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Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) Live Coverage: From Defection to Insurrection

A home reportedly destroyed on Thursday by shelling of security forces in the Bab Hud district of Homs

See also Bahrain Special: The Air Show, the "Black Smoke" Campaign, and the Dark Arts of Regime Propaganda

Syria Special: The State of the Uprising --- The Insurrection

Syria 1st-Hand: Lifelong Dissident al-Labwani "I am Seeing My Long-Time Dreams Come True"
Bahrain Analysis: Between Reform and Stagnation
Thursday's Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The "Free Syrian Army" Makes An Impression

2156 GMT: Bahraini human rights activist Said Yousif Almuhafda shares two videos, which he has described as "foreign mercenaries attacking ladies with soundbombs in manama for no reason." We're not able to confirm any of those claims, and the quality of the video makes it difficult to determine what exactly is happening.

This video, however, we can confirm was taken earlier, giving a clear impression of the size of the protest rally earlier today. Though this rally was peaceful, reports of police disrupting protests with teargas and beatings have lasted well into the night:

2136 GMT: The US State Department is preparing to close it's embassies in Syria. According to the Washington Post,

The move follows a recent spate of car bombings. Although the administration has not ruled out Syrian government responsibility for the attacks, officials said signs point to Syrian and Iraqi militants that have been affiliated with al-Qaeda.

“The security situation across Syria, which is deteriorating with each day that Assad clings to power, demonstrates further that Assad is losing control of the country and reinforces our point that Assad has lost all legitimacy,” the official said.

The accusation of Al Qaeda involvement in the recent bombings is way too vague. Scott Lucas gives two possible explanations:

1) the US doesn't want to blame Assad because then it would have to take him out for bombing his own people 2) The US doesn't want to blame the mainstream opposition, so it has used a general label for extremists tied to Al Qaeda.

So why would the US close it's embassies now? Perhaps the Obama administration suspects that the situation in Damascus is about to decay to the point where it is no longer safe for the embassies to be open. Perhaps the US is preparing to push for intervention, and you can;t intervene in a country where you have an embassy open.

At EA, our guess is that both of those explanations are likely.

2112 GMT: Tense moments in Hama province. This video reportedly shows gunfire (perhaps over the heads?) of an anti-government protest earlier today:

Meanwhile, in the Baba Amr district of Homs, perhaps the hardest hit neighborhood of the uprising, a large anti-government protest was held today:

2055 GMT: An EA source reports that Activist Zainab alKhawaja was beaten tonight, the the village of Saar has been teargassed even worse than Manama tonight.

Activist Zainab alKhawaja reports that there have been more clashes in Bahrain this evening. This Tweet stream starts about 2 hours ago:

In a protest of more than 60 ppl now walking arnd Manama. The number of protesters increasing by the minute

Faced by riot police again, they have attacked again

Protesters shouting at riot police "Leave! This is our street, my home! Stop killing us!" #bahrain

Just got dragged and beaten by riot police, I was trying to get a 45 year old man out of their hands

The man, his name was Hadi I think, was with his wife and kids when they took him

The mans wife was behind us crying "plz leave him, for his childrens sake"

The police were recording as they spat on my face and hit me with batons on my elbows and knees

They took the man, and were beating him as they took him away. He kept asking me not to leave

They shouted at me "how's he related to you!!" I said "he's my brother, the son of my country" they pushed me to the ground

I'm not seriously hurt, but really upset I cudnt do anything for the man. Now they're attacking protesters directly

I think its first time in my life I get slapped across the face, but they did much worse to the poor man

As they were taking the man away he tried to tell me his name, they hit him on the head and told him to shutup

2029 GMT: Many experts have spoken about a divide between the Kurds and the rest of the Syrian opposition. However, the largely Kurdish city of Qamishli, and its suburbs, are fairly regularly the cite of large protests, and today is no different:

2017 GMT: On the topic of pro-Assad rallies, Syrian State TV, SANA, has uploaded pictures of today's "mass gatherings" in support of the Assad regime in Damascus and Deir Ez Zor. For starters, as a faithful reader points out, even SANA is admitting that the protests are now "organized" as opposed to spontaneous. Secondly, there is not mention of a specific number of attendees, there don;t appear to be more than a few hundred people in either place, and one of the pictures is used twice (we're assuming this is a mistake).

