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Wednesday
Aug312011

Syria, Libya, (and Beyond) LiveBlog: Feast of the Martyrs

Libyans kneeling in prayer in Martyrs' Square of Tripoli in order to celebrate Eid al-Fitr. 

See Also, Syria Video Special: Prayer & Protest on the Feast of Martyrs


2024 GMT: Activists are reporting protests, and gunfire, in Aleppo. Here is one account:

Aleppo: Security opened fire at the protesters in Izaz, while another two demonstrations were happening in Ikteren and Andan

2018 GMT: Al Jazeera reports on another high-profile defection from the Syrian regime, but this one much closer to the security apparatus:

The attorney general in Hama, Adnan al-Bakkour, has resigned his post in protest over repression exercised by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Speaking in a video footage posted on the Internet by activists, al-Bakkour has accused the Syrian government of killing 72 prisoners who were held in custody at Hama central prison.

1935 GMT: According to multiple Twitter accounts, Said Qaddafi is conducting a phone interview right now. So far, the best quote:

Saif: NTC's head jaleel is a liar, they did not take Bab Azizia, it was bombed many times by NATO and was opened to visitors.

Also, someone quotes Saif and then asks a relevant question:

"we are drinking tea and coffee, am asking everyone to attack the rats." Why not stop drinking and attack them yourself?

1919 GMT: EXTREMELY IMPORTANT VIDEO: Protesters shout anti-regime slogans into the face of soldiers in Angel, Daraa. On a more careful watching, however, the soldiers also appear to be chanting their support for the protesters, though the roadblock is maintained.

Protesters can also be seen waving olive branches at the soldiers.

1850 GMT: Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in a televised address, said that the protests were being exploited by the "corrupt":

"Those who went to the University Square to support the youth revolution that demands the ouster of the regime... have fed on corruption, and are dealers of arms and land...

"Our people know them well. They were a burden on the political system which was always blamed for protecting those corrupt... who are now (demonstrating) at the University Square."

"Let them go away... corrupt, liars and deceivers. We do not mention names, but our people know them very well."

1811 GMT: More evidence, from the Guradian's Martin Chulov, that Khamis Qaddafi may have been killed. Chulov and jorunalists from Sky News may have also uncovered the best lead yet on the whereabouts of Khamis' father, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. Chulov tweets:

"Khamis #Gaddafi's guards say they saw their boss die in ambush last Fri & 2 hours earlier saw Gaddafi in south Tripoli base.

"Spoke to 2 guards who say the Col. was at Khamis's base in Salahedin. Khamis tried to meet Mutassim in Bani Walid. #Gaddafi went south.

"Bani Walid still not secure. Frontline from north around 30km short of town. Nato bombed it today. Lots of interest."

Sky News also has an account of a bodyguard for Khamis which claims that Colonel Muammar Qaddafi was in the Khamis brigade base in the Saladin district of Tripoli last Friday.

1715 GMT: Sometimes news comes along that leaves even James speechless (hard to do, I'm sure you would all agree). Well, here it is:

Treason Alert? Al Jazeera has unearthed documents, recovered from Qaddafi's compound in Tripoli, that would suggest two US officials cooperated with the Qaddafi regime during the US supported NATO no-fly zone; Congressman Dennis Kucinich and former assistant secretary of state (under George W. Bush) David Welch:

I found what appeared to be the minutes of a meeting between senior Libyan officials – Abubakr Alzleitny and Mohammed Ahmed Ismail – and David Welch, the former assistant secretary of state who served under George W Bush and the man who brokered the deal which restored diplomatic relations between the US and Libya in 2008.

Welch now works for Bechtel, a multinational American company with billion dollar construction deals across the Middle East. The documents record that, on August 2, 2011, David Welch met with Gaddafi's officials at the Four Seasons Hotel in Cairo, just a few blocks from the US embassy there.

During that meeting Welch advised Gaddafi's team on how to win the propaganda war – suggesting several "confidence building measures", the documents said. The documents appear to indicate that an influential US political personality was advising Gaddafi on how to beat the US and NATO.

