Fighting in Aleppo on Sunday
See also Syria Feature: Qatar & Turkey Hold Up Arms Until Insurgents Unite br>
Tunisia Feature: The Truth About the "Salafi Fanatics" br>
MENA Opinion: What The "Crime" of Alber Saber Reveals about the "New Egypt" br>
Sunday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Historic Aleppo Burns
2100 GMT: Syria. Meanwhile, the daily death toll is Syria has reached at least 164, according to the Local Coordination Committees:
52 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs (including 13 in Douma and 10 in Harasta), 42 in Idlib (30 of them were martyred in a massacre in Seqlein), 41 in Aleppo (including 11 martyrs in Masaken Hanano, and 12 in Karm Al-Jabal), 20 in Daraa, 4 in Homs, 2 in Deir Ezzor, 2 in Hama and 1 in Lattakia.
2025 GMT: Syria. The newest information:
Now we know a little more about this video. It was originally posted on September 26th, but it was posted under a different description. The old description was "the American Journalist الصحفي الاميركي" but the new one is "Austin Tice still alive":
It was discovered on the 26th by an opposition Facebook page, but was shared without comment as to who is responsible for the kidnapping:
But what's most interesting is that earlier today, what had to have been hours or even minutes before the title changes, a pro-Assad Facebook page shares the video with a simple explanation (translation by Damascus Tribune):
"Important: please publish and share - After we showed you a clip on the reality of the disappearance of the American journalist Austin Tice in Syria, which caused embarrassment to a lot of western media outlets & newspapers that accuse the Syrian Security of arresting him."
The only problem - the opposition has no jihadis that match this description (see previous update), and they have no incentive for capturing Tice, nor do they have incentive for posting a video of Tice in their possession.
It's just a hypothesis, with little evidence to go on yet, but so far we agree with Joe Holliday's assessment that this is a hoax made by regime sympathizers to make the opposition look bad.
2011 GMT: Syria. It's been quite the hour. We've spent a lot of time investigating this video of Austin Tice, and contacting various sources to find some information.
Here is what we know - this is Austin Tice.
Yeah, that's it. There are so many problems with this video. For starters, it was uploaded by a new Youtube account, it was uploaded 4 days ago and it has just been discovered, and nothing in the video makes sense. The Washington Post, where Tice is a contributor, reports:
In the video, the captors are wearing Afghan-style salwar khameez — tunic and pants — that appear to be freshly pressed and clean. The video would mark the first time Syrian rebels have been seen wearing such clothes, said Joseph Holliday, who researches Syrian rebel groups at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
Islamist extremists typically address the camera head-on with statements, but in this instance the film has been carefully edited to avoid displaying any faces, he said. And the only comments made are the phrases “Allahu al-Akbar” and “takhbir,” which means praise.
“It’s like a caricature of a jihadi group,” he said. “It looks like someone went to the Internet, watched pictures of Afghan mujahedeen, then copied them.”
“My gut instinct is that regime security guys dressed up like a bunch of wahoos and dragged him around and released the video to scare the U.S. and others about the danger of al-Qaeda extremists in Syria. It would fit their narrative perfectly,” he said.
Tice is an American journalist who disappeared in Syria over one months ago. As you can see from the screengrab and the stock photo, there are similarities, and journalists who know Tice say that they believe this is him. It is unclear who his captives are.
"It is a colossal fight - it's an unusual one because it's not urban, like Aleppo. It's over open ground, open terrain, and, of course, despite the numbers, we're told that there are something like 1,500 rebel fighters on the ground, at any given time, matching up to around that same number in the Assad forces," said Simmons.
"The numbers might be the same, but of course, the military resources are totally different, because the Assad forces have heavy artillery, they have air cover, they have helicopters dropping bombs, so this is a really big fight. Big losses are being taken, we understand, from both sides."
Rebel fighters are attempting to take control of a base belonging to a government troop of fighters called Force 46.
Despite the challenges, the FSA made significant progress west of the city last week, though these efforts appear to have stalled. Also, it's worth noting that there is still no sign of Riad al Assad, a defected General who is considered by many to be the head of the FSA. He reportedly entered the country with thousands of soldiers last week, but there is still no sign of those forces.
An activist shares a video of the FSA in action.
The video shows even more extensive damage, both to residences but also to a nearby mosque. A different video shows more bombed-out homes.
It's not all destruction, however. The LCC posts videos reportedly showing a large protest in Mayadin, a city between Deir Ez Zor and Al Bukamal that was captured by the LCC last week:
This video was reportedly take in al Quriya, further south, which we also believe is in opposition hands:
1546 GMT: Syria. Women Under Siege is an organization that has been collecting reports of violence against women and sexual crimes in Syria. Many of the reports come from eyewitnesses, or reported victims, who report that one side or the other is guilty of such crimes. Months after having started, the organization has collected many reports of violence against women conducted by both sides.
