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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The UN Talks Cease-Fire --- Is Anyone Listening?

The devastastion in the Khalidiya section of Homs

See also Israel-Palestine Live Coverage (23 October): Gaza, Settlements, Iran, and Elections
Monday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: "Revolution Was Won When Wall of Fear Was Broken Down"

1709 GMT: Kuwait. Last Thursday, former MPs Bader Al-Dahoum, Falah Al-Sawwagh, and Khaled Al-Tahous were arrested and charged of criticising the Emir at an opposition gathering on 10 October. The following picture was taken shortly after their arrest:

Today, they appeared in court with shaved heads, wearing prison uniforms:

1700 GMT: Jordan.King Abdullah II has called on the fragmented opposition of the country to organise for the elections on 23 January as an "authentic partner" of the regime. Abdullah said:

Our main goal is reform and we’ll have new parliament by early next year [January 23]. We believe in right of the opposition to be authentic partner. The regime is the state and all its institutions. Each individual is part of the regime. Rule for us, we the Hashemites, was never based on power control. 

1541 GMT: Tunisia. The leader of Tunisia's chapter of Ansar al Sharia, the radical Salafist group, demanded the release of imprisoned Salafists and accused the elected government of being a "puppet" of the United States:

The criticism from Saif-Allah Benahssine, who is also known as Abu Iyadh, came as Tunisia's moderate Islamist-led government celebrated its first anniversary following the ousting of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last year.

Benahssine is wanted by the police for allegedly inciting the attack on the U.S. embassy in which four people were killed in a protest over an anti-Islamic film made in California. Benhassine escaped capture at a mosque in Tunis last month.

1449 GMT: Syria. A second video, taken from a different angle, claims to show smoke rising from the Moudamyah base in Damascus (see previous update). We're now seeing this from enough sources to say that the existence of the smoke is confirmed. It's still not clear what started the fire (activists say it was an explosion), however, and it's even less clear what exactly is on fire inside the base and whether it is any of the key command buildings, which would be a significant development.

We're watching this closely. However, mortar or rocket attacks have been launched at this base before, and it is a very large base, so this may or may not be significant. Stay tuned.

1444 GMT: Syria. Video claims to show the smoke rising from somewhere on the base of the 4th armored division, near Mouadamyah, Damascus. The 4th armored division is both one of Syria's elite and most loyal units, and is personally commanded by President Bashar al Assad's brother, Maher al Assad:

1435 GMT: Syria. Reuters reports that at least 20 people were killed in the Hanano section of Aleppo after several shells hit a crowded bakery earlier today:

Majd Nour, an opposition campaigner in Aleppo, said two shells hit the bakery, located in the eastern Hananu neighbourhood, in the early afternoon. Free Syrian Army fighters were guarding it at the time, he said.

"The frontline is about two kilometers away from the bakery, at Karm al-Jabal. There has been a lull since the army shelled Hananu overnight," Nour said.

"It was quiet all day and suddenly Assad's forces fired three shells. The first landed near the bakery and the other two hit it," he added.

The video is graphic:

1415 GMT: Syria. The Guardian has interviewed LCC spokeswoman Rafif Jouejati, who says that UN Peace Envoy Lakdhar Brahimi's ceasefire plans are "dead on arrival." The LCC, arguably one of the organizations with the best connections on the ground in Syria, has suggested that Brahimi's plan had no teeth, and is simply a rehash of previous failed ceasefire plans.

"We have tried to communicate with him [Brahimi] on numerous occasions. I tried to relay the voices of activists on the ground and he immediately dismissed me, and in fact lost his temper with me. He did not want to hear bad news from activists on the ground. I felt that as an allegedly neutral party, and one who should be a negotiator, he had an obligation to listen to what the people on the streets are saying, and he flatly refused."

Asked if she ruled out future negotiations with Brahimi, she said:

"Of course we should always pursue discussions and dialogue, but it has to lead to concrete results. We can’t come out with soft plans that do not address the fact that there is something approaching genocide taking place in Syria. We cannot discuss in diplomatic or political terms any sort of a solution that does not include the removal of Bashar al-Assad and his regime apparatus."

Our analysis - the peace plan was never alive to begin with. No one we have communicated with in the opposition on the ground in Syria, or operating outside of Syria, believes that the regime is trustworthy enough for a ceasefire to be followed by regime forces. If Brahimi has lost the LCC, he's likely got no real chance of establishing any sort of ceasefire, and the probability for the opposition accepting a power transfer deal brokered between Brahimi and the regime is also decreasing.

