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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Propaganda and an American Journalist Held Hostage

Video of Austin Tice, an American journalist held hostage in Syria

2038 GMT: Syria. At the end of the day (it's nearly midnight in Syria) at least 150 people have been killed by Assad forces, according to the Local Coordination Committees:

50 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs (most of them in Eastern Ghota and 17 in the shelling of Harasta); 30 in Aleppo (most were field-executed in Jami'yat Al-Zahra neighborhood); 29 in Daraa; 21 in Deir Ezzor; 12 in Homs; 5 in Idlib; and 3 in Hama (one of them was martyred in Aleppo).

See our note on the casualty figures put forth by the LCC.

The LCC's death toll often rises overnight as they confirm more deaths.

The number is shockingly high to many, but sadly it is about average now. However, the intensity of the violence in and around Damascus was nothing like average. While violence sometimes spikes for a day, or maybe a few days, it also may be a sign that the battle for the eastern suburbs is intensifying.

There is another story to carefully watch over the next few days. While we did not mention it earlier because we're trying to find additional information, there has been a rumor since yesterday that fighting has broken out in Qardaha, a town in Lattakia that is the ancestral home of the Assad family. What's interesting - the fighting is reportedly taking place between different Alawite families, and has nothing to do with Free Syrian Army insurgents. The Guardian carries a summary of the rumor. We've been trying to confirm these reports all day, and we've tried to uncover the significance of the fighting, but little more is known. Perhaps these are rumors. Perhaps this is an isolated event. Until it develops further, the real stories remain, for us, elsewhere.

2005 GMT: Syria. Away from the headlines in Aleppo, the reports from Damascus, the Free Syrian Army in the north, or the border with Jordan, there is a city called Zabadani. Located 20 miles northwest of the capital, isolated in the mountains, it has been surrounded by the Syrian military, and shelled every single day, for 93 straight days.

The CFDPC, a network of activists working to extricate information from Damascus and its suburbs, shares four videos of today's shelling, and reports that at least 7 people were injured, 2 critically, in what many inside the cut-off city likely viewed as just another day of horror, fear, and misery, much like the last 92.

1929 GMT: Syria. Often we decide video is too graphic to show here. However, every shell that falls on a Syrian city potentially ends lives, and we've seen too many of those videos today, like many days. As such, sometimes we need to be reminded of the horror of this crisis.

The LCC shares this video, reportedly taken today in Douma. Homes are on fire, apparently the work of tank shells, and a body burns in the road, but everyone is so afraid of more shells, snipers, and the fire itself that they cannot retrieve him or her:

1918 GMT: Bahrain. Before the teargas, the arrests, the molotovs, and the smoke, there were tens of thousands of Bahrainis who attended today's funeral for the you political prisoner Mohammed Mushaima:

But such scenes were quickly replaced by funeral mourners fleeing from the teargas, and then scenes like this:

1910 GMT: Bahrain. As we've been reporting today, a funeral procession for a young political prisoner who died yesterday was broken up by police. Police fired teargas, and deployed water cannon anti-riot vehicles to disperse the crowds. However, as youth withdrew to the villages, in several areas clashes broke out between young rioters and police. In the video below, police trucks have moved into one of the villages, and some of the youth of the village threw molotov cocktails at the police vehicles.

1845 GMT: Syria. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 125 people have been killed by Assad forces so far today:

41 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs (most of them in Eastern Ghota and 17 in the shelling of Harasta), 26 in Daraa; 21 in Deir Ezzor; 20 in Aleppo (most were field-executed in Jami'yat Al-Zahra neighborhood); 12 in Homs, 3 in Hama (one of them was martyred in Aleppo); and 2 in Idlib.

See our note on the casualty figures put forth by the LCC.

Earlier we noted that, in the past, when violence escalated east of Damascus the government used bulldozers to destroy homes and effectively establish a buffer zone between opposition neighborhoods and more sensitive areas around the capital. That may have been prophetic, as the LCC now reports that more than 50 homes and businesses have been bulldozed in Barzeh, in northeastern Damascus, near the road leading to Tisreen military hospital (map). The video below reportedly shows some of those homes and businesses after they have been flattened.

