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Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) Live Coverage: After the Speech, the Battle

Arab League monitor Anwar Malek explains why he quit (see 0625 GMT): "The observers have been fooled"

See also EA Video Feature: A Tribute to Journalist Gilles Jacquier, Killed Today in Syria

Syria Special: To Lighten the Day --- Jokes, Breakdancing, and Assad on Freedom of the Press
Tuesday's Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) Live Coverage: President Assad Makes a Speech

2130 GMT: According to the voice on the video, this was taken in Baba Amr, Homs. It was uploaded today, and claims to show fighters for the Free Syrian Army's Farouq Batallion replacing a regime flag with their own, during what sounds like an intense gunfight:

We are unable to confirm any of these claims at the current time.

2114 GMT: Fuel isn't the only thing that is in short supply in Syria. Due to recent environmental issues, the wheat harvest is down, but the Syrian government appears that it may not be able to import the grain that it plans on using to supplement the shortfall:

Syria's state grains agency, which traditionally purchases soft milling wheat via international tenders, is finding it difficult to secure food at competitive prices, European traders say.

The agency Tuesday said it had rejected all tender offers and made no purchase in an international auction to buy 100,000 metric tons of wheat, citing expensive market prices.

According to the Wall Street Journal, European traders are unwilling to sell grain without adding a risk premium, adding to Syria's inability to secure good pricing.

Compounding Syria's problems, a large refugee population from Iraq.

Localized food shortages are already being felt.

Regions in particular need of food include Al Hasakah and Al Raqqah in the north and north-east, which suffered as rains slashed Syria's 2011 cereal crop by 11% based on the last five-year average, to 3.95 million tons.

2100 GMT: How bad are things in Syria? Well, Assad has essentially two strongholds, his capital city, Damascus, that has been rocked by bomb blasts and protests over the last few weeks, and the middle class business hub, Aleppo. Well, Aleppo appears to be running out of oil.

Widespread, rolling blackouts are reported, especially at night, and there are huge fuel shortages at petrol stations across the city. There are reports of skyrocketing costs, and cars running out of gas while waiting in long cues to refuel. On Monday, 1 person was killed and 2 others wounded in a knife fight over fuel.

If things are this bad in an Assad stronghold, one can only imagine how bad they have become in hotbeds of dissent.

2026 GMT: Turning now to Bahrain, the trial has begun for 5 police, implicated in the murder of blogger Zakariya Rashid Hassan al-Ashiri on April 9. The officers are accused of beating Ashiri to death, though initial reports from the government said that Ashiri, a prominent human rights blogger, died of sickle cell anemia.

The charges against two of the officers relate to administering a beating that led to Mr Ashiri's death. If convicted, the officers face a maximum sentence of seven years.

The other three officers have been charged with failure to report a crime to the appropriate authorities.

In another case in which charges have yet to go to court, Karim Fakhrawi, the publisher of the independent newspaper Al Wasat, died in detention on 12 April.

At the time, the government said his death resulted from kidney failure. But photographs of his body also showed signs of beating.

2005 GMT: In defiance of the violence, large protests have continued across Syria well into the night. This was taken On the eastern outskirts of Damascus, we believe on al Ghouta street:

Palmyra, Homs:

A large crowd in Sarmin, Idlib hold an evening protest. One of the signs reads, "We ask - No Fly Zone"

1937 GMT: Once again, even away from Zahra, Homs, where French journalist Gilles Jacquier and 8 others were killed, it has been a bloody day in Syria. The LCCS reports that, besides the previously mentioned deaths, they have been able to confirm that 24 have been killed across the country, "including five martyrs who died under torture and three defected soldiers. 9 martyrs in Hama, 10 martyrs in Homs, two martyrs in each of Aleppo, Idlib, and a martyr in Lattakia."

This number would also not count the 4 soldiers reportedly killed northwest of Damascus (see update at 1814 GMT).