1405 GMT: Syria. The claim of the day:

Treat this as unconfirmed. It's also unclear where exactly the explosion took place, or of what nature the explosion is. Stay tuned.

1346 GMT: Lebanon. Yesterday the military moved into the streets of Beirut, quieting the fighting and transforming the atmosphere of the city into a tense calm. In Tripoli, however, closer to the border with Syria, the fighting continued:

Four people were killed and 15 wounded in overnight gun battles in the Lebanese city of Tripoli in a second night of fighting between Sunni and Alawite gunmen loyal to different sides in the war in neighbouring Syria, a military source said on Tuesday.


The fighting in Tripoli - [Prime Minister Najib] Mikati's hometown - took place between the neighbouring areas of Bab al-Tabbaneh, a Sunni Muslim stronghold, and Jebel Mohsen, an Alawite district.

Three Sunnis and one Alawite were killed and 15 people were wounded, a military medical source told Reuters. Residents said combatants traded machinegun-fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

1314 GMT: Syria. An economic victory for the Syrian opposition - Al Jazeera reports that the Syrian insurgents have begun to distribute $150 paychecks to each fighter in Aleppo. The program is set to expand nationwide:

Colonel Abdul Salam Humaidi defected from the army after 30 years in service, because he says the regime is corrupt and sectarian. He’s now the financial official in the Revolutionary Military Council, and is overseeing the first wave of remittance.

"The revolutionary military councils are undertaking a project to distribute monthly salaries to the fighters, especially those who are on the front lines. We hope that we will be able to continue testing this project until fighters are secure in their livelihoods."

Although it is not clear who is providing these fighters' salaries, rebels say some of the sources of the money are in Turkey, the Gulf states and Islamic institutions.

This is significant, because there is an argument to be made that one of the few reasons why there have not been more defections is that Assad's soldiers are paid, and many cannot afford to evacuate their families if they were to defect. This could start to change that, and certainly makes joining the opposition fighters more appealing.

Will it work? Time will tell. In the meantime, it will likely help ease some of the logistical issues already facing the fighters in the ranks of the insurgency.

1300 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees report that 83 people have already been killed by regime forces so far today:

27 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its suburbs ;25 in Aleppo; 11 in Deir Ezzor; 7 of them due the shelling at Bokamal city; 9 in Homs most of them in Talkalakh; 5 in Daraa; 5 in Idlib; and 1 in Raqqa.

A note on the casualty figures published by the LCC. The Local Coordination Committees (LCC) is an activist network operating both inside and outside of Syria. They claim to use stringent verification processes to ensure that a member of the LCC can vouch for any information posted either on their Facebook page or their website. The LCC also populates a database of those killed in the Syrian conflict, which can be seen at the website for the Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria.

The LCC's casualty figures are a mix of insurgents and civilians, and never include regime casualties. Syrian State Media has stopped reporting regime casualty figures.

Looking at today's numbers, they are elevated at this early hour. As the LCC investigates and confirms deaths, their number is a lagging indicator. More than 100 deaths are likely to be reported by the end of the day, and that number could be easily double that.

Specifically, there are many reports from Deir Ez Zor. Not only has the regime conducted intense airstrikes against Al Bukamal and Madayin, but the LCC has this report from Deir Ez Zor, which matches reports we heard earlier of FSA action in Deir Ez Zor city itself:

Violent clashes between the Free Syrian Army and regime forces are reported near the political security building amid artillery shelling of Al-Salihiya area.

1245 GMT: Tunisia. Al Jazeera reports that around 500 people have gathered outside the constituent assembly in Tunis to show support for the Ennahdha government which came into power one year ago today. They also provide this streaming video from Mosaique FM.

Stream videos at Ustream

1230 GMT: Turkey/Syria. Breaking news. According to Hurriyet, an anti-aircraft shell or bullet crossed the border and hit a health center in the Reyhanli district of Hatay province. No injuries were reported, and it's unclear who fired.

This could be significant. It also could blow over. More details when we have them.

James Miller takes over today's coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started today.

1100 GMT: Syria. Abdelbaset Sieda, the head of the opposition Syrian National Council, has expressed doubts that the regime will honour any cease-fire, declaring that United Nations-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi doesn't have "any mechanism to observe the situation".

Sieda said insurgents are willing to halt fighting during the holiday, but will respond if attacked.

1035 GMT: Palestine. The Emir of Qatar has become the first head of state to visit Gaza since 1999.

The Emir entered the Gaza Strip from Egypt at the head of a large delegation seeking to inaugurate $250 million worth of reconstruction projects. The group was welcomed by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, who declared a historic day for the enclave on the Mediterranean sea.

The Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas, which controls the West Bank, said it hoped the visit would not undermine efforts to rebuild Palestinian unity or to establish a Palestinian state. An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said it was "astounding" that Qatar was taking sides, noting that the Emir "has never dignified the PA with a visit".

Meanwhile, the Israeli military said an officer was severely wounded when a bomb detonated near an army patrol along the border with the Gaza Strip.

No group claimed responsibility for the bomb attack. Over the last 72 hours, Israel has killed several Palestinians, including the leader of an insurgent faction, opposed by Hamas and linked to Al Qa'eda.

1030 GMT: Tunisia. Amnesty International has issued a statement of concern about developments under the new government, 21 months after the fall of the Ben Ali regime:

The authorities have taken the first positive steps to reform, including ratifying a number of human rights treaties, releasing political prisoners, pardoning prisoners on death row, and setting down a new press law. Yet, at the same time, other bills were tabled which aimed at restricting freedom of expression in the name of religion, or undermined the cornerstone principle of the independence of the judiciary, such as a draft bill on a Temporary Judicial Council put before the NCA in August 2012. Some political leaders associated with the ruling political parties have made troubling statements which put into question the authorities’ commitment to human rights.

1000 GMT: Syria. Human Rights Watch has repeated its allegation that the regime's air force is dropping cluster bombs on towns across five provinces, rejecting the military’s denial.

HRW, drawing on videos posted by activists, had initially made the claim on 14 October. The Syrian military denied it had cluster bombs. The rights organisation has not challenged that but asserted that there is "an important increase in the use of cluster bombs in the past two weeks....[as] part of an intensifying air campaign by government forces on rebel-held areas that has included dropping high explosive, fragmentation, and even improvised 'barrel' bombs into populated areas."

Human Rights Watch has collected interviews from witnesses, 64 videos, and photographs to claim more than 35 cluster bomb strike sites, with at least 46 cluster bombs amd at least 136 unexploded bomblets.

The weapons have been used in or near the towns of Salkeen and Kfar Takharim in the Northern governorate of Idlib; Eastern al-Buwayda, Talbiseh, Rastan, and Qusayr in Homs governorate; al-Bab in Aleppo governorate; al-Duwair and al-Salheya in Deir al-Zor governorate; and Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus.

0855 GMT: Kuwait. Facing a surge in protest ahead of elections on 1 December, authorities have banned gatherings of more than 20 people and given police more powers.

"Citizens are not allowed to hold a gathering of more than 20 individuals on roads or at public locations without obtaining a permit from the concerned governor," the Cabinet said in a statement carried by local newspapers. "Police are entitled to prevent or disperse any unlicensed grouping."

The opposition has condemned changes to the election law by the Emir, who dissolved Parliament earlier this month, and said it will boycott the poll.

On Sunday, security forces used tear gas, stun grenades, and smoke bombs against thousands of demonstrators as they began marching in downtown Kuwait City. At least 29 people were hurt and more than 15, including a former MP, were arrested.

0735 GMT: Libya. As fighting continues in the north-central town of Bani Walid, families who are leaving report shortages of food and water and the hospital under fire.

Militias loyal to the government are fighting groups loyal to former leader Muammar Qaddafi in Bani Walid, about 140 kilometres (100 miles) south of Tripoli and one of the last Qaddafi strongholds to surrender to insurgents.

Scores of cars filled with families, and pick-up trucks loaded down with mattresses, children and food lined up at a government-run checkpoint the town.

“We haven’t slept in days from the fear of dying and the sounds of shelling,” said one resident, Mohammed Abdel-Salam. “My house was shelled with a rocket and destroyed. Medicine is becoming scarce in pharmacies, even food in shops.”

0530 GMT: Syria. The head of United Nations peacekeeping, Herve Ladsous, has maintained the rhetoric for a stop to hostilities, "I would confirm that, of course, we are giving a lot of thought to what would happen if and when a political solution or at least a cease-fire would emerge."

Ladsous gave no details, however, as to how the proposal of UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi for a temporary cease-fire over the Eid al-Adha might be implemented. 

Brahimi spoke with President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday after speaking to leaders of several neighbouring countries. Assad said, however, that the priority was a cessation of arms to insurgents, while the Free Syrian Army expressed pessimism on Monday that the UN envoy would make any advance. 

The Local Coordination Committees claimed that 204 people were killed on Monday, including 134 in Damascus and its suburbs,. The LCC asserted that "more than 60 [people] were found, most with signs of torture" in the Moadamiah suburb of the capital.

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