1838 GMT: Syria. Earlier we reported that Hezbollah commander Ali Hussein Nassif had been killed inside Syria (update 1422). Now, according to the Lebanese Daily Star, two additional Hezbollah members were killed inside Syria:

On Tuesday, Hezbollah's al-Manar television showed the funerals of at least two other Hezbollah members it said were killed while performing their "jihadi duty".

It said one of the group's members, Zein al-Abideen Mustafa, was buried in his hometown of Baalbek, while another Hezbollah member, Hussein Mohammad Hussein Diab, was buried in his hometown of Ghassaniyeh in southern Lebanon. Both funerals were attended by Hezbollah officials and commanders.

The coffins of the dead were draped with Hezbollah's yellow flags and carried by militants in black uniforms and red berets. Hundreds of people marched in the funeral.

How significant is this? According to The Guardian, the head of Hezbollah's judicial council, Sheikh Mohammad Yazbek, and the head of the political bureau, Sheikh Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyed, were both in attendance of Nassif's funeral in Baalbek.

Still, no specific narrative has been released by Hezbollah, other than the claim that the men were performing "jihadi" actions. Hezbollah is a staunch supporter of the Assad regime.

1817 GMT: Libya. The United States military has been working with Libyan officials and may have identified specific targets connected with the attack on the Benghazi embassy on September 11th, 2012:

The American military’s top-secret Joint Special Operations Command is preparing detailed information that could be used to kill or capture some of the militants suspected in the attack last month in Libya that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, senior military and counterterrorism officials said on Tuesday. Multimedia

Preparing the “target packages” is the first step in a process that the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency are taking in preparation for, and in advance of, any orders from President Obama and his top civilian and military advisers to carry out action against those determined complicit in the attack on the United States Mission in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

Additional US forces have already been put in place, including several additional warships, in addition to jet aircraft and special forces that would already be in place to conduct a raid or attack on specific targets inside Libya. It's entirely possible that either US forces or Libyan government forces are preparing to make some kind of move against militias or suspected terrorists.

1623 GMT: Bahrain. Another scene from the streets of Bahrain help provide appreciation for the scale of today's crackdown:

1602 GMT: Syria. Last week we noted a surprise victory for the Free Syrian Army north of al Raqqah, in a border town called Tal Abyad. The military victory for the FSA was made even more complete when insurgent fighters ambushed several convoys of regime reinforcements that were headed to the town. Analysts have said that the FSA displayed a significant show of strength, and the regime's military strength was weaker here as it has fewer tanks and aircraft to deploy to the region.

While opening a new front at Al Raqqah may prove militarily advantageous to the Free Syrian Army, it may prove disastrous to the non-militarized wing of the opposition. Al Raqqah has been largely sheltered from the fighting and violence that has rocked the rest of the country. As a result, perhaps as many as 500,000 internally displaced Syrians, many of whom with opposition sympathies, have moved to this city. With refugees filling the streets, and the city being geographically isolated, if the Free Syrian Army attacks there may be no where for the civilians to run.

Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons has a must-see report of the situation in Al Raqqah.

1531 GMT: Syria. A Bahraini activist provides context about the death of a political prisoner, Mohammed Mushaima, reportedly the result of sickle cell anemia (see update 0715):

According to activists, it is the crowd of funeral mourners who have been attacked by teargas and water cannons today:

1504 GMT: Syria. The death toll continues to climb, according to a leading opposition network, the Local Coordination Committees:

The number of martyrs in Syria has risen to 104 thus far, among them women and children. 38 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs (most of them in Eastern Ghota and 17 in the shelling of Harasta), 26 in Daraa, 16 in Aleppo (most were field-executed in Jami'yat Al-Zahra neighborhood), 12 in Deir Ezzor, 9 in Homs, 2 in Hama (one of them was martyred in Aleppo), and 1 in Idlib.

See our note on the casualty figures posted by the LCC.

1453 GMT: Bahrain. Large protests have formed in response to the death of a prisoner (see update 0715) and the news that the courts upheld sentences for 9 doctors charged in conjunction with last February's events (see update 0553). Those crowds have been met with teargas and water cannons as police try to disperse the crowds:

1422 GMT: Syria. The news is now confirmed that a major Hezbollah leader has been killed in Syria. Lebanese media has posted pictures of his funeral procession. The AP reports:

The security official said Tuesday that Hezbollah commander Ali Hussein Nassif's body was brought to Lebanon through the Masnaa border crossing. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

It was not clear whether he had been fighting alongside the Syrian army.

Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV showed the funerals of at least two Hezbollah members it said were killed while performing their "jihadi duty."

The Times of Israel reports that a source in the FSA says Nassif was killed in a roadside bomb attack:

In addition to leading Hezbollah forces in Syria, Nassif acted as liaison between the Assad government and the group, the reports said. According to a Syrian opposition source, he was tasked in Syria with putting down “civilian uprisings.”

The opposition has long claimed that Hezbollah has been assisting with intelligence gathering, as well as the crackdown against dissidents. However, there has been no real "smoking gun" yet. This could be it, however.

1405 GMT: Syria. The LCC has raised their death toll to 87:

23 martyrs were reported in Daraa, 34 in Damascus and its Suburbs (most of them in Eastern Ghota), 16 in Aleppo (most were field-executed in Jami'yat Al-Zahra neighborhood), 8 in Homs, 3 in Deir Ezzor, 2 in Hama (one of them was martyred in Aleppo), and 1 in Idlib.

See our note on the figures posted by the LCC.

The largest spike in the newest numbers is in Damascus, matching our understanding that the eastern suburbs are being heavily shelled.

1346 GMT: Syria. Syrian State Media suggests that the shells falling all over Damascus's suburbs have nothing to do with the military shelling, but instead are the work of terrorists:

Another even more interesting report from SANA, however, is that the President himself has significantly lowered the academic standards of Syria's universities:

Why would he do this? Many universities are closed entirely, while others have scant attendance because students are afraid of the violence, have fled, or are protesting the regime by not going. This move allows Assad to save face when large portions of Syria's university students fail all their courses for not attending class.

1340 GMT: Syria. Even closer to the capital, between Douma and Damascus, this video was reportedly filmed today in Kafer Batna. The entire landscape appears to be filling with smoke, as a shell or rocket hits nearby:

1336 GMT: Syria. The situation east of Damascus appears to be far worse than initial reports suggest. A cameraman in Douma uploads a series of vides reportedly taken today. With each video, the explosions get closer and closer, until finally, in the video below, a missile of some sort slams into the building across the way. View the entire video progression here.

1313 GMT: Syria. Bashar al Assad is in Aleppo? The military is moving 30,000 troops from Hama to Aleppo? The Guardian notes, with appropriate skepticism, some important-if-true news:

Al-Diyar reports (in Arabic) that Assad flew by helicopter at dawn from the presidential palace in Damascus to Aleppo. It implies that he is still in Aleppo, though it does not say which day he arrived.

According to al-Diyar, "President Assad ordered units 5 and 6, estimated to be 30,000 soldiers and 2,000 personnel carriers, to move from Hama to Aleppo and to attack any occupied areas of Aleppo province from the Turkish border."

Assad's visit and his decision to send more troops would be a newsworthy development if true, but so far there has been no mention of it in the official Syrian media.

Recently, there has been fighting near the airport, and civilian flights have long-since stopped. We find it very unlikely that Assad has visited Aleppo by helicopter. Furthermore, such a move would likely be accompanied by a massive escalation of air raids and military operations inside the city to knock the FSA on their back foot. There is always violence in Aleppo now, and fighting has clearly escalated this week, the result of a renewed opposition offensive, but there is no sign that Assad has helicoptered into this warzone.

It's also unclear if Assad even has 30,000 troops and 2000 armored personnel carriers in Hama. As some of the most informed experts on this crisis now suspect that Assad's total operational forces that he can commit to forward operations has dropped below 100,000, it's hard to imagine the Syrian military moving 30,000 soldiers anywhere.

1308 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees report that at least 70 people have already been killed by regime forces so far today:

23 martyrs were reported in Daraa, 24 in Damascus and its Suburbs (most of them in Eastern Ghota), 16 in Aleppo (most were field-executed in Jami'yat Al-Zahra neighborhood), 5 in Homs, 1 from Hama who was martyred in Aleppo and 1 in Idlib.

See our note on the figures posted by the LCC.

1302 GMT: Syria. Al Jazeera reports that there has also been fighting east of Damascus today:

Rebel fighters have stormed an army post in Douma, killing six soldiers, while intense shelling by government forces sent residents of the Damascus suburb fleeing in panic, a rights group and activists said.

