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Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Opposition Expands

Claimed footage of Syrian troops and tanks moving into Ghouta suburb, east of Damascus

See also Syria Opinion: "Women Have Been Essential in the Uprising"
Bahrain Feature: Rubber Bullets --- Another "Non-Lethal" Weapon For The Police
Saturday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: More than 100 Die But Opposition Slowly Advances

2052 GMT: Earlier today (see 1535 GMT) we posted video of a march in Kafranbel in northwest Syria, with Free Syrian Army soldiers holding their weapons high. Now we are pointed to claimed footage of the insurgents standing in a "liberated" main square:

2045 GMT: Video from Dumistan in Bahrain on Friday, as police shoot tear gas inside a car --- a woman, reported to be driving, faints after she gets out of the vehicle:

2025 GMT: Dramatic claimed footage of protesters in Aleppo, Syria's second city, challenging a car of the security forces:

And footage tonight of a demonstration in the Salaheddin section of the city:

1950 GMT: This morning we ran features on both the police actions at Occupy Oakland last night, resulting over 100 arrests, and the announcement that Bahrain police will be given new equipment and training, including rubber bullets. Whilst the piece on rubber bullets noted the incident at Occupy Oakland last October when Scott Olsen suffered a skull fracture after being shot by a rubber bullet, little did we envisage a more significant link between the two stories.

A reader, Catmari, alerted us to the fact that last year, at an annual training event entitled Urban Shield 2011, police from Oakland trained alongside a Bahraini military unit (as well as Israeli and Yemeni police). Observers from Bahrain were also present at the event. This is an intriguing lead, which EA will pursue further in due course.

1700 GMT: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said that at least 66 people --- 26 regime troops, five other members of the security forces, nine defecting soldiers, and 26 civilians --- have been killed today.

Security forces killed eight people, including a 9-year-old child, in Homs Province and shot dead another five in the northwestern region of Idlib, the Observatory said. It added that six civilians caught up in military operations and clashes in the Damascus area were slain.

The Observatory said the regime soldiers were killed in three separate attacks in the Idlib and Damascus regions.

1655 GMT: Claimed footage from A'ali i Bahrain on Saturday --- a police officer rushes and kicks a woman when she tries to rescue her son from arrest. He then throws a sound bomb at her and the women with her.

1625 GMT: Troops at the headquarters of Yemen’s elite Republican Guard opened fire on Sunday at a protest by soldiers demanding the ouster of their brigade chief over corruption charges.

Soldiers from the fourth brigade of the Republican Guard were demanding the removal of Abdulmalik al-Arar and another top officer named Abdullah al-Hamiya. No casualties were reported in the shooting.

The Republican Guard is led by President Saleh’s son, Ahmed.

On Saturday, hundreds of air force personnel in Sana'a and Taiz demanded the ouster of air force commander Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar, a half-brother of Saleh.

1620 GMT: The head of Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, Mohammed al-Maskati, has said that detainees and activists will begin a hunger strike tonight "in solidarity with pro-democracy protests and in protest against the brutal crackdown."

The 14 leading figures in prison who will participate include several opposition leaders who were convicted last year of plotting to overthrow the regime.

1547 GMT: A spokesman says that Iraq's opposition Iraqiyya bloc has decided to end a boycott of Parliament begun in December over the issuance of an arrest warrant for fugitive Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi.

Mr Hashemi, Iraq's most senior Sunni Arab politician, is accused of funding attacks on government officials during Iraq's bloody insurgency. He is in hiding in Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

Iraqiyya won the largest number of seats in elections in March 2010 but was unable to form a government. Its decision clears the way for talks amongst factions, cutting across Shia, Kurdish and Sunni lies.


Iraqiyya spokeswoman Maysoon al-Damluji said, "As a goodwill gesture, Iraqiya announces its return to parliament meetings to create a healthy atmosphere to help the national conference, and to seek guarantees for the conference to succeed and defuse the political crisis."

The announcement came after a meeting of Iraqiyya's senior figures, including former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. However, one Iraqqiya MP said a boycott of cabinet meetings would continue.

1545 GMT: A video, far too graphic for us to post, shows bodies destroyed by shelling in the street in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. The regime is trying to reclaim the area from the opposition.

1535 GMT: Four snapshots from Syria today....

A demonstration by students in Aleppo:

A march in Kafranbel in the northwest, including members of the Free Syrian Army with their weapons:

A funeral in Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib Province for a victim of the security forces:

A mass rally in Gadafar in the northwest:

1525 GMT: Several thousand activists, professors, artists, and other demonstrators marched in the streets of Tunisia's capital Tunis on Saturday, calling for respect for rights.

"We are here to speak out against aggression against journalists, activists and academics," said Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, founder of the Democratic Progressive Party. "And to tell the government that Tunisians' hard-fought freedoms must not be compromised."

There have been a series of debates over political and social issues, more than a year after the fall of the Ben Ali regime. Police on Tuesday ended a weeks-long sit-in by Salafists at the university in Manouba, about 25 kilometres (15 miles) from Tunis. The Salafists were angry the university had banned the full-face Muslim veil, the niqab, because of security concerns.