Minutes of this meeting note his advice on how to undermine Libya's rebel movement, with the potential assistance of foreign intelligence agencies, including Israel. "Any information related to al-Qaeda or other terrorist extremist organisations should be found and given to the American administration but only via the intelligence agencies of either Israel, Egypt, Morroco, or Jordan… America will listen to them… It's better to receive this information as if it originated from those countries..."

The report when on to suggest that US Congressman Dennis Kucinich, opponent of US operations in Liba who even tried to impeach Obama (despite clearly not understanding the War Powers Act), attempted to work with the Qaddafi regime to discredit the NTC and defend Saif al Islam from ICC allegations of Human Rights Abuses.

Needless to say, we haven't heard the last of this story.

1650 GMT: Earlier, we reported that 88 people may have died in Syrian prison, according to Amnesty International. Apparently, Amnesty has already documented 52 additional cases of torture:

1524 GMT: Al Jazeera reports, the latest developments from Bahrain, where a 14 year old boy is the "latest martyr" for the opposition cause:

Also, we have posted a separate entry with videos today from Syria, which will be added to as video comes in.

1502 GMT: A video has surfaced, a martyr, Youssef Barakat, killed today in Kvromh, Idlib.

1445 GMT: The AP is reporting that opposition commander Abdel Hakim Belhaj has repeated claims that he has had direct contact with Saadi Qaddafi and is urging him to negotiate the terms of his own surrender.

This echoes claims that Belhaj made earlier this morning that we reported in our first update, though the new report suggests that the surrender may be coming soon.

The NTC has said that they will not harm Saadi, but will handle him under rule-of-law. However, unlike his father Muammar and his brother Saif al Islam, Saadi is not yet wanted by the International Criminal Court, a fact that will make his negotiated surrender easier.

1433 GMT: In Bahrain, a 14-year old boy, Ali Jawad Ahmad, has been killed in Sitra when he was hit in the eye with a tear gas canister. The government of Bahrain has confirmed that a boy of that age has been killed, but did not provide the details. An eyewitness gives this account:

Hassan said the tear gas was fired from about 21 feet (seven meters) away directly at the protesters.

"They are supposed to lob the canisters of gas, not shoot them at people," he said at the funeral for the boy. "Police used it as a weapon."

1419 GMT: This video claims to have been taken in Sanabis, Bahrain (dated today, so perhaps taken early this morning). Stun grenades (flash bangs) fill the area, and at the very beginning of the video, a police officer appears to provide a flying kick to the back of a woman who is inside her own doorway:

1414 GMT: A large security force deploys in Hama, near the Buraq Mosque, on the road to Aleppo:

1402 GMT: James Miller takes the blog, after Ali Yenidunya has done an excellent job this morning.

Al Jazeera live has breaking news, a bomb blast that has killed at least 4 soldiers in Martyr Square, Tripoli. There is confusion about exactly what happened. The original report was that a car bomb was detonated, apparently targeting opposition fighters. A different group of fighters said that celebratory gunfire hit the car and it exploded (I've seen a lot of Myth Busters, so I'm struggling with this explanation). Yet another group of rebels are saying that the explosion was caused when a child detonated a grenade, which blew up the car (much more probable).

This is the first such incident that we've learned of, so it's too early to read too much into it.

1400 GMT: Two videos showing the heavy security presence in Qaboun, in Damascus, on the first day of Eid.

1345 GMT: Amnesty International says Libya's rebels must end attacks against blacks and such incidents must be investigated. 

1340 GMT: Two fliers dropped by NATO jets found in Tripoli.

Above, the text in Arabic reads: "Warning: You are neither a match nor an equivalent to the superior weapon systems and air force of NATO. Continuing to do what you are doing will result in your death."

On the second flier, it reads

Dear officers and soldiers of the Libyan Army, the International Criminal Court has indicted Gaddafi for committing crimes against humanity in Libya. It is advisable that officers and soldiers of the Libyan Army refrain from carrying out Gaddafi's orders and committing any military actions against the Libyan people. Any officer or soldier who commits crimes against humanity shall be in violation of International Law. Many officers and soldiers have chosen to stand against Gaddafi's orders and refrain from fighting against innocent civilians. Do join these men for a prosperous, peaceful future for Libya.