Other rebel-held bastions in and around Damascus were also bombarded at dawn on Tuesday as the government said it was close to crushing the last pockets of resistance in the capital.

Douma, a major suburb of the capital, was host to some of the most one-sided fighting of the war in June, as regime forces struggled to clear out Free Syrian Army fighters from narrow streets, losing hundreds of soldiers and dozens of tanks in the process. The populace of Douma is also heavily aligned with the opposition. Though regime forces have nominal control over the area, ambushes and fighting are common. Still, this may be another wave of intensification.

After the battle for Douma in June, regime forces used bulldozers to establish buffer zones in neighborhoods in northeast Damascus.

1254 GMT: Syria. Overnight an activist shared with us a video reportedly showing the Free Syrian Army ambushing a regime convoy in the Ghouta region to the east of Damascus. The same Youtube account has posted this video, which shows a shortened version of the other clips edited together with a second clip showing FSA fighters shooting from a building. At least one regime soldier appears to lie dead in the street, and one of the vehicles in the convoy is on fire:

We cannot verify the date or location of the video.

James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us through the morning.

1015 GMT: Syria. Back from an academic break to find Egypt's Ahram Online paying close attention to Syrian State TV's attack on Mohamed Morsi, after the Egyptian President suggested intervention in the conflict was possible: "Why don’t you send the army to break the siege on Gaza - they're brothers as well?"

The anchorman accused Morsi of taking $2 billion from the Qatari Emir "to facilitate the occupation of Jordan for the sake of Israel". He continued, "What about cancelling Camp David [the 1979 agreement with Israel]? We know that such a decision needs a will like that of the hero Gamal Abdel-Nasser, not those who tried to kill him,"

The Muslim Brotherhood, to which Morsi belongs, tried to assassinate Egyptian President Nasser in 1954.

And Morsi is not the only villain for the Syrian regime's broadcasters --- Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who used to be based in Damascus, has been described as "ungrateful and traitorous".

Early this year, Hamas shifted from neutrality to implied praise of Syrian protesters for "moving toward democracy and reform".

0715 GMT: Bahrain. An EA correspondent and activists report the death of 22-year-old Mohamed Mushaima, who had been sentenced to seven years in prison, from sickle cell anemia. Mushaima's lawyer claims that his client did not receive proper medical treatment.

0641 GMT: Bahrain. Dr Ghassan Dhaif, one of the six medics detained this morning after their sentences by a military court were upheld, speaks in October 2011 about going to prison --- "A disaster for our children":

0553 GMT: Bahrain. Authorities have moved quickly after an appeal court upheld the prison sentences of nine doctors and nurses on Tuesday. Dr Fatima Haji, who was among the larger group of medics convicted by a military court last year, sends the message:

The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights lists the six medics: Dr. Ali Al-Ekri (five years imprisonment); Dr. Mahmoud Asghar (six months); Dr. Ghassan Dhaif (one year); Dheya Ibrahim AbuIdris (two months); Ibrahim Abdullah Ibrahim (three years); Dr. Saeed Al-Samahiji (one year).

0545 GMT: Syria. An EA reader has been reminding us of the important story beyond last night's drama of the abducted US reporter Austin Tice --- 78 journalists have reportedly been slain since March 2011, with 13 perishing in September.

0515 GMT: Syria. Fighting continued on Monday in Aleppo, and the Local Coordination Committees reported 183 people slain by security forces; however, the headline last night was the surfacing of a video of the abducted journalist Austin Tice.

The confirmation that Tice, seized in mid-August by unknown abductors, was alive, was parallelled by the murkier political story of who had produced and released the video and for what reason. Joseph Holliday of the Institute for the Study of War and EA's James Miller dug into the background and presentation of the 47-second clip. Holliday assessed, "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."

Miller concurred, "So far this appears to be a hoax made by regime sympathizers to make the opposition look bad."

The Tice story emerged as Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told the United Nations General Assembly on Monday that the regime had faced "organised terrorism" for more than a year:

In what context can we classify the explicit request of the United States from the armed terrorist groups not to surrender their arms as a response to amnesty decrees and decisions issued by the Syrian leadership?

We also wonder to what extent the statements of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United States, and France that clearly induce and support terrorism in Syria with money, weapons and foreign fighters, are in line with the international responsibilities of these countries in combating terrorism.

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