1958 GMT: This Update has been corrected, with apologies to Al Jazeera.

James Miller back after a quick break. In order to get caught up with the news we may have missed, we turned to Al Jazeera's latest report.

Dozens of demonstrators in Damascus chanted slogans in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Friday and some urged him to crush armed protesters who have joined a 10-month-old uprising against his rule.

"We are your men Bashar!" shouted some in the crowd of mostly young men.

"Shabbiha forever, for your eyes Bashar," they said, using the popular term for militias that work alongside the government's security forces.

The government says it is fighting foreign-backed militants who it says have killed 2,000 members of the security forces.

The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed since the revolt against 41 years of Assad family rule began in March.

he UN hasn't used the "5,000" mark since mid-March. The most conservative estimates now put the confirmed death toll at more than 5,400. Some estimates go as high as 6,375, though even this number is likely low.

If there were dozens protesting in favor of the government, we've already posted videos that shows hundreds, or maybe thousands, protesting against the government. We still don't have video for most of the reports that we've received from inside Damascus. Furthermore, if we include the suburbs that are less than 2 miles outside of the official borders of the capital, then, conservatively, hundreds protested against the government in Damascus, and thousands, more likely tens of thousands, protested in the immediate suburbs.

1816 GMT: Activists post this interactive map, showing the locations of protests, clashes, and deaths at the hands of the Syrian security forces. According to their numbers, 13 died today, on the 45th consecutive Friday of protests against the Assad regime:

View Syria - Friday 20/01/2012 in a larger map

Videos and updates from around Syria. Towns with reported protests are marked in blue. Towns on strike are marked in yellow. Towns with updates alone are marked in green. Red markers show places which are under attack or where martyrs fell today.

1807 GMT: Bahraini activist Abu Haider shares this video, a collection of videos from today's "Steadfast" rally, hosted by the opposition party AlWefaq.

1803 GMT: In Bahrain, activist Said Yousif Almuhafda reports that a young girl was shot by rubber bullets, as police dispersed a crowd in Manama this evening.

Zainab AlKhawaja reports that a group of women walked towards the riot police tonight in Manama, despite the threat of violence:

It is our understanding that a silent protest, comprised of women, began after the teargas was already fired, but the details are not entirely clear.

1743 GMT: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights posts this video, which they describe below:

Today’s morning, there were calshes between a group of defectors and the Syrian security forces who were trying to put down the Independent flag which was put up by the rebels in Idlib district.

1735 GMT: Following up on our last entry, the LCCS reports that large night demonstrations have also been held in Zabadani, and delegations from other cities, as well as an Alawite delegation, were also present to congratulate the people of the city.

Apparently, a BBC camera crew is also present, so we'll look forward to seeing the footage.

1727 GMT: Syrian activist Rami al Jarrah reports that he has received four videos from the city of Zabadani, 20 miles northwest of Damascus, showing an extremely large anti-government rally held today after the government forces pulled out on Wednesday and Thursday. For a town of only 40,000 people, these are impressive images of defiance:

1722 GMT: Bahraini activist Zainab alKhawaja reports that riot police are squaring off with protesters in Manama this evening. According to her Twitter feed, a few hundred protesters gathered in Manama, but were followed by police:

In the last few minutes she reported that the police fired teargas and sound grenades at the crowd, and some of it was fired inside of a home on the street.

1712 GMT: This video, taken from inside a home and through a screen window, reportedly shows Syrian security forces patrolling the Barzeh district of Damascus, shouting and destroying property. Reports like this are common, which is why protests in Damascus are so rare, making the videos we posted earlier that much more impressive:

1704 GMT: Earlier we wrote that there were reports of gunfire in the Nahr Eshe district of Damascus. This video has surfaced, shared by a reliable source, that reportedly shows gunfire in the streets in that area:

1655 GMT: Turning back to Bahrain, there is an unconfirmed report that another man, 26 year old Mohammed Alkhunizi, was killed today in Bahrain after suffocating on teargas. A picture claiming to show his body has also been posted.