One such report caught our eye today. According to a Lebanese news agency, a former Assad army officer reports that he defected after he was ordered by his superiors to rape girls.
A former Syrian Army special forces sergeant named Mohamed, 23, told the Beirut-based news site Ya Libnan that he defected after being ordered “to rape teenage girls in Homs at the end of last year.”
“Some of my friends who refused to rape were shot,” Mohamed said. “I managed to disobey, and fortunately, the officers got distracted,” he adds.
“The officers were mostly Alawite, and they would target the houses of [opposition] activists in Homs and gather the younger girls and rape them,” Mohamed said. “After they’d finished they’d tell the soldiers outside to come in and rape the girls, too. The girls would generally be shot when everyone had finished. They wanted it to be known in the neighborhoods that the girls had been raped, but they didn’t want the girls to survive and be able to identify them later.”
1538 GMT: Syria. Protests happen far less often in Syria, except on Fridays, due to the severe violence and the high risk of gathering in the streets. Most often, protests are organized around those who die, either innocent civilians or Free Syrian Army fighters killed in the fight against the regime.
A prominent FSA fighter, we believe an officer, is buried in Binnish, Idlib province. Despite the constant threat of artillery or air strikes, some sources suggest that thousands attended the funeral:
1517 GMT: Syria. Turkey has repeatedly stated that it can only handle 100,000 refugees from Syria, but while the official count of refugees is very close to that number, the unofficial count has far surpassed it:
Turkey is currently home to 93,576 refugees housed in several camps in the southeast along the Syrian border, the AFAD disaster agency said in a statement.
But 30,000 more Syrians are estimated to be unregistered and staying in hotels or apartments in the country.
This says nothing of the huge influx of refugees who have entered Jordan, Lebanon, and other Gulf states. According to the UN, a total of nearly half a million people have already fled Syria, and that number is expected to reach 700,000 by the end of the year. Some believe that the UN estimates are conservative, but the total number of refugees is very hard to verify.
And all this says nothing of the internally displaced Syrians:
The United Nations says in official estimates that as many as 1.5 million Syrians have been displaced. Some local U.N. officials and officials from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid group put the number as high as two million. By comparison, some 300,000 Syrians have fled the country, the U.N. says.
"If the situation continues at this level of friction for another year, we will eat each other alive," says Father Nawras Sammour, a Syrian priest leading relief efforts in the country for the Jesuit Refugee Service, an international Catholic organization.
36 martyrs were reported in Idlib, among them 30 in Salqeen massacre; 36 in Aleppo, among them 11 in Masaken Hanano and 10 in Karam Al-Jabal; 25 in Damascus and its Suburbs, among them 11 in Douma and 10 in Harasta; 13 in Daraa; 3 in Homs; and 2 in Hama.
Many towns in Idlib province have reportedly been shelled and bombed today, but as you can see from the tally above, no area has been hit as hard as Salqeen:
Another video reportedly shows three small children, members of the same family, killed today in Salqeen. It is extremely graphic.
1443 GMT: Syria. Sticking with the theme of doctors in Syria, The Guardian has a report about how doctors are being specifically targeted by the Assad regime in Deir Ez Zor at the exact same time that the battle for the city is growing far more intense, leading to a greater need for field hospitals and medical staff.
Several videos show fighting there today. One shows FSA fighters engaged in a street battle in the Jubailah district. Yet another, reportedly taken in the same neighborhood, shows a fire, reportedly the result of shelling. The second video is narrated by a child.
1434 GMT: Syria. NPR interviews doctors who are part of the The Syrian American Medical Society. These doctors have snuck across the border into Syria in order to treat those injured by the ongoing conflict. These doctors have tried to establish a field hospital south of the Turkish border, in territory that Syrian opposition has captured and the Assad military is to busy to retake. They hope to build a medical center, an area where those from across Syria can come for long term treatment:
Doctors have a special place in Syrian society — they're the top graduates, the cream of the crop, natural leaders — so it's natural they were an early target of the regime when the revolution began, Sahloul says. At least 60 physicians have been killed, and more than 200 arrested, he says. And Syrian's health care system, one of the best in the Middle East, is near collapse.
"Hospitals are being targeted, patients are pulled from the operating room, patients are being tortured inside the hospitals," Sahloul says.
1422 GMT: Syria. So many buildings in Aleppo now resemble this one, and this is just Aleppo. Deir Ez Zor, Homs, parts of Hama and Damascus, and many dozens of smaller cities, towns and suburbs have been devastated in such a fashion:
A video up-close shows the level of destruction to the historical former passport and immigration building in Aleppo youtube.com/watch?v=N_9CAJ…— Nuff Silence (@NuffSilence) October 1, 2012
The same activist shares this video, claiming to show part of today's battle in Aleppo. We're not sure where, exactly, this video was taken It's also unclear if the FSA unit was able to capture the building:
1410 GMT: Syria. The Free Syrian Army has launched a major offensive in Aleppo city this week, and while there has been some advance for the most part the battle-lines look the same.
