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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: More than 100 Die But Opposition Slowly Advances

The Free Syrian Army protects protesting civilians in the town of Madaya on Friday

See also Bahrain Feature: Obama Administration "Quietly Sells Arms to Regime"
Syria Video Analysis: "Beginning of End of Regime is At Hand"
Bahrain Feature: The Clouds of Tear Gas and Death Gather Once More
Friday's Bahrain, Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: A Blanket of Tear Gas, A Battle in Homs

2220 GMT: A boy in Dael in southern Syria holds up a poster, "Come kill us and leave the people of Homs and Hama":

2155 GMT: John Horne writes:

Bahrain's Minister of Interior has called tonight for prison sentences of up to 15 years for anybody caught attacking a police officer.

The call by Lieutenant-General Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalif comes after a week of violence and bloodshed in Bahrain. On Tuesday, a fightback by some demonstrators, mostly youths, resulted in an officer being attacked and wounded. Images of the incident were broadcast across the world.

However, today's call by the Minister of Interior is likely to raise many eyebrows, given the documented attacks by police against both protesters and civilians this week. There have been at least four Bahrainis killed as a consequence of police action, with reports that one of the victims was abused in police custody. Thursday night also saw security forces covering towns and villages with tear gas, bringing concern both for mmediate conequences and also long-term health risks.

The Minister of Interior's call also follows the announcement that the police are to be given more equipment with which to defend themselves against attack. That equipment, which may be used in far more than a defensive manner, includes "gas and sound bombs as well as guns that fire rubber bullets".

2140 GMT: Confirming James Miller's analysis in a separate feature and in the opening to our Live Coverage (see 0650 GMT), CNN reports from the Damascus suburb of Saqba, which they declare under opposition control:

2020 GMT: John Horne writes:

Yesterday, Saudi-owned news station Al Arabiya was given unusually close access to Bahraini security forces to cover protests. Journalist Mohammed Al-Arab visited Sitra, where he spoke to both demonstrators and police. Whilst rumours flew online that a cameraman attached to Al Arabiya had been attacked, Al-Arab was photographed interviewing a young man being --- literally --- held by police.

The report Al-Arab filed captures a cacophony of protesters, whose speech is tricky to make out, followed by a relaxed interview with an officer who shows off a collection of weapons the police had allegedly recovered.

The close and unusual access Al-Arabiya received has been noted by many, especially coming at a time when many media outlets are banned from coming to Bahrain --- or have backed away from the story after receiving threats from regime supporters. Clearly with this hostility towards journalists in mind, a canny commentator posted the following visual montage, comparing police friendliness towards Mohammed Al-Arab yesterday with their more aggressive approach towards photojournalist Mazen Mahdi a few weeks ago:

2000 GMT: Reporting on the Arab League's decision to freeze the missions of observers in Syria, The New York Times offers this snapshot:

The Arab League observers traveled to the town of Rankous on Saturday morning, a restive city near the Lebanese border from which the government has had to withdraw its troops. The observers never made it inside. One of the members of the team said that Syrian Army officers had told them it was too dangerous because snipers and gunmen were menacing the town.

During a visit to Rankous by reporters after the observers left, residents and fighters who said they were with the Free Syrian Army opposition militia told a different story. They said that the army, which had surrounded the town of 23,000 people with tanks, had been shelling for days. Most of the residents had fled, but about 50 families remained in the town, they said.

Soon after a group of reporters arrived in the center of Rankous, tanks could be seen taking up positions on the outskirts. Within about an hour, shelling and heavy machine gun fire could be heard. The Free Syrian Army fighters said government snipers were surrounding the town. Bullets whistled by a house where they had taken up positions.

By nightfall, at a spot on the edge of the town where observers had visited earlier in the morning and seen nothing, several tanks had moved into place, tightening a cordon around Rankous.

1625 GMT: EA's John Horne writes....

A troubling video has just been notedby Nabeel Rajab of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. The footage appears to show Bahraini security forces deliberately removing plastic shielding from the external ventilation on a house, most likely put up to prevent tear gas entering the home.

