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Bahrain, Syria (and Beyond) LiveBlog: A Message to President Obama

Amidst the demonstrations in Sitra on Wednesday: a message to President Obama about John Timoney, the former Chief of the Miami Police Department who was employed in December as an advisor by the Bahraini regime

See also Egypt Feature: Is the US Now Seeking Out the Muslim Brotherhood?
Bahrain Video Special: The Moment Police Blanketed Sitra With Tear Gas
Bahrain Special: Identifying The Tear Gas Companies Who Profit While Bahrainis Suffer and Die
Bahrain Propaganda 101: A Washington Times Editorial, Brought to You by Lockheed Martin and The Regime's US PR Firm
Wednesday's Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) LiveBlog: What Happens When the Observers Leave?

2138 GMT:Another video from Syria today reportedly shows a night protest in Zabadani:

We are still tracking reports of teargas in Bahrain tonight. The evening has seen a series of protests across the country, again, with many calling for the release of detainees amidst growing concerns of mistreatment, particularly concerning women and teenagers.

Meanwhile, Mariam Al Sarraj posts a video with footage shot in Salihyia on Monday, the night that her father was arrested following an opposition protest. Here first hand account of events that evening is here.

2054 GMT: This video was reportedly taken in Musayfira, Daraa today, where the people chanted, "Your silence is killing us, we have no one but God," and "The people want the execution of the President."

We don't know if Arab League observers saw this specific rally, but a video posted by a prominent blogger shows an old woman speaking to one of the observers, reportedly in Musayfira.

2040 GMT: Where is the teargas in Bahrain? Initial reports were that it was on the Country Mall roundabout, on Budaya Highway. However, a contact in Sanad village says that he can smell the gas, and that roundabout is very far away (general map of area). Teargas is also reported at the Buri Roundabout in Hamad Town, across the island.

In other words, there are reports of teargas in many corners of Bahrain tonight.

2027 GMT: Turning back to Bahrain, this video (according to one of EA's correspondents in Bahrain) was taken before the tear gas, at the rally. The crowd began to chant the ubiquitous "down, down, Hamad!"

We're still tracking down the reports of teargas:

2016 GMT: The Coalition of Free Damascenes For Peaceful Change reports, "anti government demonstration kicked off at 4 pm next to al-Mujtahad Hospital in the Midan area of central Damascus calling for an end to Assad regime rule." We believe this is the hospital:

2010 GMT: Another night of teargas in Bahrain - In the last 10 minutes, Amira Al Hussaini,Global Voices Online Middle East and North Africa editor, Tweets:

I'm stuck in traffic watching them shooting #teargas #OhJoy

The whole scene is surreal, bordering on bizarre

You would think they would hide and shoot right? Wrong: the shooting happens as 100s watch

I have no words to show how disgusted I am with this whole situation #teargas #bahrain

Up this close to the action, the shooting sounds like we are inside a pot of popcorn

1948 GMT: The Coalition of Free Damascenes For Peaceful Change post this video, reportedly showing "the funeral procession for the defected soldier Anas Khamees," in the Hajar al-Aswad area of Damascus, another large demonstration close to the capital:

1928 GMT: Most of the media attention focused on Syria has stressed the violence, the deaths of protesters, defectors, and soldiers. According to many activists and rights groups, the number of dead has reached approximately 6000, and continues to rise. However, what gets less attention, because it is away from the public eye, are the amount of arrests. Two reports today make substantial claims about largely under-reported crimes in Syria. First, the LCCS reports that they have been able to confirm more than 16,000 who remain in detention:

Since the beginning of the revolution for diginity in Syria on 3-15-2011 the regime’s security forces tried to crack down on protests in various ways including arbitrary detention. There were a lot of cases of arbitrary detention and force disappearance and it is difficult to document all the cases. The Local Coordination Committees managed to document only 16,717 detainees including 381 children, 786 students, 273 doctors. Detainees are distributed regionally as follows:

Damascus: 6708

Damascus suburbs: 4859

Daraa: 3154

Idlib: 1364

Hama: 1202

Homs: 984

Aleppo: 855

Latakia: 533 Deir Ezzor: 434

Banyas: 473

Raqqa: 573

Sweida’a: 115

This is a staggering number, though not a surprising one, based on the daily reports of widespread arrests. In particular, however, the amount of claims in and around Damascus suggest that, if true, the peace on the street has been kept through large-scale arrests, which, if true, would also suggest that the "silent majority" is more defiantly opposed to the regime than many experts think.