1335 GMT: A video showing a protest in Deraa today, with people chanting "there is only one God and Bashar is the enemy of God".

1330 GMT: In Daraa in southern Syria, people march for "Eid al Shuhada", the Feast of the Martyrs.

1325 GMT: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 473 people were killed during Ramadan; 360 of whom are civilians. Indeed, twenty-eight people died under torture or in detention during the Muslim fasting month.

1145 GMT: China is sending its Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun "as the representative and observer of the Chinese government" to Thursday's Friends of Libya conference, to be co-chaired by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron.

Spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement

China supports relevant parties' efforts to restore the stability of Libya and facilitate the stable transfer of Libya's political power. 

We are also willing to play a positive role in the future rebuilding of Libya together with the international community.

Moussa Ibrahim, the spokesman for former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, has dismissed the call of the National Transitional Council for Qaddafi loyalists in the stronghold of Sirte to lay down their arms.

Ibrahim said in a phone call to the headquarters of the Associated Press in New York that "no dignified honorable nation would accept an ultimatum from armed gangs".

Ibrahim repeated an offer by Qaddafi to send his son to negotiate the formation of a transitional government. The offer has already been rejected by the NTC.

Tens of thousands of Libyans have gathered today in Tripoli for Eid ul-Fitr at the end of Ramadan, kneeling in prayer at the landmark Martyrs Square as they celebrated the collapse of the Qaddafi regime.

An imam leading the dawn prayer urged all Libyans to stand united and hailed the ouster of "the tyrant Qaddafi", prompting jeers from the crowd at the mention of the former leader's name.

Forces of the new government set up a security belt around the square, with armed guards patrolling the area and snipers taking positions on rooftops overlooking the gathering.

Luke Harding of The Guardian reports from Martyrs Square and talks generally about the situation in Tripoli:

Raucous scenes and celebratory gunfire mark Eid in Tripoli"s Martyr"s Square, Luke Harding reports from the scene #Libya (mp3)

0616 GMT:Amnesty International is claiming that 88 people have died in Syria prison since the start of unrest, 10 of them children. At least seven people died in Syria yesterday. And already today we have reports of a widespread crackdown on dissidents:

Syrian troops backed by tanks raided houses looking for activists in two main districts of the city of Hama overnight, Reuters reported residents as saying.

Several light tanks and tens of small and big buses parked at al-Hadid bridge at the eastern entrance of Hama. "hundreds of troops then went on foot into al-Qusour and Hamdiya neighbourhoods. The sound of gunfire is being heard," Abdelrahman, a local activist, told Reuters by phone.

Still, there is no sign that the protests are weakening, or getting smaller. In fact, the opposite still appears true in most cities.

In Kffersita, Hama, last night, the people lead a protest march. The videographer also holds a sign, written in Russian, declaring their disappointment in Russian support of the Assad regime:

In Kisweh, Damascus, a child leads the youth of the city in both prayer and protest:

A very large protest in Idlib last night:

In Libya, the breaking news is that a senior commander serving the National Transitional Council says he has spoken with Qaddafi's son Saadi, and he is ready to surrender.

With the opposition fighters staging for a Saturday offensive against the Qaddafi stronghold of Sirte, and with Qaddafi's supporters refusing to surrender, there will likely be a relative lull in conflict in Libya for a few days. That time may be be devoted to new accusations of human rights abuses, mostly at the hands of Qaddafi forces.

While evidence of human rights abuses grows, there is a new claim that Qaddafi's infant daughter Hana was not killed in a 1986 US air strike:

When Libyan rebels took over Tripoli and Bab al-Aziziya last week,they found a room in Gaddafi's home with Hana's birth certificate and pictures of a young woman with the name "Hana" written on the back,possible indications that she lived well beyond infancy. A Tripoli hospital official surfaced, saying Hana worked for him as a surgeon up until the rebels came to town.

And on Tuesday, Swiss officials confirmed that Hana's name had briefly appeared earlier this year on a Swiss government document listing the names of senior Libyan figures targeted for sanctions.

It's going to be another busy day, and another busy rest-of-the-week, in Arab Spring. We'll be up in a few hours, so stay tuned.

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