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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Feuding About a Plane --- Meanwhile, 200+ Die

Opposition demonstration in the Rukneddin section of Damascus on Thursday night

See also Bahrain Opinion: "How The Police Recruit Radicals
Syria Feature: A Beginner's Guide --- Who is Arming Whom?
Egypt Feature: The Life of Death of Activist Mina Danial
The Latest from Turkey (12 October): Ankara's Dangerous Game with Moscow
The Latest from Israel-Palestine (12 October): What Will Israeli Elections Bring?
Thursday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Insurgents Establish a "Buffer Zone"

2102 GMT: Syria. A multi-story building collapsed after government forces shelled the Palestinian refugee camp in the Yarmouk district of Damascus. Videos show ambulances evacuating the wounded and survivors trying to rescue the wounded from the rubble.

Protests have reportedly been held to demonstrate against the shelling.

2047 GMT: Egypt. While things have calmed considerably, Tahrir Square was an eventful place, as supporters and detractors of the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi clashed for several hours in Tahrir Square.

Note the sign where half of Mubarak's face and half of Morsi's face are combined:

This picture comes via Daily News Egypt, and is part of their picture gallery.

1956 GMT: Bahrain. Video reportedly shows police confronting protesters with riot gear and flash grenades:

Another angle reportedly showing today's crackdown - riot police beat and arrest a man, in the red shirt, for reasons not immediately clear in the video:

1942 GMT: Syria. The ferocity of the Assad bombing of towns and cities across all of Syria, especially Idlib and Aleppo, has grown exponentially over the last few days. Cluster bombs explode and send many smaller munitions in all directions, causing a high degree of destruction to both people and buildings. While there are still many reports of "barrel bombs" being used, homemade barrels filled with TNT, the amount of heavier ordnance, including cluster bombs, has raised concerns that the regime is steeply escalating its punishment of civilians it perceives have supported the opposition or the insurgency.

These cluster bombs also have a high failure rate, leaving unexploded ordnance scattered across the country. Brown Moses and Guardian Mario report:

This has devastating consequences for civilians, in numbers of lives lost, in horrific injuries, and in destroyed homes and infrastructure. It's also a clear sign that the regime is scared by recent military defeats.

1834 GMT: Syria. Several sources that we trust post this video (that was shared earlier in comments below) showing a large number of prisoners, Assad military soldiers, captured by the FSA:

No will to fight? Note that Khirbat al Jouz is one of the towns captured this week on the border with Turkey, placing it deep within FSA territory, and making it subjected to the de facto no fly zone that Turkey is perceived (by some analysts, many activists, some within the Assad regime, and by this journalist) to have established in Idlib province.

What's also important to keep in mind is that there are reports that hundreds of prisoners have been captured this week, claimed numbers not seen before in this crisis, and numbers that videos like this give some credence to.

1808 GMT: Syria. Is the Syrian Air Defense System a "paper tiger?" Foreign Policy analyst and journalist Michael Weiss, who has recently returned from Syria, thinks so, and he publish an article about it today on Now Lebanon. Weiss sites Joe Holliday, from the Institute for the Study of War, and former Syrian Brigadier General Akil Hashem, who both point out that Assad's air defenses have failed to protect him in the past.

“In 1982,” Hashem said, “19 batteries of our 20 tank batteries—each battery consisting of five tanks and each tank equipped with three SAM-6 missiles—were wiped out in a single strike by surface-to-surface Israeli missiles.” Syrian aircraft fared no better. “Ninety-three of our air fighters were shot down in a two-hour air battle with the Israelis. No Israeli planes were shot down. This happened over the Beqaa Valley. I was there. I was in Lebanon at the time and I witnessed everything. So this is not rumor, this is fact.”

Despite decades of technological innovations in the Israeli and Western militaries, Syria still relies heavily on Soviet-era relics to defend itself. This is especially true in the north of the country. The regime chose to concentrate its newer hardware in the west and south of Syria to guard against you-know-who, not that that’s worked particularly well either: Israeli jets have penetrated Syrian airspace three times in the last few decades without incurring any damage to their planes. The 2007 sortie powdered a nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzour.

While Weiss cites my work, as well as the work of Brown Moses, to discuss efforts made by the FSA to reduce Assad's airforce, Weiss's article was written before the 3 air defense bases neutralized by the FSA in the last week.

In other words, if Assad's air defenses were a paper tiger before, now they are a paper tiger that is missing a bunch of teeth.

1603 GMT: Syria. When things are this busy on the insurgency and/or international front, other headlines get pushed to the side. But today there are two dramatic realities that will likely escape most news reports - the ongoing crackdown against civilian civilians, and the weekly anti-government protests.

