Activist Zainab Alkhawaja among protesters tearing up portraits of Bahrain's King Hamad
1932 GMT: Syria. With military progress largely stalled, the Syrian military is expanding their bombing campaign in Idlib - and the target is civilians. According to the AFP, at least 44 people were killed in airstrikes in Ma'arrat al Nouman. This video shows a bomb falling on Ma'arrat Harma (map), to the west of most of the fighting:
Meanwhile, the Free Syrian Army reportedly launched an all-out attack on the Wadi al Daif base, just east of Ma'arrat al Nouman, the largest base in the are, and one that the FSA has had surrounded for days:
The rebels pounded the base all morning before launching the assault with hundreds of fighters armed with light and heavy weapons. Three tanks were destroyed and at least six soldiers had surrendered, rebel officers said.
According to rebels, almost 250 soldiers and a large number of tanks, ammunition and fuel supplies are located inside Wadi Deif base, which they say controls an oil pipeline to the main northern city of Aleppo.
1900 GMT: Syria. News from Syria is often horrifying, disquieting, disappointing, enlightening, hope-giving, uplifting, depressing, haunting - or just downright weird. File this under (we hope) the weird category.
A strange white substance, almost "cotton candy" like in substance, has been found in many areas of Syria. According to activists, it has been dropped from Assad aircraft:
So far, nobody really knows what it is. The only thing all these people and I agree on - one should not eat it.
1751 GMT: Syria. Earlier, (update 1558) we posted video of bombs falling in the Zablatani/Saqba area just east of Damascus. The LCC now posts this video, reportedly showing people trying to pull bodies from the wreckage. Note - everything you see in this video appears to have been housing that was three or four stories higher only a few hours ago.
As of the LCC's last count, 167 people have died across Syria, 36 in Damascus alone, though these numbers will likely rise.
1656 GMT: Syria. This video may mark a major change in the very nature of warfare in Syria - This video, reportedly taken in Idlib, doesn't look like much, and we can't confirm the location of this because there are no landmarks, it does appear that this is an aircraft firing flares - possibly as countermeasures against surface-to-air missiles:
1640 GMT: Syria. Activist Rami al Jarrah shares with us a video from a conference held this month in Cairo. The goal of the conference was to bring together intellectuals and leaders to discuss the future of Syria in a post Assad world. Many expatriates have been working to organize similar conferences - a parallel effort to efforts made by the more "official" Syrian opposition parties, such as the Syrian National Council.
1607 GMT: Syria. The Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo is one of the most beautiful, historical, and important buildings in Syria, and indeed in the Middle East. It is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites, and is a national treasure, but like much of Aleppo it has been heavily damaged in recent weeks. AP reports:
The Umayyad Mosque suffered extensive damage, as has the nearby medieval covered market, or souk, which was gutted by a fire that was sparked by fighting two weeks ago. The market and the mosque are centerpieces of Aleppo's walled Old City, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Government troops had been holed up in the mosque for months before rebels launched a push this week to drive them out. Activists and Syrian government officials blamed each other for the weekend fire at the mosque.
Rebel supporters also alleged that regime forces defaced the shrine with offensive graffiti and drank alcohol inside, charges bound to further raise religious tensions in Syria. Many of the rebels are Sunni Muslims, while the regime is dominated by Alawites, or followers of an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
The BBC has now published a photo gallery of the damage - and it is significant.
41 martyrs were reported in Idlib; most of them in Maaret Al-Nouman, 36 in Damascus and its Suburbs, (including 9 who were field-executed in Yarmouk Camp, 7 in Hamouria, and 4 who were field-executed in Qadam); 31 in Aleppo, (including 6 who were found in Zahra Society); 16 in Homs; 12 in Daraa, (including 7 who were field-executed in Maaroba); 6 in Quneitra; 5 in Deir Ezzor; 5 in Hama; and 1 in Raqqa.
Several videos show the moment that bombs fell, dropped by fighter jets, in Zablatani, near Saqba, major eastern suburbs of Damascus:
Garsalloui was suspected in the kidnappings of a Swiss couple who were held captive for eight months in North Waziristan, an al-Qaida and Taliban stronghold, according to the intelligence officials who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media...
Garsalloui came onto European intelligence officials' radar nearly a decade ago with his Belgian wife, Malika El Aroud, who was recently sentenced to eight years in prison in Belgium for heading a terrorist group linked to al-Qaida and running a Web site that glorified suicide bombings.