But another report, with far more details, is provided by The Guardian's Martin Chulov. The report, written by the rights group Avaaz, claims that 617 have been tortured to death while inside those prisons.

1916 GMT: Earlier, large protests were reported in several districts of Homs, but some of the largest appeared to have been in the Al Waer district. Below, this young girl is leading a crowd of women in anti-government chants:

Protests reportedly continued after night fall:

1910 GMT: Earlier we posted video of protests in Aleppo, specifically in the Marjeh district. In a piece of more rare news, activists report that there are also evening protests in the same neighborhood:

1856 GMT: The Guardian reports:

Syrian actor Jalal al-Tawil/Taweel has been arrested at the border with Jordan. A TV actor and acting coach, he was one of the first artists to oppose the Assad regime. The Local Co-ordination Committees say he was ambushed by security forces at the border:

He is being held at the military security branch in Dera'a and was wounded by a bullet to the shoulder. Prior to his arrest, he was threatened with being killed by Jamil Al-Hasan, Brigadier General and director of the Air Force Intelligence branch.

The LCCs posted the picture of a bloodied Tawil. Ahram reports that Tawil's wife called in to al-Arabiya "to say that she does not know about his whereabouts and that there are reports of his arrest".

1850 GMT: Another impressive picture from Sitra, Bahrain, of the large opposition rally that, so far, has been peaceful:

1730 GMT: Al Jazeera has posted this video, an interview with Mahmoud Souleiman Hajj Hamad, the head inspector of Syria's defense ministry and the first inspector at the Monetary Center of the Interior Ministry, who defected in protest of the killing of innocent civilians. He confirms reports that, to many, may seem obvious, but it's worth noting that this man in an inspector for the regime - it's his job to observe and report, and he believes that the regime is guilty of atrocities:

1723 GMT: According to an activist, the voice on the video says that this is Deir Ez Zor. Gunfire rings out as evening protesters chant in the street. It is unclear what is burning in the streets, who lit the fires, or why the fires were lit. It's also important to note that, according to the last report from LCCS, 12 were killed today in Deir Ez Zor alone:

1659 GMT: We've often written that the conflict in Yemen can be broken down into 3 fronts: People v. Government, Tribes v. Government, and Government v. Terrorists. Today, AFP has news on the third front:

Yemeni troops backed by warplanes clashed on Thursday with suspected Al-Qaeda militants in the restive south in fighting that killed 10 people, military and civilian administration sources said.

Four soldiers were killed and 10 wounded in the fighting on the eastern and northern outskirts of the city of Zinjibar, controlled by Al-Qaeda-linked Partisans of Sharia fighters, a military source said.

The troops were backed by warplanes, and heavy artillery was also used in the fighting, the source said.

Six fighters were also killed and eight wounded, a civilian administration source said, adding that three vehicles were used to evacuate the casualties to a hospital in nearby Jaar.

We'd note that there has been a recent intensification of fighting in the region, as the Yemeni military seems to be stepping up attacks.

1646 GMT: The LCCS is reporting that BECAUSE of the gunfire in Irbeen, the Arab League observers never entered the area, but the protesters believed that they were there because they were informed that the observers would be there. It is unclear, from the report, how much the observers actually witnessed:

Local residents gathered today in a massive protest to receive the Arab League observers; however, the observers did not enter the town due to security forces' random gunfire at the protesters.

According to the LCCS, 24 have died today, " including 12 in Deir Ezzor, 5 in Homs,3 martyrs in Hamouria (Damascus Suburbs) and one in each of Aleppo, Damascus, Daraa and Idlib."