According to the Local Coordination Committees, at least 70 people have been killed by the Assad regime and its supporters so far today:

27 martyrs were reported in Aleppo, 13 in Idlib, 13 in Damascus and its suburbs (including five executed in Barzeh); 9 in Daraa (most of them in Maarba), 2 in Homs; 2 in Deir Ezzor; and 2 in Hama.

First, see our note on the casualty figures put forth by the LCC.

Second, looking at these numbers they confirm reports that we've heard today of continued bombing campaigns against Aleppo, as well as towns like Ma'arrat al Nouman in Idlib province where the government is conducting artillery and air strikes against residential neighborhoods in order to retaliate after insurgents won several victories in this region this week.

But there have also been large protests across the nation today. The Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre reports:

Today is the Friday of the "Free people of the coast making victory", a reference to both the FSA's successes in battling Assad's forces in the countryside of Lattakia, and to increasingly visible dissatisfaction with Assad's rule in the Alawi community. As usual protests are taking place across Syria. The video shows today's protest in the Damascus suburb of Daraya, where hundreds of residents were slaughtered by Assad's forces in August in the worse massacre of the uprising so far.

Another opposition Facebook page posts this video, reportedly taken in Aleppo, where civilians have braved the violence to take to the streets and make their voices heard:

1552 GMT: Turkey/Syria. Tensions escalate further - Turkey has stopped all civilian air flight travelling over Syria:

In a sign of escalating tensions, Turkey diverted its civilian planes Friday to avoid using Syrian airspace. The two neighbors have been engaged in a diplomatic tussle since Turkish civilians died in cross-border shelling last week.

Turkey imposed the new route for Jeddah-bound planes because it considers Syrian airspace unsafe, according to the official Turkish news agency.

The route mostly affects pilgrims going to Saudi Arabia. Planes will use airspace belonging to Jordan and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, said TRT, the news agency.

1535 GMT: Turkey/Russia/Syria. The Syrian government denied that a plane, traveling from Russia and stopped in Turkey, was carrying arms. That's predictable. Russia has now also denied this claim, which is equally predictable, but there is an interesting catch:

[Russian Foreign Minister] Lavrov said the Airbus A-320 was carrying radar components; transporting such items by civil aircraft does not contradict international norms.

This comes in response to the statement made by the Turkish PM Erdogan, who alleged Thursday that the Syrian Air Airbus was transporting Russian-made munitions for the Syrian Defense Ministry.

“It is absolutely clear who sent the cargo and who was going to receive it. This was munitions from the Russian equivalent of our Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation being sent to the Syrian Defense Ministry," said Recep Tayyip Ergodan.

Radar components? If you've been reading our coverage today, you'd note how hard the Free Syrian Army is working to destroy radar and air defense installations.

So this raises the possibility that they're both right, and the components were military-grade radar equipment.

1523 GMT: Egypt. EA's John Horne reports:

Video from earlier today when a stage erected by secular activists protesting against President Morsi was attacked by demonstrators reported to be Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

Journalist Gregg Carlstrom, from Al-Jazeera English, reports on Twitter that there has been further violence in the last hour, with makeshift firebombs being thrown. Carlstrom also reports that more people are arriving to Tahrir Square:

New crowd of Islamists just showed up, chanting eid wahda, waving a Syrian (rebel) flag.

1517 GMT: Syria/Turkey. Lakhdar Brahimi, the recently appointed UN peace envoy to Syria, will travel to Turkey tomorrow for talks on the escalating tensions. A diplomatic source told AFP that Brahimi will meet Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to "to discuss all aspects of the Syrian crisis".

Davutoglu is also expected to meet with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle tomorrow.

1511 GMT: Syria. Another video shows some of the rockets captured by insurgents in Taaneh, east of Aleppo:

Some interesting notes - while the insurgent fighters in the first video appeared to be FSA, the soldiers in several others, including the two below, have been shared on a Youtube channel which appears to be associated with the Al Nusra Front:

What's the significance? The Al Nusra front is affiliated (very loosely) with Al Qaeda in Iraq, and has often been considered among the most radical groups in the FSA. However, as we reported yesterday, there are attempts by the FSA, especially in Aleppo, to unify the Islamic brigades under the FSA with the understanding that they will have to respect the desires of all Syrians after Assad falls. This may be a step in that direction, though it's obviously also a concerning development. Until recently, the Al Nusra Front has been relegated to terrorist strikes, and has not had enough fighters under its control to be a major player on the battlefield. It's still too early to tell for sure, but this could be a sign that this has changed.