1523 GMT: Syria/Turkey. EA's John Horne reports:
The Turkish Press Council has sent a letter to President Assad asking for the release of two journalists who were arrested in August. The letter reads:
Dear Mr. Bashar al-Assad,
Cüneyt Ünal and his Palestinian counterpart Beshar Fehmi Kadumi, who were carrying out their duties as journalists, are under arrest. We wish for our colleagues, who have been working professionally for 17 years and were arrested for doing their job, to be released to spend Eid al-Adha with their families.
Therefore, we make a special request to you and hope that your attention will bring a positive outcome.
1520 GMT: Bahrain. A day after four people were arrested and charged with insulting King Hamad on Twitter, a motion debated in Bahrain's parliament today called on ministers and senior officials to join Twitter "to boost their interaction with the citizens".
1518 GMT: Syria/Eygpt The number of Syrian refugees in Egypt has reached 150,000, according to the UN Refugee Agency. This is a large rise from last month's figure of 95,000. A UN official, speaking to AP, suggested the increase was because Syria's neighbours, such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, are "reaching (the) saturation point". Despite the high numbers, only 4,800 Syrians have actually registered with the UNHCR office in Cairo.
1459 GMT: Syria. Reporters have been killed in violence, shot by government troops, and killed in explosions from government shelling. There have also been several reported instances where government forces allegedly kidnapped reporters. Most recently, many now believe (including his editors and friends) that government forces have kidnapped American journalist Austin Tice.
But according to Reporters Without Borders, forces loyal to the Syrian opposition have also kidnapped reporters, including a Russia Today journalist from the Ukraine:
Ankhar Kochneva, "who contributes to several Russian media outlets and also works as an interpreter, is believed to be held by a faction of the (rebel) Free Syrian Army somewhere between Tartus and Damascus," Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a statement.
RSF "deplores the abduction of the Ukrainian journalist... and calls for her release," the Paris-based organisation said.
Kochneva has been in Syria since October last year, the statement said. According to Russia Today, she travelled to the coastal province of Tartus on October 8. A day later, she confirmed by telephone that she had been kidnapped, RSF said.
1448 GMT: Libya. Fighters from several nearby towns have attacked the former Qaddafi stronghold of Bani Walid today. The town has pushed out government control and has refused to submit to the national government, leading to a two week siege by forces allied with the government. Medical officials have told the AP that 6 people have died.
The officials said Thursday that nearly 80 people also have wounded in the fighting that began Wednesday in Bani Walid, some 140 kilometers (90 miles) southeast of Tripoli.
11 people have reportedly been killed in the fighting, according to the Libya Herald.
The fresh assaults come in spite of mediation efforts led by a union of elders commissioned by the government and the National Congress to negotiate with Bani Walid.
Following a visit to the town on Saturday, it was agreed that soldiers from eastern Libya would be permitted to enter Bani Walid, purportedly to resolve the standoff and to start the process of finding those responsible for the death of Omran Shaban.
The Libya Herald also carries reports that chemical weapons may have been used, despite denials from all parties involved, and the Libyan government, that chemical weapons are in the hands of any militias.
A huge explosion near a key Syrian intelligence building rocked a Damascus suburb Thursday, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
There was no immediate information on injuries or deaths from the blast near a building used by the Palestine Branch, part of the Syrian military intelligence operation.
1346 GMT: Syria. The numbers in Syria are startling - hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled Syria, perhaps 2.5 million are internally displaced, and, according to the rights group Avaaz, between 28,000 and 80,000 people are "disappeared," kidnapped by pro-regime forces.
Fadel Abdulghani from the Syrian Network for Human Rights which has been monitoring the death-toll inside Syria since the protests began, estimates at least 28,000 people have disappeared and 18,000 names have been provided to them from their network on the ground. They state that they have information about, but no names for 10,000 more cases, as the families have been too afraid to share them.
Muhannad al Hasani, chair of the Syrian human rights organisation "Sawasya", winner of the Martin Ennals Award, and a member of the International Committee of Jurists said: “According to information given to us by our contacts in villages across Syria, we think there could be as many as 80,000 forcibly disappeared people. People are being snatched at night, on the street and when no-one is looking.”