1925 GMT: This video, which has several graphic moments, appears to show journalist Gilles Jacquier, and others, investigating the site of an explosion today in Homs. Towards the middle of the video, a large explosion can be heard below, and the rest of the video shows the aftermath of the explosion, as bodies, and the wounded, are loaded into taxi cabs, presumably for transit to hospitals.

We cannot be sure, but it appears that Jacquier's body appears several times. Also, he appears to be visible on the stairs, before the explosion.

The video is revealing for several reasons. First of all, small devices are held up at several points, which could be the remnants of RPG rockets (we're not sure). Also, it is unclear if the journalists were specifically targeted. They were not in a convoy (the initial reports were that the vehicle they were traveling in was hit, and that does not appear to be the case). They also appear to be away from large crowds.

1911 GMT: EA Correspondent John Horne reports on the latest from Bahrain:

The Brazillian foreign ministry announced today that it would investigate the use of tear gas in Bahrain manufactured by Condor Technologies, a Brazillian company. Cannisters belonging to the company were discovered in Bahrain last year. The news is significant, coming at a time when the Bahraini regime, with the assistance of PR firms, is trying to convince an international audience that there is no more suppression occuring in the country.

Today's announcement was a consequence of an article by writer and journalist Rasheed Abou-Alsamh, which appeared in the O Globo newspaper Monday. Rasheed's article notes the deaths that have resulted as a consequence of tear gas use in Bahrain.

Rasheed kindly translated into English an article from Folha de Sao Paulo:

The Brazilian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it is examining whether there was a breach of contract in the use of tear gas made by a Brazilian company, Condor Non-Lethal Technologies, against pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain.

Re-exports of arms without the authorization of the seller country is prohibited, and Condor has not sold tear gas to the monarchy of the Persian Gulf, according to the company and the foreign ministry.

The most likely hypothesis, however, is that the gas was used by one of the other five monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council, led by Saudi Arabia, which sent troops to Bahrain in March 2011 to support the King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

Condor, a maker of “non-lethal” weapons and ammunition based in Rio and that earns 30% of its earnings in exports, has confirmed that countries in the region are clients, but does not reveal which ones.

Activists attribute the death of a baby to a substance of the gas, whose main chemical agent is chlorobenzylidene malononitrilo.

Condor said it received the news of the baby’s death with “disbelief”, stating that its tear gas is also used in Brazil and in 40 other countries and that it follows “international safety standards.”

Read full translation...

In related news, Bell Pottinger, a PR firm which has worked closely with the Bahrain regime over the past year, today announced that from the 1st February it will be rebranded as "Resonate".

1814 GMT: Syrian State TV, SANA, has a report that suggests a military convoy was attacked, perhaps by defectors, northwest of Damascus in the town of Yafour:

Four army members martyred and eight others injured in an explosive device blastcarried out by an armed terrorist group in a military bus in Ya'four area in Damascus Countryside on Wednesday.

The martyrs are Chief Warrant Officers Ghassan Fahed Mazloum, Salman Taher Zahlout, Yacoup Ali Baddour and Mahmoud Youssef al-Ali.

These attacks are typically blamed on "terrorists," however there is little evidence of this kind of terrorism in Syria. A more likely scenario is that this was the work of defectors, who have previously operated in the countryside northwest of Damascus.

1810 GMT: There are now multiple reports of protests in Aleppo. According to LCCS and other sources, a "large" protest started near the Hassan Mosque, in the Hamidaniyah district of the city (MAP). As we mentioned earlier, any protests in Aleppo are important news.

However, it also appears, according to the Local Coordinating Committees, that the security apparatus has arrested a high-profile dissident at the university in Aleppo:

Military security department summoned this morning Mustafa Harba, the head of the Student Association in Human Medicine Department in Aleppo University (6th year student). After entering the department his mobile phone was turned off and no news are heard of him since. It is to mentioned that he was summoned to the same department last Sunday

1745 GMT: Dramatic video from Kafar nboutha, Hama, where Syrian security forces have reportedly been attacking the area around the mosque, and the Minaret itself, with shells and heavy machine guns. Due to the poor weather, it is hard to see if any gunfire is actually hitting the mosque:

1736 GMT: We have an unconfirmed report, from a fairly high-profile activist, that a car bomb has gone off in Aleppo:

A car exploded in Saad Allah Al-Jabri and security forces surrounds the area

We're not exactly sure where that is, and we will continue to look for details of the event.

