See also Kuwait Feature: The Rise of Political Tension and Protest br>
US Elections Opinion: Q: Who Won the Presidential Debate? (A: Israel) br>
Wednesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Deaths at the Aleppo Bakery
33 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs most of them in Douma; 14 in Aleppo; 14 in Idlib: 10 in Homs; 3 in Daraa; 2 in Deir Ezzor; 2 in Lattakia; 1 in Raqqa; 1 in Hasakeh and 1 in Hama.
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.
According to the latest tally by the VDC, 31534 have been killed so far in this conflict.
"The gunmen who was killed when police raided an apartment in Madinat Nasr... is suspected of having connections with the group that carried out the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi," an Egyptian police official said.
"The Madinat Nasr police department received information indicating that a terrorist, a member of Al-Qaeda, was present in an apartment in Madinat Nasr," Sayyed is quoted as saying.
As a result police raided the apartment and clashed with the suspect who was killed when he activated an explosive device, he said.
Another independent newspaper, Al-Watan, reported that the suspect was a Libyan citizen.
Without giving a source, it said that security services had additionally "arrested a seven-member terrorist cell in Cairo, five of whom are Libyans and the other two Egyptians."
1834 GMT: Syria. No word from the Syrian media on the situation in Aleppo, or the likelihood of a prisoner releases. All the talk has been more accusations that the United States is supplying weapons to insurgents - oh, and DJ Moe is playing tonight in Damascus, so if the shelling stops and you're in town...
1813 GMT: Syria. It no longer appears that the regime's withdrawal from large parts of Aleppo today was purely strategic, as they fought to control some of those areas (see previous updates). The fighter from Aleppo also confirms the earlier assessment that the regime thought it could rely on Kurdish fighters to keep the FSA out of the Kurdish areas, and that assessment was a false one.
Here's a reason why it's not wise to simply withdraw from areas of Aleppo - snipers rule the streets, and with new territory captured by the FSA, it will make Assad's efforts to retake the city that much harder:
1753 GMT: Syria. The Guardian has interviewed an FSA fighter in Aleppo, Abu Yousif, who claims that after today's fighting, more than 90% of Aleppo province, and at least 60% of the city, is under Free Syrian Army control:
Brigades of the FSA were able to progress from al-Ashrafiyeh district where the Criminal Security branch is. There was also progress in al-Midan and Sulaiman al-Halabi districts. The [government] branch responsible for raids is in al-Midan district. These two branches are the biggest in Aleppo.
Till now the clashes which started at 10am today are continuing and many district have been stormed by the FSA to get towards these two branches. Earlier news claimed that these two branches were taken by the FSA but the truth is the FSA fighters are surrounding these branches and they have still not taken them yet. We are working to get inside them.
In Khan al-Assal district, there is a police school which was under siege by the FSA for 10 days now. The Syrian army were sending reinfocrements every day to ease the siege on it. Today a convoy was heading towards the school and was faced by fire from the FSA and could not get there.
As for al-Ashrafiyeh district, it was controlled by [the Kurdish] PKK party and the Syrian army. The FSA were in Bani Zaid which is at the entrance to al-Ashrafiyeh. The FSA had to take al-Ashrafiyeh district to be able to reach the Criminal branch – and they did. The advance now is just around the Criminal Security and it is not easy to get control.
Some skeptics have criticized the claims that the FSA has advanced through the Kurdish neighborhoods, but Abu Yousif reports that the attack was made possible because the PKK accepted the FSA into the neighborhood. This rings true, as there is no reported fighting that involves the PKK in Aleppo.
The PKK accepted the deal after a lot of pressure from the Kurdish people. Lately, many buses loaded with Kurdish people from Afreen, 70km northwest of Aleppo, were attacked at random by the Syrian army thinking they are coming from Izzaz.
Since the beginning of the revolution the regime has been trying to keep the PKK on its side but I think now it is going to lose them.
This may mean that Assad has just lost a powerful ally.
1635 GMT: Syria. An activist reminds us that the opposition in Aleppo has already placed very specific demands as part of their ceasefire requests:
So Aleppo Military Council still maintains its ground: no ceasefire till all political prisoners are out.That's like +50k. #Syria— The 47th (@THE_47th) October 25, 2012
The Aleppo Military Council speaks for large portions of the insurgents in Aleppo, and has maintained this stance all along. This makes a ceasefire very unlikely, especially in Aleppo.
But as we've mentioned before, this time the opposition is likely to get the blame.
The question is whether the Assad regime will continue its campaign against civilians away from Aleppo, using Aleppo as an excuse.
1623 GMT: Yemen. EA's Scott Lucas reports:
In the latest of a series of assassinations, masked gunmen shot a counter-terrorism official south of Sanaa on Wednesday.
Ali al-Yamani was shot by two motorcycle gunmen in Damar Province where he was leading counter-terrorism efforts.
The mayor of Sanaa, Abdulkader Ali Hilal, escaped an attempt today. He was inspecting preparations for the Muslim festivities of Eid when a man on a motorbike attempted to shoot him. The gunman and the driver of the motorbike were captured and Hilal escaped unharmed.
1612 GMT: Egypt/Sudan/Isreal. EA's John Horne reports:
Egypt has condemned the bombing of Sudan’s main ammunition factory in Yarmouk on Tuesday night, calling it a "terrorist attack".