Earlier, this video shows the march to the rally, and the picture below it shows another angle of the sit-in, we believe in the "alKhawaja Roundabout."

1632 GMT: We've literally seen several hundred impressive protest videos from across Syria today. However, few are more impressive than the ones below.

This is Douma, an important suburb of Damascus.

This video was reportedly taken in the Marjeh district of Aleppo, the second largest city in Syria and a slipping stronghold for the Assad regime. It was posted by the LCCS:

And this video was reportedly taken in the important Barzeh district of the capital, Damascus:

1619 GMT: The Guardian also pointed out that the BBC Middle East Editor, Jeremy Bowen, has reached Zabadani. While Bowen has, perhaps, found little so far that we didn't already know, he has confirmed that the city is controlled by anti-Assad forces:

Syrian army withdrawn from large section of #zabadani under verbal agreement brokered by elders #syria

But army still outside town.

#zabadani amazing to see anti #Assad people effectively in control of their town #syria only half hour from Damascus

1615 GMT: Haroon Siddique shares an interesting video, reportedly showing the Free Syrian Army in the Babs Sbaa district of Homs, perhaps preparing to strike as Assad forces can be heard firing perhaps only a street over.

1559 GMT: An ominous video - reportedly taken in Daraa, several videos show a large security presence in the streets, with the echoes of an anti-government protest in the background.

It's difficult to say, at this moment, whether these security forces attacked the crowd. However, fatalities are reported in Daraa.

Another video can be found here.

1546 GMT: The Syrian Revolution General Commission reports that 16 have been killed so far by security forces, "seven of them in Idlib. It claims three people have been killed in Homs, two each in Hama and Deir Ezzor and one each in Damascus suburbs and Dera'a." The numbers are similar, though higher, than the ones that were released approximately an hour ago by the LCCS.

1541 GMT: Approximately 1 minute ago, the LCCS had this breaking news out of Rastan, Homs:

Huge explosions are reported in the city following heavy gunfire

1535 GMT: According to activist Rami al Jarrah, this video comes from Jdaidet Artouz (the new Artouz), southwest of Damascus. The size of the protest is impressive:

1518 GMT: In the latest report from the LCCS, there is an interesting report that in Kanaker, southwest of Damascus, the security forces entered the Baath Party Headquarters, and shooting could be heard from inside the building.

They also report that shelling has resumed in Tadmor, Homs:

Several mortar shells were launched from security checkpoints amid indiscriminate and heavy gunfire aimed at houses. An unannounced curfew has been imposed in the city. Snipers are stationed on building rooftops and targeting the passersby.

Gunfire is reported in al-Bukumal, Deir Ez Zor, and there is a report that security opened fire on protests near the Sadeq Mosque in Daraya, Damascus.

The report included even more videos of protests, reportedly from various parts of the country today.

1501 GMT: If violence is usually the headline in Syria, and the headline for the past few days has belonged to the Free Syrian Army, the headline today belongs to the peaceful protesters.

However, there has still been plenty of violence. The Local Coordinating Committees report that 13 have been killed by security today, "6 in Idlib, 3 in Deir Ezzor, 2 in Homs, 1 in each of Daraa and Hama."

Within those numbers, there are also reports of security forces attacking protesters in many areas in and around Damascus, including Qadam, the Asaly district, Mouadamyeh, and, further out, Kanaker.

The LCCS also posts this video gallery,

1454 GMT: These two videos were reportedly taken today at the rally in Bahrain. The first comes from Youtube, sent to us by an activist, and the next is from a video gallery of today's events sent to us by Sayed Mohamed:

The protesters chant, among other things, "down, down, Hamad," a reference to the King of Bahrain and a now-common chant.

1541 1441 GMT: Multiple sources, including the CFDPC, share this video, reportedly showing a contingent of security forces and plain-clothed "shabiha" deploying in the Qaboun district of Damascus:

There are many reports of widespread security in sensitive areas of Damascus, sometimes making arrests and sometimes just deployed to deter protests. However, there are reports of gunfire in the Nahr Eshe district, and the LCCS reports that the gunfire was directed at an anti-Assad protest in the area.