1635 GMT: This video claims to show the minute that demonstrators were fired upon by security forces in Daraya, Damascus:

1623 GMT: The Bahraini Ministry of Interior posted this picture, reportedly showing protesters preparing to throw molotovs, presumably at police, yesterday. We have not seen any videos, nor have we heard any independent reports, that could collaborate that claim, though we have certainly posted videos of molotov throwing in the past.

However, we'll note that, regardless of the validity of this particular claim, in our Bahrain video special, we have clear video of the police firing an incredibly large amount of teargas at a crowd in Sitra, and there is no evidence of molotovs being launched from this crowd before the police attack. It would appear that, if the MOI's claim is true, the picture was taken at a separate protest.

1613 GMT: Activists and EA correspondents are reporting a large AlWefaq protest rally in Sitra, Bahrain, as expected.

This picture shows a large group of women at the rally:

The stage at the front of the crowd:

Another clear picture, showing perhaps many thousands in attendence:

1559 GMT: Normally, we have to rely on activists for the latest news about protests in Bahrain, and while some of them have proven to be extremely reliable, we're always glad to have an "independent" source.

This statement was released today by the American embassy in Bahrain, warning citizens that sometimes "protests intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. U.S. citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations."

Spontaneous demonstrations take place in Bahrain from time to time in response to world events or local developments. United States citizens should keep current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times. If you encounter a large public gathering or demonstration, depart the vicinity immediately.

- On Thursday, 05 January:

At 1500 hours, a demonstration is planned in the vicinity of Kawrah.

At 1900 hours, a demonstration is planned in Sitra.

- On Saturday, 07 January, there are calls to burn the U.S. flag throughout Bahrain.

- The Embassy anticipates widespread demonstration activity to continue through the weekend and will provide updates as necessary.

- The Embassy has observed an increase in anti-U.S. sentiment on various websites and social media outlets; however, there are no indications that U.S. citizens are being directly threatened or targeted at this time.

1552 GMT: According to the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria, 20 people have been killed by security forces today in Syria, " including 12 in Deir Ezzor, 4 in Homs, and one in each of Aleppo,Damascus Idlib and Hamouria (Damascus Suburbs)."

1543 GMT: We're stunned by this next video. According to EA sources in Bahrain, this was taken last night. It shows police lobbing teargas canisters into homes, and firing more, blindly, into a neighborhood where chants of "down, down, Hamad [alKhalifa]" could be heard:

Once again, law enforcement officials whom EA has spoken to caution that the use of teargas in enclosed spaces is highly dangerous, burning teargas canisters have been known to cause fires, the canisters should never be fired blindly as they can be deadly if they hit someone in the face, and teargas should only be used to disperse a crowd that poses a threat to others.

Also note the sounds of a helicopter overhead. Activists were reporting last night that the helicopter was being used to track down demonstrators as they fled police.

1532 GMT: We've received more videos from the Marjeh district in Aleppo, where a large protest has reportedly taken place and at least one person was reportedly killed. The video below is taken from a different angle than out previous video, however we've also seen a longer video taken from above:

1526 GMT: The smoking gun? This video was also reportedly taken in the same area of Irbeen, Damascus. The crowds are set apart from a group of security that has gathered in the area. Through the trees, one can see glimpses of what appear to be orange jackets, which COULD be the Arab League Observers. This also could explain that, when the gunfire broke out, the observers were not among the crowds of protesters, but rather they were behind the security line:

1516 GMT: The LCCS posts two videos, uploaded by the same account (a handler) but clearly taken from two different cameras. Both are labeled as having been taken today in Irbeen, an important and central suburb of Damascus. Though the video is entitled "in the direct presence of the observers," there are no observers visible in either videos. Activists, however, report that there were observers in the suburb around this time.

Both these videos were taken at almost the exact same time, from different angles, as the gunshots line up:

This video, from a different source, shows protesters fleeing the gunfire in Irbeen:

1500 GMT: Still catching up, and it appears that, according to the LCCS, protests are even larger than we've seen so far:

Martyrdom of Abou Junaid al-Sharookh as a result of beating by Shabiha during a demonstration in the Marja area [area in our last update].

More than 1500 people are participating in a demonstration at the Rifai Mosque on Sheikh Lutfi Street [approximately here, we believe]. Shabiha are roaming the area and firing shots to intimidate protestors. Several injuries have been reported.