1255 GMT: More on the fighting in Syria today, as the regime attempts to regain control of Damascus suburbs....

The opposition Local Coordinating Committees say the number of dead is 24, including three children. Ten have been killed in Damascus suburbs (Kafar Batana, Saqaba, Hammourieh, Rankous, Zabadani), five in Homs, four in Hama, two in Idlib, two in Daraa, and one in Damascus.

The activists also report heavy security presence around the main streets and squares of Damascus and in the parks, with barricades around the Old Presidential Palace.

Claimed footage of the bombardment of the Bab Amro section of Homs today:

1225 GMT: As Egyptians go to the polls today in the first stage of voting for the upper house of Parliament, other stories from the country....

The head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, has called on the public to ignore “rumours” of rights violations by the armed forces.

“I would never say that there are Egyptian traitors,” Tantawi said to an auidience of military cadets. “They’re just people who don’t understand what’s going on.”

Tantawi said, “We will not allow anyone from inside or outside to affect Egypt or the path its people have chosen....Have faith in yourselves, in Egypt, and in the armed forces, which never abandoned this nation.”

Meanwhile, a delegation from the Ministry of Defence have arrived in the US to discuss military aid and the case of eleven staff of American non-government organisations, banned from leaving Egypt.

“The delegation will visit several US bases to discuss joint training,” General Mohamed El-Keshky said. "The Egyptian delegation will also hold meetings with a number of members of the Senate's Armed Services Committee."

The Egyptian delegation hopes to meet officials at the State Department and the Pentagon. It will also hold talks with Congressmen --- US lawmakers will soon consider a new request for military aid, currently about $1.3 billion per year.

In December, investigators from Egypt's Ministry of Justice and armed agents raided numerous NGO offices, including the International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI), American-funded and mostly staffed by US personnel.

Five IRI employees, including Sam LaHood, the son of the US Secretary of Transportation, and six NDI staff have been banned from travelling outside Egypt.

1205 GMT: Back to our opening story, as the Syrian regime attempts to take back towns and suburbs held by the opposition....

Activists say about 2,000 soldiers in buses and armoured personnel carriers, along with at least 50 tanks and armoured vehicles, moved at dawn into the eastern Ghouta area on the edge of Damascus to reinforce troops surrounding the suburbs of Saqba, Hammouriya, and Kfar Batna.

The activists said five people were killed as the army pushed into the heart of Kfar Batna, placing four tanks in the central square.

"Mosques that have turned into field hospitals are requesting blood. They cut off the electricity. Petrol stations are empty and the army is preventing people from leaving to get fuel for generators or heating," said Raid, an activist in Saqba.

0950 GMT: The State Department has confirmed that Yemeni President Saleh arrived in the US for medical treatment on Saturday.

0910 GMT: Yesterday we featured a pictorial comparison between the regime forces' treatment of an Al Arabiya reporter, Mohammed Al-Arab, working with him as he carried out interviews, and their hostility towards a photojournalist.

Claims and counter-claims around Al Arabiya circulate this morning. The regime's Gulf Daily News says Al-Arab's cameraman Shaikh Al Deen Abdulla Ahmed was ambushed and beaten by protesters while activists have released a montage video of the Al-Arabiya team "embedded" with the security forces:

0900 GMT: Some classic framing of regime news by Bahrain's Gulf Daily News this morning. The skyscraper headline, "Police Attackers Face Tough Laws" (see 0740 GMT) is escorted by two other stories, "Arsonists Target Another Attack" and "Firebomb Scare for Shura Member". And above all this? "Bahrain's Reforms are on the Right Track" (not to mention to the right, "His Majesty's Policies Praised".

0845 GMT: Yesterday we noted reports of a siege by regime forces of the Syrian town of Rankous, near the Lebanon border, apparently in an attempt to suppress defecting troops.

Activists and residents said today that at least 33 people have died in the town of 25,000 people, 30 kilmetres (19 miles) north of Damascus.

A resident in a nearby village said, "We have managed to get through to people there who say the bombardment has brought down at least 10 buildings."

0740 GMT: In Bahrain, the breaking news last night --- noted in our Live Coverage --- was the Ministry of Interior's announcement of a prison sentence of up to 15 years for anyone attacking a police officer.

What also caught our eye was the order that security forces could use not only tear gas and sound grenades but also rubber bullets --- not plastic bullets, but rubber-coated steel bullets --- against protesters. EA's John Horne has posted a separate feature.

0730 GMT: We begin where we left off on Saturday in Syria. Activists reported dozens more deaths, including 17 men found on the streets in Hama, apparently executed by gunshots to the head, and shelling clashes continued, from the suburbs of Damascus to the Bab Amro neighbourhood in Homs.

But the most striking development remains the opposition's control of some towns. Last week, James Miller tracked the insurgency as it forced regime forces to withdraw from Zabadani and Kafar Takharim Souseh, and now, as the mainstream media take notice, footage indicates that the opposition is claiming victory in the Damascus suburb of Saqba.

Members of the Free Syrian Army hand out free food in the Bab Amro section of Homs:/p>

A rally last night in Dael in the south:

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