1533 1433 GMT: This video was reportedly taken near the rally in Manama, Bahrain, earlier today near the Country Mall in the northern governate, near the Budiya highway:

1522 GMT: EA Correspondent John Horne posts an impressive piece on investigative journalism, where he argues that the Bahraini regime, assisted by government "supporters" on Twitter, have manipulated the truth about the message around the ongoing protests, including the "black smoke" protests: part of a campaign of misinformation being waged online. Horne writes,

The public relations campaign in Bahrain is a fierce and increasingly ugly one, which brings in a multitude of competing interests seeking to frame the situation for their own purposes. For regime supporters working to spread a certain message to the West, it is about obfuscating any apparent excesses by the monarchy and their forces and amplifying the alleged threat posed by the opposition, using sectarian rhetoric both for Bahrainis and expatriates.

What is particularly troubling about the regime's manipulation of the "black smoke" campaign is its possible links to more nefarious purposes, connecting propaganda, targeted at the Shia community, with violence.

Read his entire article, Bahrain Special: The Air Show, the "Black Smoke" Campaign, and the Dark Arts of Regime Propaganda

1504 1404 GMT: A significant, yet unconfirmed, claim by the LCCS. They report that the Free Syrian Army has clashed with Assad-loyal security forces in the Damascus suburb of Mesraba, just east of Damascus. If true, this would indicate a presence of insurgents just barely outside of the capital.

1447 1347 GMT: Turning to Bahrain, so far, most of the news is focused on the very large rally (EA found a livestream of the event, but the link no longer works).

Away from the rally, however, is a different story. An EA correspondent reports that Sitra is "on fire!"

"Black clouds of smoke all around the island! Muhaza is full of protesters who blocked the roads and starting fire to create the black smoke.

"Sounds of TnTnTtn [the rhythm of "down, down, Hamad"] can be heard everywhere and the smell of teargas mixed with the smell of burning tires is in the air."

This picture was uploaded by activists and reportedly shows a sit-in protest at the "alKhawaja roundabout," where Zainab alKhawaja was arrested in December.

1437 1337 GMT: This video was reportedly taken today in the central Kafer Souseh district of Damascus, close to the center of government. While there may be massive protests elsewhere, this video is important because daytime protests of this size are extremely rare in the area, due in large part of extremely strict security conditions:

This very large rally was taken on the other side of the city, in Arbeen:

It's not a scientific observation, but it's safe to say that the videos (literally hundreds of videos) that we've seen so far today from Syria show some of the largest, strongest, and most widespread protests we've seen since the start of the uprising.

The state of the protest movement is strong, even stronger than the assessment I made earlier this week.

1417 1317 GMT: Some of the most impressive protest videos we've seen so far are in the immediate suburbs of Damascus. This extremely large rally was reportedly held in Zamalka:

And this video reportedly comes from a rally inside Damascus, in the Midan district:

1308 GMT: James Miller takes the coverage, and he thanks for Scott Lucas for taking us through his nap.

There are many impressive videos of protests so far today. However, this video, reportedly taken in Qara, in the Damascus countryside, was shared by Rami al Jarrah, is a live stream:

1245 GMT:Syria. A large anti-government is taking place in Qamishli today, as this recently uploaded footage reveals:

In Bahrain, footage from Sitra Island shows large clouds of black smoke, as the second day of the "Mourning of the Sky" campaign gets under. The tyre burning is targeted both against the Bahrain International Airshow, which began yesterday and ends tomorrow, and also calls for the immediate release of opposition leader and perceived political prisoner, Hasan Mushaima.

1205 GMT: Activists in Bahrain are claiming a new fatality from tear gas inhalation: 11-year-old Yaseen Al Asfoor, who suffered from asthma. Her brother Karar was also hospitalised but has now been discharged.

1105 GMT: A predominantly Sunni rally in Bahrain this morning outside the Al-Fateh mosque, calling for a restoration of order in the kingdom:

1035 GMT: The opposition Local Coordinating Committees claims seven people have died in Syria today, six in Idlib and one in Daraa.

Activists in Lebanon say that three people have been slain by security forces near a mosque in the Damascus suburbs.

