebels could advance and then from there attack Tripoli.

Civilians were injured - and it seems killed. The government says 33 of them were children. But they showed international journalists the bodies of just two.

The Libyan leadership clearly believes this is an important moment.

0720 GMT: Jenifer Fenton offers an overview of the economic structure and inequalities of the UAE, "The United (But Not Equal) Arab Emirates":

While Abu Dhabi is awash with cranes working around the clock to raise a post modern city from the sand, and the skyline of Dubai is exploding with glass towers, in the northern emirates what one sees is a developing-world landscape. In Ras Al Khaimah, many of the residential streets are lined with single-story homes with unsightly exterior air conditioning units, peeling paint and tin-roofed garages. From the highways of Sharjah, drab concrete apartment blocks appear the norm rather than the exception.

0650 GMT: Al Jazeera English's Zeina Khoder reports that fuel shortages are slowing the military advance of insurgents in western Libya:

0520 GMT: A witness in Hama in Syria has asserted that the military's claimed withdrawal after a 10-day occupation was short-lived: "At 8 p.m. some of the tanks returned to Hama city centre, and they took positions in Al Assi Square. They turned off all the lights in the square so you could not film what's happening there, but despite that you could still see the tanks with the naked eye and hear their noise."

0515 GMT: At one point yesterday, watching yet another video of destruction in the northeastern Syrian city of Deir Ez Zor, James Miller said simply, "This is the new 'normal'."

Military shelling and occupations during the day, from Hama to Deir Ez Zor to Binnish in the northwest, punctuating moments such as deaths in funeral processions or the fall of the minaret in Deir Ez Zor yesterday, the contest of rival stories and claims, and anti-regime protests through the night: that is the pattern, and we do not expect it to end any time soon.

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