More generally, however, this is a significant development. It would appear that the FSA is now taking marching orders from someone who is hyper-concerned about with Assad's anti-aircraft capabilities. Our take is echoed by Michael Weiss:

1439 GMT: Bahrain. EA's John Horne reports:

Bahraini opposition activists often speak of being "Sumood" (steadfast). It would appear that the earlier attacks by security forces have done little to disuade the demonstrators in Manama as there are still reports of male and female protesters calling for the right to self-determination and the fall of the regime.

Said Yousif Almuhafda, of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights who is observing the protest:

Earlier, according to photojournalist Mazen Mahdi, security forces temporarily stopped Almuhafda seeking ID and phone. They also briefly stopped some media representatives.

Zainab AlKhawaja reports one of the arrested women as shouting, "We are free. Your oppressive regime will fall."

Meanwhile, a march on Buddiya highway organised by AlWefaq and other legal opposition societies (as opposed to February 14th who called for the Manama protest) is now underway:

1432 GMT: Syria. ANOTHER anti-aircraft base has been sieged in the last 24 hours. Multiple sources suggest that this very large base near Salqin, Idlib province (map) was attacked by FSA units, and as much as 70% of the base is now in FSA control. In and of itself, in light of the other headlines today, this would be hugely significant. But most importantly, the base is literally a few kilometers from Azmarin, which Turkey scrambled jet fighters to protect from Assad helicopters. This move may not have even been possible if the Salqin base was not first partially or largely neutralized.

It's inconclusive, but this video reportedly shows FSA units engaged in fierce firefights on the base:

Note: This video has been removed as it appears to be a repost.

Many videos also show shells landing in the town of Saqin over the last few days.

1408 GMT: Egypt. EA's John Horne reports:

There have been clashes in Tahrir Square between two opposing groups of protesters. There are reports of some injuries after fighting broke out when pro-Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators reportedly attacked a stage build by secular activists. According to reports, the situation is currently calming down, however there are currently marches heading to Tahrir Square.

Several weeks ago, a series of secular groups and political societies announced a protest for today called "Accountability Friday", aimed at Egypt's new President Morsi following his first 100 days in office. The call to protest was met with criticism by Muslim Brotherhood supporters. Folllowing the acquittal of all the defendants in the so-called "Battle of the Camel" trial, the Muslim Brotherhood called for its members to rally against the verdict. Other Islamist groups, such Al-Jama'a Al-Islamiya and the Wasat Party also called for protests in Tahrir Square today.

1356 GMT: Syria. The Guardian has spoken to a member of the Revolutionary Council in Aleppo, who confirms that the FSA has captured another "air base" outside Aleppo. Below is an excerpt:

A few hundred fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, Fajr al-Islam and a few members of the FSA took part in the operation which lasted for more than five hours. The airbase was completely destroyed.

The fighters were able to control the whole base after a long fight in which many Syrian soldiers killed, some fled, and others were captured. More than 10 Syrian soldiers were captured and taken to prison to be tried soon.

They also share this video, which appears to show radar dishes, and several more missiles (they appear to be either SA-2 or SA-3 missiles, surface to air missiles that would require radar trucks to effectively operate).

The Taaneh base (there are several bases in the area and we're not certain which base is in question) is an interesting target. First of all, it is called an "air base," but like the one in East Ghouta it appears to really be an "anti-aircraft" base, one that is mainly manned by anti-aircraft machineguns and missile batteries. Also, the Guardian report suggests that, as the FSA took the base, the Syrian airforce worked to destroy their own equipment to keep it out of FSA hands.

These bases, and the equipment inside, would absolutely help the FSA hit back at Assad's aircraft, especially the slower moving training aircraft and helicopters. However, only the most advanced equipment has its own radar (like the SA-8s captured in Ghouta last week). This means that the bases have a somewhat diminished importance to the FSA.

So why hit them?

The FSA is looking for low-hanging fruit, and these "air bases" are easier to strike than the major infantry barracks (though the base in Ghouta was huge and very well defended.

But more importantly - these bases serve a role in deterring foreign airforces from striking Assad's forces. THIS is where things get interesting. The insurgencies most coordinated attacks so far in this conflict have all happened this week, and have either been close to Turkish territory or have focused on these anti-aircraft bases.

Is Turkey helping the insurgents pick these targets so that its airforce can strike Assad? We don't like coincidences, and all these campaigns have occurred in the period of time since Turkey started shelling Syria. Furthermore, the letter where Erdogan got permission from his parliament to strike Syria was dated September 20th. This suggests that Erdogan has been ready to strike for some time, and the FSA may have been waiting in the wings to launch these attacks.

1328 GMT:

Bahrain. Video from the "Destination Manama" protest for self-determination shows men and women running from security forces. There is a moment of relaxation, then shooting starts and the running resumes:

1320 GMT: Bahrain. EA's John Horne reports:

Opposition protests in the capital Manama are typically suppresed by security forces shortly after starting. Today's has been no different.