Syrian State news agency is pushing the story of freed prisoners, released under this month's amnesty declared by President Assad, with Arab League observers:

A number of the released at the Justice Palace in Damascus told SANA that the pardon decree forms a new start for them to practice their normal life and contribute to building the society.

"The pardon spreads amity and tolerance among people, and I am happy because it allowed me to get my life back on track as Syria needs the efforts of all its people to get out of the crisis," said Abdul-Hamid, a released prisoner.

0915 GMT: The US State Department has said that it is seeking explanations from Moscow over a ship that reportedly set out from Russia for Syria with a cargo of weapons.

“We have, as you know, asked for clarification from the Russian Federation. This was a subject of discussion with the Embassy. It was also raised by Deputy Secretary Burns when he was in Moscow,” spokesperson Victoria Nuland said.

Turkish authorities said the Russian ship was allowed to proceed to the Syrian port of Latakia after a perfunctory search in Cyprus.

0845 GMT: Bahrain's Gulf Daily News, under the headline, "New Tactics to Handle Protests", plays up an interview with John Timoney, the former US police chief brought in to supervise the kingdom's security forces.

Timoney assured, despite all the evidence to the contrary, "The protests that I have seen since I have been here, the police, you know, make sure they give proper notice, try and keep distance between themselves and the crowd....There's clearly an awareness, if you will, an attitude to get this thing right."

Declaring that there would be a new police code of conduct, Timoney walked a tightrope on whether protests would be allowed:

On a daily basis, they absolutely have the right to protest, to demonstrate. Here's where the problem comes in. It's a small city. It reminds me more of lower Manhattan than the rest of Manhattan, where you've got these narrow streets. And, clearly, if you have unauthorised protests that are happening during the daytime, I mean, the traffic comes to a standstill. But you know, when you saw Occupy Wall Street, when people begin to engage in unauthorised marches that begin to cripple traffic and emergency vehicles, the rest of the city - you know, there's a reason why you have to go to the police department.

It's not that they say, yea or nay regarding your right to speech, but can this be handled that it doesn't dramatically and drastically impact the rest of society?

On another matter, however, Timoney was certain:

"There are people with good intentions and so we'll have to see where it takes us all, but at least there's definitely a willingness as best as I can tell and I'm not shilling for the administration here.

0830 GMT: Yemen's largest opposition coalition has blamed the family of President Saleh's ruling family for causing chaos in Radda to allow insurgents to take over the town.

The Joint Meeting Parties said the strategy was to delay the Presidential elections, scheduled for 21 February. "Only Saleh would hand over a town to terrorists. He does not care for Yemen or its people," said Ahmed Bahri, a senior JMP leader.

Tribal chiefs said the insurgents took control of the Republican Guard base in Radda and entered the town without a fight. Saleh's eldest son, Ahmed, heads the Guard.

"Everything was handed over to the militants. What other explanation can there be? Hundreds of Republican Guard forces suddenly evacuated the base without a fight," said Abdullah al-Barraki, a tribal chief in Radda.

0730 GMT: Thursday was distinguished very important, potentially game-changing developments in Syria.

Twenty-six people were killed across Syria, but that was not the biggest news.

There were large protests in three different areas of Damascus and three different areas of Aleppo. Clashes in the Damascus neighbourhood of Barzeh, started early this morning, with gunfire reported at a checkpoint at 3 a.m.. This is highly unusual and suggests a city on edge, but it is not the biggest news.

Instead, that title goes to the development that two different towns --- Zabadani, northwest of Damascus; and Kafer Takharum, in Idlib Province --- were both occupied by the Free Syrian Army after the regular army withdrew. James Miller offers an analysis of the significance in his second assessment of his series, "State of the Syrian Uprising: The Insurgency".

With both the protest movement and the armed insurrection making their makr, this Friday could be even more important that normal in Syria.

Today also stands to be significant for Bahrain. Yesterday, we reported on the tyre burning that took place in Bahrain, protesting against the International Air Show and demanding the release of political prisoner Professor Hasan Mushaima. In a feature to be published on EA later today, John Horne explains the "black smoke" protests and considers the extent to which they may be manipulated by the regime's public relations firms, possibly in collusion with security forces, to show a violent, intransigent opposition..

Stay tuned.

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