1706 GMT: This video reportedly shows protesters greeting the Arab League observers today in the city of Amouda, in the Hasaka governorate:

1659 GMT: The Guardian posts some additional details about the attack that killed French journalist Gilles Jacquier. Some of the details suggest that, in Ian Black's estimation, it is possible that the opposition could have launched this attack:

Mohammed Ballout, described by Le Figaro as an Arabic-speaking journalist for the BBC, has given this account of events in Homs today.

Like the Guardian's Ian Black, he was in the other group of journalists, but heard an RPG exploding either near or in the crowd of pro-regime supporters.

The journalists from Jacquier's group ran to see what was going on. At that moment, a second RPG was shot in their direction. Gilles Jacquier was killed on the spot.

A journalist from the Flemish [Belgian] radio station VRT suffered a head injury. The France 2 cameraman was not injured. The attack took place in the street.

Zahira is an Alawite stronghold which has been targeted several times in the past by protesters. In this neighbourhood, there is often sniper fire from protesters.

1644 GMT: The LCCS posts this leaked footage, which appears to show plain-clothed men (Shabiha) working alongside Syrian military in Idlib. They appear to make several arrests, and spend much of the video shooting randomly into the city as they smile and intimidate the residents. From their actions and demeanor, they do not appear to be taking any return fire.

The video is leaked. From what we've been told by many sources in Syria, soldiers are actually paid by the opposition to hand over videos such as these, though sometimes leaked footage is also taken and released by soldiers who are interested in defection, according to sources.

1621 GMT: Several EA sources have expressed doubt that an opposition attack, especially an RPG attack, would even be possible in the neighborhood where French journalist Gilles Jacquier was killed.

Activists post this map, showing the frequency of protests in Homs, by neighborhood. The neighborhood of Zahra is to the east of center, and has been nearly protest free since the start of the protests According to activists, this is where the attack took place:

According to sources, the few protests that have occurred in Zahra were mainly comprised of protesters marching into the area from outside, and that in recent weeks, the largely pro-Assad neighborhood has been on total lockdown, and is nearly impossible to enter without running into security forces. Security is always heightened when there is a pro-Assad rally. One source called it a "fortress."

To the knowledge of EA, and activists that we've consulted, there has never been an RPG attack on a pro-Assad rally. It is strange, then, that a vehicle full of western journalists was the target of the first attack, especially when security was hypothetically even higher than normal, as the Syrian Information Ministry coordinated this visit.

Of course, this is all conjecture, but the convenience of this attack, which matches nearly exactly the narrative that President Bashar has been attempting to convey, is curious.

1603 GMT: Activists share this video, reportedly showing a sit-in protest in the School of Science at Aleppo University:

Protests on the campus have been steadily becoming larger, and more bold, and have also been spreading to the streets of Aleppo with increasing frequency. Aleppo is Syria's second largest city, long thought to be a stronghold for the regime, so any protest there is a sensitive protest.

1549 GMT: While the LCCS is reporting deaths of more defectors (with few details), SANA is reporting the deaths of several soldiers:

State news agency SANA said an army colonel and two soldiers were killed and two others wounded by a "terrorist group" as they were travelling to join their units outside Damascus.

And another colonel was captured by an "armed terrorist group" as he headed to a military airport in Homs province.

Because no names are given, it's hard to compare the reports. However, it will be interesting to see if the captured colonel shows up.

1534 GMT: Our last report is not 15 minutes old, and the LCCS is already reporting that 14 have now been killed, "9 martyrs in Hama, 3 martyrs in Homs, and two martyrs in Idlib."

1520 GMT: Away from the news of the death of western journalist Gilles Jacquier, it has been an incredibly violent day across Syria.