Muhammad Khalil, a human rights lawyer from Hassaka, said: “While there is no precise figure, thousands of people have disappeared since March last year. The regime is doing this for two reasons; to directly get rid of the rebels and activists, and to intimidate the society so that it won’t oppose the regime.”
The BBC has some chilling audio on the story, which includes a clip of men who witness the kidnapping of women by Assad soldiers.
Even this number is eclipsed by the number of deaths reported by various rights groups. According to the Center for Documentation of Violence in Syria (VDC), a database populated by reports from the LCCs, 30409 have been killed across Syria. This number is conservative. In Syrian Tracker's latest very detailed report, "A total 36,686 victims, in 191 Places, over 20 months from March 18, 2011 to October 14, 2012."
There is no reliable database about the number of people injured or legally arrested, but it is fair to say that several hundred thousand people may have been physically impacted by this conflict, and that number is growing more quickly, not less.
In general, the situation is decaying across Syria. Part of this is strategic. As the government is pressed to negotiate a ceasefire, the violence may be their way of ensuring that no ceasefire ever happens:
This sounds conspiratorial, but this is exactly the pattern that has been established immediately before several other ceasefire attempts.
The root cause of the violence stems from 2 things, however. The first is a general lawlessness and brutality, especially but not exclusively among Assad security forces, a pattern that grows as the situation becomes more chaotic. The second is more strategic - as the FSA wins more victories, and the Assad regime is now panicked over the rate of their defeats, the idea is to crush the insurgents, their supply lines, and their popular support - by any and all means necessary.
1319 GMT: Syria. 124 people have already been killed today, according to the Local Coordination Committees:
37 martyrs were reported in Aleppo; 29 in Damascus and its suburbs; 21 in Idlib 12 in Homs; 8 in Daraa; 6 in Quneitra; 5 in Deir Ezzor; 5 in Hama; and 1 in Raqqa.
This number is unusually elevated for this early hour. The LCC numbers are a lagging indicator, in that it takes the LCC time to confirm reports, and many of these deaths occur in areas where violence persists.
It will likely be an extremely bloody day across Syria.
1312 GMT: Kuwait. EA's John Horne reports:
The Ministry of Interior has denied reports of a mass crackdown on social media users. Earlier, Alaan News had published claims that up to 800 Twitter users were going to be charged with criticising the Emir of Kuwait online.
1253 GMT: Syria. For several days we've been tracking the battles in Idlib province, specifically the fighting near Ma'arrat al Nouman. We noted that this areas was absolutely crucial to the Assad regime, and that despite throwing its heaviest weapons at the insurgents, the regime was losing ground, not gaining it.
This morning there are reports that a military checkpoint in Sayhan (or Zain), near Khan Shiekhoun, was captured. As you can see on this map, Khan Sheikhoun is far to the south of Ma'arrat al Nouman, and while the FSA has been fighting here, they may now have effectively closed the entire road between the two major towns:
View Syria - 2012 October 18 - EA Worldview in a larger map
Claimed video of the insurgent attack on the Sayhan base, which clearly show many armored vehicles captured by the FSA:
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas and John Horne for getting us started today.
1223 GMT: Syria. EA's John Horne reports:
Russia's Foreign Affairs spokesperson Alexander Lukashevich has just been updating reporters concerning Syria and Turkey. As relayed through the Ministry's official Twitter account:
Russia has proposed creating a Syrian-Turkish security commission to ease bilateral tensions
Russia shares Brahimi’s opinion that truce during the Eid al-Adha holiday could become a prelude to a lasting ceasefire.
1110 GMT: Yemen. Yemeni security officials say US drone strikes have killed at least seven insurgents in the south.
The officials say at least three strikes targeted a gathering of militants on a farm outside the town of Jaar.
Residents said they saw two vehicles on fire and several bodies.
1050 GMT: Syria. David Ignatius' latest column in The Washington Post is primarily a lobbying effort for assistance to insurgents via the Syrian Support Group, which arranged the columnist's recent visit to Syria. However, this claim deserves attention:
About two weeks ago, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are said to have created a small “Gulf Fund,” to be disbursed by the military councils. The commanders will be paid $150 for each named fighter (including the serial number of his weapon). Col. Abdul-Jabbar Akidi in Aleppo is receiving about $2.5 million under this program; Col. Afif Suleiman in Idlib is getting about $4.5 million.