About 25 minutes ago, reports started coming in of a demonstration with people chanting for their right to self-determination.

Very shortly afterwards came the reports that the protest was being attacked:

blockquote class="twitter-tweet">

via @sitra_mediaRiot police chasing protesters in the capital #Manama , #Bahrain…

— Fatema M (@bahraneya) October 12, 2012

1248 GMT: Syria. By yesterday morning it was clear that the Free Syrian Army had won a series of shockingly one-sided and decisive victories in Idlib province over the course of two days, but evidence also emerged that the FSA had achieved a victory east of Damascus, the significance of which was initially overlooked by the press and by EA, on Friday.

See our separate Syria Analysis: Have Insurgent Victories Broken The Stalemate?

Yesterday I was on the road, attending (and participating in) a discussion led by Matt Duss (Center for American Progress) and Matt Sienkiewicz (Professor at Boston College), so was unable to share with EA's writers the dozens of videos that suggested that the FSA had fought the Assad counterattack in Ma'arrat al Nouman to a standstill, reportedly killing dozens of armored vehicles and tanks in the process.

It was also clear that the town of Ma'arrat al Nouman had been devastated by regime airstrikes, which included heavy ordnance, barrel bombs filled with TNT, and even cluster bombs (I'll be writing a follow up feature that collects the evidence over several additional days).

The opposition's most optimistic reports claim that 300 Assad soldiers were captured, along with dozens of additional vehicles, and more than 100 Assad soldiers were killed. Even if these reports are exaggerated (we're still compiling the evidence, but the pile of evidence is large and will take time to work through), the bottom line is that the Assad regime has paid heavily to retake these areas, and it has not succeeded.

But the fight is far from over. We'll be sorting the latest reports, but we'll start with a significant development, reported by our EA correspondent Ali Yenidunya in our Turkey Live Coverage:

1235 GMT: Following the bombardment of the Syrian border town of Azmarin by Syrian helicopters, two Turkish jets departed to the border. 

Dozens of Turkish tanks located at various districts of the south-eastern province of Sanliurfa have targeted the Syrian border. 

Azmarin (map) is on the northern part of the contiguous territory captured this week by the FSA. If Turkey is not allowing Assad forces to strike this town, it will likely be impossible for the Assad army to ever reclaim what is effectively an insurgent safe zone in northwest Syria.

Today is going to be an interesting day.

James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started, and covering yesterday while I was on the road.

1045 GMT: Syria. Al Jazeera, quoting activists, claims the body of the director of the Aleppo University Hospital, Mahmoud Tsasabehji, has been found near the city.

0939 GMT: Syria. The BBC's Ian Pannell profiles staff persisting amid the destruction of a hospital in Aleppo:

The upper floors...have been smashed by artillery.

Gaping holes have been punched into the walls and valuable operating equipment lies strewn across the floors, buried beneath rubble.

There are now just two beds left where the surgeons can operate and with the constant threat of attack, the entire hospital has been condensed into the reception area and the basement.

0930 GMT: Syria. Phil Sands of The National, reporting on the flight of Damascus residents for "safer districts", offers this note, "The authorities [are] knocking down properties in Qaboun, Barzeh, Kafa Susa, Mezze Basatin, and Harasta --- all areas synonymous with the rebellion --- in what is expected to be a much broader demolition programme."

0910 GMT: Bahrain. State media highlight the signature of a defence co-operation agreement with Britain.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa and British Minister of Defence Philip Hammond signed the document in a ceremony in London on Thursday. Crown Prince Salman was also present.

The agreement provides for exchange of intelligence and visits, training, education, scientific and technical cooperation, and joint training.

0520 GMT: Syria. For many outlets, Thursday's news was stolen by the rhetoric over a Syrian passenger jet, travelling from Moscow to Damascus, that was grounded and inspected in Turkey the previous day. 

Whether or not the plane was carrying military equipment and ammunition to the Assad regime is still unknown. In the place of knowledge, Russia denounced Turkey for mistreating 17 of its citizens on the flight, Syria said Ankara had committed "air piracy", and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan insisted that the contraband cargo had been seized.

Meanwhile inside Syria, insurgents tried to consolidate gains in the northwest, attacking a regime military base near Ma'arat al-Numan --- taken by the Free Syrian Army on Wednesday --- and President Assad's forces continued the attempt to clear parts of Aleppo of opposition fighters. The Local Coordination Committees reported that 210 people had been killed by security forces, inclduing 44 in Damascus and its suburbs, 37 in Deir Ez Zor Province, 24 in Daraa Province, 20 in Homs Province, and 20 in Aleppo Province.

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