Within the hour, LCCS reported:

10, martyrs have fallen thus far, including three defected soldiers, and one person under torture. The distributions are as follows: Hama 5 (4 Kefar Naboude, 1 in Karnaz), Idlib,2 (Maarat Naaman and Khan Shiekhoun), and 3 in Homs

Also, they published a report today (though it may be an update posted in the early hours detailing yesterday's violence) that, at least 38 Syrians had been killed by security forces across the country, "including 3 children. 18 martyrs in Deir Ezzor, 13 in Homs, 3 martyrs in Qamishli, 3 martyrs in Idlib (2 in Ehsim and 1 in Saraqeb) and one martyr in Hama."

The violence in Deir Ez Zor is stunning. Yesterday, at least 17 died there nationwide.

Last night, we ended the liveblog with news that there was a pitched battle between army defectors, under the flag of the Free Syrian Army, and the regular army, loyal to Assad.

Also noteworthy us the report from Qamishli, a largely Kurdish city to the northeast.

1514 GMT: Multiple sources are confirming the identity of the journalist who was reportedly killed today in Syria. Many Belgian journalists were also reportedly wounded, and 8 Syrians were also reportedly killed in the blast.

This is a picture of Gilles Jacquier, a France 2 TV reporter who was reportedly killed today in Syria, as what is believed to be an RPG struck his vehicle. Jacquier was reportedly part of an official delegation lead by the Syrian Information Ministry, providing Western journalists a highly-controlled tour of the embattled city of Homs.

Prix Bayeux-Calvados had previously posted this biography, at the bottom of a report (in French) on Afghanistan that appears to have been filmed by Jacquier:

Gilles Jacquier is a journalist and a cameraman for France 2 television. He covered most of the conflicts of the last ten years (Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Israel, Haiti, Zaire, Algeria...). With Bertrand Coq, he won the Albert Londres Prize in 2003.

1450 GMT: Ian Black, a journalist being escorted around Syria by the government in an official delegation, reports that a vehicle may have been hit by an RPG. Apparently, a French journalist was killed, a reporter working for a Belgian newspaper was injured, and 8 Syrians were also injured.

Ian Black on Homs attack (mp3)

1442 GMT: There are now conflicting reports about the details of these journalists. Ian Black now says that the information about the Belgian cameraman may be wrong, and the BBC is saying that those killed WERE part of an official delegation taken to the city by the Information Ministry.

1434 GMT: A writer for The Guardian Tweets:

The Guardian's Ian Black has been told that two journalists have been killed in an attack in Homs. One of them a Belgian cameraman.

Also, journalist Susan Ormiston adds this interesting detail:

Two journalists killed in Homs were Belgian, Not part of official visit to Homs coordinated today by the Information Ministry, says Syria.

1427 GMT: Reuters is quoting the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights when it reports that a Western journalist has been killed and 1 other wounded in Homs, Syria. Al Jazeera Arabic has quoted Reuters. We don't know where the BBC got their information, so we can't tell yet if this is confirmation, or just another report from the same source.

However, BBC Arabic is reporting that 2 were killed, not 1, and that they were killed when a shell exploded.

That said, in our experience with the Syrian Observatory, they are not likely to carry this report if they do not have firsthand knowledge.

1416 GMT: Breaking News - According to the BBC live broadcast, two journalists have been killed in an explosion while covering a pro-regime rally in Homs. It appears that one of the journalists may have been Belgian. We'll have more details soon.

James Miller takes the liveblog.

1208 GMT: Traders and a United Nations agency say Syria is struggling to secure and pay for food supplies for its population.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization said, "The prolonged unrest is often causing disruptions in food distribution channels, leading to localized shortages in several markets."

Traders added that Syria's state grains agency, which traditionally purchases soft milling wheat via international tenders, is finding it difficult to secure food at competitive prices.

The agency Tuesday said it had rejected all tender offers and made no purchase in an international auction to buy 100,000 metric tons of wheat, citing expensive market prices.

"Lots of European traders in the market are very wary of getting involved with Syria in wheat tenders and indeed we are totally avoiding placing bids," one of the traders said. Others added that a risk premium of around $10 a metric ton was being imposed on all wheat supplied to Syria through the private sector.