But the city will never be the same. FSA positions are under heavy artillery attack, bombs have been dropped, tanks shells and RPGs have exploded, every building is full of bullet holes, and large segments of the city are on fire.
Of particular note, many historical sites have been leveled by fire, and the flames appear to be spreading
Syria's treasured heritage of ancient castles, citadels and Roman amphitheatres looked increasingly under threat on Sunday as fierce fighting in Aleppo sent the city's centuries old souk market up in flames...
Aleppo's souk, the largest covered market in the world and a Unesco World Heritage Site, was engulfed in flames on Saturday amid pitched battles between rebel fighters and government troops. Footage posted on YouTube showed the narrow stone alleyways and bazaars, that sold everything from perfumes, fabrics and spices to gold and ladies underwear, ravaged by fire.
Until now the city's ancient medina in Aleppo had escaped the worst of the fighting, but on Saturday, three days after rebel groups announced that they were launching the "decisive" offensive to win control of the city, the fighting came to its ancient streets.
Many historical sites continue to burn, as do shops, homes, and valuable infrastructure, hurting Syria's historical heritage, but devastating the buildings that residents in Aleppo require to survive:
"Rebels control more that 90% of the Old City now," said Ameer, an opposition activist working with rebel brigades.
But he said they were struggling to hold their positions under heavy artillery fire.
He said the rebels still held the Souk al-Madina, a covered market of 13 km (8 miles) of vaulted stone alleyways and carved wooden facades that was once a major tourist attraction.
Fires that damaged or gutted more than 1,500 shops had been put out, Ameer said, but new fires had now broken out in the Old City's Zahrawi, Aqaba and Bab Al Nasr markets.
The blame-game has, of course, already started. The Free Syrian Army blames the regime, the regime blames the "terrorists," but the result is the same.
The LCC posts this video, reportedly showing shops burning in the Bab al Nasr district of Aleppo:
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us through the morning.
An official said the soldiers, studying at a military academy in Aleppo since 2010, were detained on 4 September as they tried to travel home.
The Islamist Al-Nusra Front posted a video on Sunday which showed the five men asking Yemen to stop support of the Assad regime.
The ministry's account parallels that of the Yemeni human rights group Hood.
The toll included 182 civilians, 88 police and 95 soldiers. Another 683 people were wounded -- 453 civilians, 110 police and 120 soldiers.
The previous deadliest month this year was July, when 325 people were killed.
Among the punished are:
Ali Al-Ekri: 5 years imprisonment for possession and concealment of white weaponry to serve a terrorist purpose, and for illegal assembly. br>
Ebrahim Damastani: 3 years for possession of a white weapon and illegal assembly. br>
Ghassan Ahmed Dhaif: one year imprisonment for holding public officials hostage, inciting hatred against a certain sect, and illegal assembly. br>
Saeed Al-Samaheeji: one year imprisonment for holding public officials hostages, inciting hatred against a certain sect, and illegal assembly.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 12 died, including five children, with many people critically wounded, while the Local Coordination Committees put the death toll at 30.
0855 GMT: Syria. Residents and activists report continuing heavy gunfire, regime shelling, and possible use of artillery on the eastern suburbs of Damascus this morning.
"Every one of them feels like an earthquake," a resident in the central district of Adawi said, as two loud explosions were heard.
Attorney General Abdul-Rahman al-Sayed said the Court of Cassation had rejected all appeals, confirming prison terms of up to five years.
Initially, 20 doctors and nurses were convicted and given sentences of up to 15 years, but the appeals courts reduced the terms --- Ali al-Ekry, former senior medic at the Salmaniyah Medical Center, was given an amended five-year sentence while eight others were handed terms from one month to three years. Nine defendants were acquitted; two are in hiding or have the left the country.
0545 GMT: Bahrain. An image from Buri of last night's clashes between youths and police:
0525 GMT: Saudi Arabia. Claimed footage of the crowd at the funeral in Qatif in Eastern Province for three people killed by security forces last week.
The Eastern Province, the centre of the Shi'a minority population in the Kingdom, has been the site for recurrent demonstrations against the regime, with intermittent clashes and deaths at the hands of Saudi forces.
0505 GMT: Syria. Sunday brought fewer headline events, after last week's renewed offensive by insurgents in Aleppo and the regime's crackdown on Damascus suburbs; however, there were another 154 deaths at the hands of security forces, according to the Local Coordination Committees. The opposition organisation claimed 76 slain in and near the capital, including 30 "field-executed" in Asali, and 41 killed in Deir Ez Zor Province.
Away from Aleppo and Damascus, a bomb exploded outside the State intelligence building, killing at least four people, in the largest Kurdish city of Qamishlo. Media reports said it was the first such attack, but Wladimir van Wilgenburg, who specialises in analysis of Kurdish areas, noted that it was the third.