As we have been observing, there has been a significant increase in the amount of tear gas used by police, with a particicularly large amount used in domestic and residential areas on Thursday night.

1605 GMT: The office of Yemeni President Saleh says the leader, who will be replaced in elections next month, is now in London on his way to the US for medical treatment.

A British Foreign office spokesperson confirmed Saleh's arrival at a "UK airport" for a fuel stop. No member of the party will enter Britain.

After weeks of delays and manoeuvres, Saleh left Yemen last week, stopping in Oman.

1515 GMT: StillSUDAN posts, from sources, that dozens of youth activists associated with the groups Girifna and Sharara have been arrested by security forces in the last 48 hours.

The detentions appear to be part of a crackdown to prevent protests on 30 January, the anniversary of demonstrations by the youth groups last year in the capital Khartoum and other major towns.

1435 GMT: We are receiving reports of clashes between police and protesters in parts of Sanabis, as well as in Juffair and Aldaih. The Sanabis clashes appear to have started when police blocked marchers trying to reach Pearl Roundabout, the symbolic centre of the demonstrations that began last February.

1409 GMT: A source at the Arab League has said the work of its monitoring mission in Syria has been frozen, although the observers will remain, because of the escalation of violence in the country.

The source said a statement would be issued by the Arab League later on Saturday regarding the decision.

A demonstration today in Kafarnabodah in Hama Province:

1326 GMT: Activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah, in an interview on State TV, has said that Egyptian television has exercised a “systematic strategy” to tell lies in its news coverage, tarnishing the image of protesters.

Abd El Fattah, released from detention in December after two months behind bars, said State TV expresses the opinions of the those in power and not the people. Claiming it continues to suffer from corruption and squanders public money, he declared that State TV must be purged of leaders from the former ruling National Democratic Party of Hosni Mubarak.

As an example, Abd El-Fattah said State TV did not broadcast the video, widely circulated, of a female protester being beaten, kicked, dragged, and partially disrobed by soldiers in December clashes outside the Cabinet building.

1325 GMT: A mass rally in Lattamnah in Hama Provice:

1255 GMT: Two stories from Libya....

The BBC posts a video report claiming further evidence that the "former supporters [of fallen Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi] have been tortured in jail", offering the testimony of prisoners at a military facility in Misrata who said they had been beaten, whipped, and electrocuted.

Christopher Stephen, in a sharp article in Foreign Policy, clarifies the story of clashes this month in Bani Walid in north-central Libya and offers observations of wider significance:


Contrary to many of the headlines, the battle in Bani Walid, which the pro-revolutionary forces now seem to have decided in their favor, was not part of a pro-Gaddafi uprising. Green flags did not, as was first reported, sprout from the rooftops. The issue was the arrest of war crimes suspects. Since the end of last year's fighting, Bani Walid has become a refuge for the waifs and strays of the former Gaddafi administration who are on the war crimes lists of other cities. A pro-government unit in the town had begun to arrest them when on Monday their base was attacked by a local clan. Four soldiers were killed, the rest fled, and the suspects were set free.


Now the National Guard wants them back. "We want to go home, we all want to go home," says National Guard fighter Osman El Hadi, himself from Beni Walid. "But first we need to finish this."

This minor uprising, in short, is less significant in itself than for what it says about the disarray of the post-revolutionary administration in Tripoli. Right now, power on the national level is exercised by the National Transitional Council (NTC). But this latest crisis has revealed once again that the NTC is, at best, a bit player.

The real power in Libya remains dispersed among the country's bewildering array of grassroots military formations. Most are grouped around town or city military councils; Tripoli is divided into 11 district militias. The last time anyone counted, Misrata had 172, ranging from ten-man outfits to the 500-strong Halbus Brigade, with a wartime strength of 17,000. That figure has since plummeted, with thousands returning to their jobs.


1235 GMT: Activists have said the bodies of 17 men, arrested by regime forces during an armoured assault this week on the city of Hama, have been found in the streets.

"They were killed execution style, mostly with one bullet to the head. Iron chains that had tied them were left on their legs as a message to the people to stop resisting." activist Abu al-Walid said.