1158 GMT: President Assad has addressed a pro-regime rally in Damascus, telling the crowd that Syria will overcome the "foreign plot against it".

Assad said he would like to the "shake the hands of every one of you" for supporting him and the armed forces, as the rally shouted, "Shabiha [regime supporters] forever, for your eyes Assad".

Syrian State news agency SANA claims:

In a splendid show of awareness and national feeling, huge masses on Wednesday flocked to the Syrian squares to express support to the speech of President Bashar al-Assad and to building the renewable Syria.

The participants affirmed the national unity, rejecting all forms of foreign interference and affirming determination to go forwards to reach the aspired-for Syria whose features were outlined by President al-Assad's speech.

Since the early morning, a huge number of citizens have started to flock to the squares of Umayyad in Damascus, Saadallah al-Jabri in Aleppo, al-Muhafaza in Lattakia, Sabaa Bahrat in Deir Ezzour, Late President Square in Hasaka, Post Crossroads in Daraa, Sutan Basha al-Atrash in Sweida and the main squares in Salqin, Jisr al-Shughour and Abu al-Dohour Town in Idleb.

1140 GMT: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said that security forces shot dead four civilians today and were clashing with army deserters in Kafr Nabouda, a town near Hama.

The activists also claimed Elsewhere, the group said regime forces used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse students demonstrating in Darraya in Damascus Province.

The Observatory added that residents of a town in Edleb province were on strike to protest their living conditions: "Electricity is cut in the town for more than 12 hours a day. There is a shortage of fuel, and Internet and communications are also cut, while the streets are full of barricades."

Meanwhile, hundreds of Syrian and international activists have said they will try to cross into Syria from Turkey and Jordan on Thursday. The "Freedom Convoy" said, "Our aim deliver humanitarian aid to the families in the afflicted areas that suffer from daily brutal bombing and totally unacceptable living condition.,"

The group claims it has around 1,500 "independent young Syrians" accompanied by peace activists from all over the world. If Syrian authorities refuse to let them cross, activists say they will stage a three-day sit-in protest on both sides of the border.

Basma Qadmani of the opposition Syrian National Council said the SNC "fully supports this initiative": "We think it is a sincere effort to challenge the regime and draw the attention of the international community to the seriousness of the situation on the ground."

0855 GMT: Judge Ahmed Refaat has given the prosecution and defense until 16 February to make their cases in the trial of former President Hosni Mubarak, his two sons, former Minister of Interior Habib El Adly, and six senior police officers.

Beginning 17 January, Farid el-Deeb, the lawyer defending Mubarak and his sons, will begin his defense, which is expected to take five days. He will be followed by the lawyer defending El Adly, who will take a further six days.

The court can issue a ruling after the defense makes closing comments on 16 February, or it can set a separate date for a verdict and sentencing.

0625 GMT: The Arab League has condemned an attack on its observers by regime supporters in the Syrian port city of Latakia, saying the Assad regime has failed in its commitment to provide protection.

Eleven of the 165 monitors in Syria were lightly wounded on Monday.

For several observers, however, the League's response is not enough; they have quit. One of them, Anwar Malek, offers pointed comments in an interview with Al Jazeera English (see top of entry): "The observers have been fooled. The regime orchestrated [this] and fabricated most of what we saw to stop the Arab League taking action against [it]."

0600 GMT: President Assad's 100-minute speech on Tuesday can be summarised in three sentences, "We are reforming, but we have to defeat foreign-supported terrorists first. Some Arab states and the Arab League have betrayed us. We will win."

Within 100 minutes, it was on to other events. Even during Assad's speech, there were loud, large protests against the regime --- Al Jazeera English helpfully provided a split-screen to show a rally in Daraa --- and they continued through the day and across the night.

There were at least 17 deaths in Deir Ez Zor in the northeast, with reports of a pitched battle between the military and defectors, and 12 in Homs as security forces fired on protesters. Even in those locations, the demonstrations continued in defiance of the gunfire.

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