Ignatius met the two Colonels on his recent trip to Syria. His update today appears to follow on from the warning they imparted that they might turn away from the US for support, as he reported at the time in a piece headed "A revolt’s extremist threat":
By the summer, Col. Abdul-Jabbar Akidi emerged as the leader of the new military council in the Aleppo area; Col. Afif Suleiman headed a new council in Idlib province; Ahmed Berri commands the council in Hama. Shishakly introduced me to these three commanders in Syria last week. They say they’d like help from the United States, but that it hasn’t materialized. Without money or weapons to distribute to the fighters, these U.S.-friendly military councils will quickly lose their coordinating power.
1010 GMT: Syria. Captain Roni Ibrahim, an air force pilot captured by insurgents after his plane was shot down, tells Al Jazeera that he did not know he was bombing civilians.
An official at the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources said pumping had been halted, with the hope of restoring operations in the next few days.
1000 GMT: Bahrain. A candle-lit march in Daih village on Wednesday night for Mehdi Ali Marhon, who died yesterday from the effects of inhalation of tear gas:
Kuwait. Witnesses claim two explosions this morning in the capital Sana'a near the headquarters of General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who broke with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh during last year's uprising.
The cause of the explosions has not been established. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Rifa was growing frantic. Her husband had called to say that he and her brother were stuck on their way home from work outside the Syrian capital, normally a 25-minute drive. There was fighting in a northern suburb, he said, and traffic was frozen.
Tensions rose as the hours passed. It is never good to be out after dark in Damascus now, especially trapped in a traffic jam, unable to flee. Finally, Rifa’s husband called again. They had escaped and returned to their workplace to pass the night, another concession to their changing world.
War has come to Damascus. Not on the scale of Aleppo or Homs, at least not yet. But the difference from just a few months ago is unmistakable. With sandbagged checkpoints every half-mile and soldiers methodically searching vehicles for weapons, simple movement is becoming impossible.
“Where is Damascus headed? Are we the next Aleppo?” Rifa asked a few days later. “How soon before our city, our markets, are destroyed?”
This is the center of Bashar al-Assad’s power, the stronghold he tried for months to shield from a popular uprising that has inexorably been transformed into a bloody civil war. As his troops battled insurgents all around the country, Mr. Assad was determined that here, at least, he would preserve an air of normalcy, of routine, of certainty that life would go on, as it had before.
Such illusions are no longer possible. The reality of war has crept into daily life, and there is a sense of inevitability.
0555 GMT: Syria. Wednesday was marked by the downing of yet another regime warplane, as a helicopter was hit by insurgents amid continued regime strikes near the opposition-held town of Ma'arat al-Numan in Idlib Province.
Continuing his tour of the region, with a stop in Lebanon, United Nations-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi again appealed for a cease-fire, beginning with the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, as he warned of the expansion of the conflict:
This crisis cannot remain confined within Syrian territory. Either it is solved, or it gets worse...and sets [the region] ablaze. A truce for Eid al-Adha would be a microscopic step on the road to solving the Syria crisis.
Brahimi, citing daily losses of more than 100 people "on both sides", continued, "This will be a microscopic chance to lead to a permanent ceasefire, halting the smuggling of arms, and an agreement on a political solution."
The envoy, who has also been in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran over the past week, said he would also visit Damascus, but he did not specify a date.
0545 GMT: Kuwait. In what AFP describes as an "unprecedented move", thirteen former MPs have filed a complaint to the Kuwait Society for Human Rights "over alleged police atrocities against peaceful protesters", following the large opposition rally on Monday.
The complaint claims that riot police unnecessarily used batons to beat up young activists, challenging an alleged plan by the government to change the electoral system to manipulate results.
The Emir dissolved Parliament earlier this month after months of disputes over the legislature and allegations of corruption among Ministers.
The Kuwait Society for Human Rights has said that the complaint will be passed on to international NGOs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
0535 GMT: Bahrain. In a vivid display of protest last night, demonstrators in Sanabis tore up pictures of King Hamad. The action was initiated by Zainab AlKhawaja, recently released from prison after serving a two-month sentence for ripping an image of the King.
The protesters have indicated they will continue the tearing of the King's pictures today in Sitra.
Meanwhile, authorities arrested four men --- Ali Al-Haiki, Abdullah Al-Hashimi, Ali Mohamed and Salman Abdullah --- for “defaming public figures on social media”.