1454 GMT: We're still catching up, and already we've found huge news in Syria. This video was reportedly taken today in the Marjeh district of Aleppo. With several hundred protesters in the street, it is possibly the largest protest we've seen in the city in many months, and absolutely rare as the protest is taking place in the streets, not on the university campus, and during the daytime:

1445 GMT: Back from research/email breaks (we need secretaries) to find that the death toll from today's bombings in Iraq has risen to 68 (see earlier report).

James Miller takes the liveblog.

1210 GMT: Activists claim 10 people have been killed today in Syria --- 7 in Ghariba in the northeast, 2 in Homs, and 1 in Idlib.

1110 GMT: In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party leads in initial, unofficial results in the third and final stage of balloting for the lower house of Parliament.

The FJP won the largest share of the vote and seats in the first two rounds, followed by the Salafist Nour Party.

Meanwhile, complementing a report that the Obama Administration is reaching out to the Muslim Brotherhood (see separate feature), both The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor feature articles on the looming political battle between the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Noor and Freedom and Justice parties.

Meanwhile, the fallout continues over the raid by Egyptian security forces on 10 non-profit organisations last week. Two US organisations, the National Democratic Institute and National Republican Institute say seized equipment has not been returned and they have not been allowed to re-open offices.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday, "We had been assured by leaders in the Egyptian government that this issue would be resolved, that harassment would end, that NGOs would be allowed to go back to business as usual and that their property would be returned. It is, frankly, unacceptable to us that that situation has not been returned to normal."

Ahram Online reports that civil society groups, fearing further raids, have sent staff members home for the week, encouraged workers to remove all personal belongings from offices, and duplicated and secured key files and documents.

1040 GMT: An opening round-up of news from Syria....

The Guardian notes this footage of defectors claiming allegiance to the opposition --- the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says they are among more than 20 regime soldiers who switched sides after insurgents overran military checkpoints in Idlib in the northwest on Monday.

There is also news of a political defection, with Mahmoud Sleiman Hajj Hamad, head inspector at the Syrian Ministry of Defense and first inspector at the Monetary Center of the Interior Ministry, announcing on Al Jazeera that he has left the regime.

State news agency SANA says the regime has released another 522 political prisoners, bringing the total since November to almost 4000.

Activists claim at least 25,000 political detainees are still held.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani has said that inexperienced Arab League observers in Syria made errors: "This is the first experience for us....There is no doubt for me. I can see there are mistakes, but we went there not to stop the killing but to monitor."

Qatar has led the campaign for tougher action against the Assad regime, and al-Thani reiterated that if the observer mission goes back, the Syrian government must keep its "commitments", under an agreement with the 22-nation Arab League, to keep military forces out of cities and residential areas and to refrain from violence.

Arab League ministers will discuss the mission at a meeting on Saturday. Al-Thani said, "we will see whether we can continue the mission or not and how we can continue the mission. But we need to hear the reports of the people who have been on the ground first."

0915 GMT: After a day of protest and clashes, Bahraini police patrol Sitra and fire more tear gas:

0907 GMT: Less than two weeks after saying he wanted to go to the US for medical treatment, Yemen's President Saleh appears to have retracted the statement.

Yemeni officials and the State news agency said Saleh had accepted pleas from members of his party to stay and serve the “national interest".

0905 GMT: Explosions this morning in the Iraqi capital Baghdad have killed at least 24 people and wounded 66 in Shia neighbourhoods.

At around 7:30 a.m., explosives strapped to a motorcycle were detonated near a group of day laborers on the side of the road in Sadr City. Moments later, two improvised explosive devices were detonated as the first rescue crews arrived at the scene.

Nine people were killed in the explosions and 35 were wounded.

Just over an hour later, two car bombs were detonated in quares in the neighbourhood of Kadhimiya, killing 15 people and wounding 31.

0615 GMT: We open simply this morning. Wednesday was another day of protests in Bahrain met by the tear gas of the security forces, after two more people died in four days from the use of that gas.

A vivid image of protest facing police yesterday:

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