Another activist said the bodies, their hands tied by plastic wire and some with their legs chained, were dumped in the streets of five Hama neighbourhoods on Thursday evening. The men ranged in age from 20s to 60s.

Louay Safi, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council, has confirmed the news --- posted on EA on Friday --- that the SNC will provide the Free Syrian Army with funding and "defensive equipment".

Another senior SNC member said the supplies would not include arms for campaigns against regime forces.

1150 GMT: Ahram Online summarises yesterday's protests in the Egyptian capital Cairo, "Tahrir sends message to Egypt's the ruling military council and the majority Islamic party":


The thousands of Egyptians marching to Tahrir on "Friday of Dignity" had one clear demand: an immediate handover of power from the ruling military junta to a civilian, transitional government. The demonstrations that flooded to the iconic square from several parts of Cairo also made a stubborn statement that the revolution still continues.


"This is a revolution, not a celebration" they chanted on the year anniversary of Egypt's revolution. "Do not be scared, say it out loud: the [military] council has to go," was another slogan dominating the square and the several rallies that toured Cairo on Friday....

While most of the chants targeted the ruling SCAF, demanding an end to their military rule, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose party now has the majority of seats in Egypt’s new parliament, also saw a share of criticism.

Something never before witnessed in Tahrir occurred on Friday: tens of thousands chanted against the Muslim Brotherhood.

As they marched into Tahrir from the Qasr El Nil Bridge, near where the MB stage was located, they chanted “Sell the revolution Badee,” with contempt. Mohamed Badee is the MB’s General Guide.

The speaker on the Muslim Brotherhood stage reacted by calling those chanting against the MB felool, a term now used to refer to ex-Mubarak regime loyalists.

Demonstrators, in kind, replied by holding up and pointing the Kazeboon stickers towards the stage, implying that the MB are also liars.


1145 GMT: Syrian soldiers have clashed with defecting troops today in Rastan in central Syria, according the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Observatory said heavy weapons were used in the town, 160 kilometres (about 100 miles) north of the capital Damascus.

The Local Coordinating Committees says three people have been killed in the fighting.

In late September, dozens of people died in a military crackdown. Defectors said on 30 September they were withdrawing from the town because of the regime's offensive.

Activists also said an oil pipeline was struck and caught fire as regime troops shelled the town of Qoriah in the northeastern province of Deir Ez Zor, killing at least one person.

A demonstration in Kernaz in Hama Province this morning:

1135 GMT: In Egypt, blogger Maikel Nabil, free after nine months in detention, has been giving a press conference about his imprisonment.

Nabil, detained for criticising the military, said, "I was dealt with with procedures put together by [Mubarark-era Minister of Interior] Habib El Adly. [These] are fascist laws."

Talking about his lengthy hunger strike, he claimed authorities asked him "to officially inform them so if I die, they won't be held accountable". He added, "They said if you present an apology to [the leader of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Mohamed Hussein] Tantawi, we will consider a pardon. I refused. You can't jail me, then want an apology."

0705 GMT: Footage of civilians, shot by security forces, lying in the stree in Nawa in Aleppo Province amidst the gunfire --- 11 people died in the town on Friday:

0650 GMT: Sifting the news from Syria that more than 100 people perished at the hands of security forces on Friday, we begin with an extract from an analysis --- out later this morning --- by James Miller:


The Free Syrian Army has won victories in Zabadani and has taken over large parts of the eastern suburbs of Damascus. It is trying to establish more strongholds north of Damascus, has won victories in Daraa in the south. It is looking to win the Qusair district of Homs, and the city itself.


Then there are the many locations in Idlib, around Aleppo, and across Syria that are now firmly loyal to the opposition There is a growing opposition. It is increasingly militarised but at the end of the day, the protest movement is still the main weapon that it is using to slowly erode President Assad's support.

The protest movement has always been defiant over these last 10 1/2 months. The difference is that, in recent weeks, it is growing increasingly confident.

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen is right, as he reports from towns held by the opposition: the end is not near. However, the beginning of the end of the Assad regime is at hand.


A montage celebrating the Free Syrian Army:

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