The Government in Khartoum has blamed Israel for the attack. Speaking yesterday, Sudanese Culture and Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman alleged that four Israeli jets bombed the factory, which left two dead. He also claimed that Israel falsely believed the site being used to manufacture advance weaponry. The governor of Khartoum had earlier said the incident was caused by accidental fire.
1601 GMT: Syria. The Telegraph's Richard Spencer sums up what his sources have told him about the latest from Aleppo:
Rebels take Ashrafiya, Jdeidah and Qadima in Aleppo, activists tell me. But not one-way traffic - key flyover at Shaar seized by regime— Richard Spencer (@RichardJSpencer) October 25, 2012
Assad army seem to be regrouping in south and south-west in #Aleppo. prior to withdrawal, assault or a ceasefire-related trap?— Richard Spencer (@RichardJSpencer) October 25, 2012
Rebels believe Assad is pulling out to defend Homs and Hama as Aleppo not sustainable after loss of most of Idlib. Maybe but a big sacrifice— Richard Spencer (@RichardJSpencer) October 25, 2012
Spencer's latest tweet perhaps suggests a different regime motive:
In other words, if there is no incentive to stop fighting, the FSA will be blamed for breaking the ceasefire. Spencer is not alone in this assessment:
Russian Defense Minister Breachoff Ceasefiroff has clear evidence that Militants in Syria broke the ceasefire first.#TheNewsTomorrow— The 47th (@THE_47th) October 25, 2012
The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), which has been wary of any commitment from the regime of President Bashar Assad, said it will abide by the truce but demanded the release of its prisoners by the regime on Friday morning and warned that it will respond to any attack.
It's worth noting, however, that not all units fighting under the name "Free Syrian Army" have signed onto the deal.
They also provide details, via the AFP, of today's FSA advance in the Ashrifiyah district of Aleppo:
One resident said the rebels, who arrived on vehicles mounted with heavy machineguns and bearing the markings of the Liwa al-Tawhid main rebel unit, made it clear they were settling in for Eid despite the promises of a ceasefire.
"Snipers have set up in the buildings and 50 armed men, dressed in black and wearing headbands with Islamic slogans, entered a school near me. I heard them tell the residents: 'We are here to spend Eid with you'," he told Agence France Presse.
"I am waiting for things to calm down before leaving," he said.
1543 GMT: Syria. It's been another bloody day in the suburbs northeast of Damascus. A graphic video reportedly shows residents in Douma dragging bodies out of the rubble after an explosion, either a shell or a bomb, reportedly collapsed a building. This is becoming an all-too-familiar sight. According to the LCC, an entire family was killed when a bomb hit from a MiG jet fighter their home. At least 10 people, across 3 families, have already been killed by airstrikes in Douma, according to the LCC.
And that's just Douma. Similar reports are coming from Harasta, and Moudamiyah west of Damascus.
On Thursday, Syrian army command said it will cease military operations from Friday morning until Monday in the Eid al-Adha truce proposed by Syrian peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. The Syrian army command added that it reserves the right to respond to rebel attacks and bombings however.
On the surface, this is reasonable. Why should any government refuse to defend itself when attacked? However, this is almost the exact same language the Assad regime has accepted twice before, and the majority of the killing conducted by the regime during those ceasefires had absolutely nothing to do with insurgent activity.
What we're seeing today is an escalation of the fighting in Aleppo, suggesting that there will be no ceasefire there. But we're also seeing an intense regime crackdown against Damascus, particularly the Harasta suburb, where regime tanks and air strikes have slammed the civilian populace again today. The real question is not whether there is a ceasefire in Aleppo. The FSA is unlikely to stop its fighting there. The real question is whether the attacks against civilians nationwide will stop. This remains to be seen.
Many FSA groups have not agreed to a ceasefire. The Guardian's Matt Weaver reminds us that one of the most prominent civilian opposition group is also skeptical:
On the other hand, violence nationwide seems to be lower today:
I never knew I'd say this, but is almost 4 pm in Syria but only 33 people have been killed.Number is relatively low.— The 47th (@THE_47th) October 25, 2012
By tomorrow, or certainly by Saturday, we'll know whether the ceasefire is real, or just more words.
1500 GMT: Syria. Some activists have shared an alternate map of the state of Aleppo. According to this map, the FSA (in Green) controls much larger sections of the city, and there are reports that the FSA is pushing south and west into Saleh el Dine, as well as towards the airport to the southeast.
Mapping an ongoing battle is, frankly, probably pointless. There won't be confirmation of what the battelines look like for some time. Without getting too bogged down with the details, however, the amount of territory, and the strategic importance of it, is obvious.
There's another key thing to note. The rains overnight and this morning were extremely heavy. The theory is that the insurgents timed their advance with the rain so that the regime airforce could not strike. This would suggest that this was not a simple strategic withdraw, but that the FSA had the upper hand in the fight.
The battle for Aleppo has been a battle of inches. Sniper nests, roadblocks, and ambushes have played as big a role as airstrikes or major bases. The FSA has gained many sniper nests, and some high ground today. The regime might have a strategy to gain something by letting the FSA advance, but it's also clear that this is still and insurgent victory.
The LCC also posts video of regime tanks and soldiers withdrawing from north-central Daraa. Reports indicate that several areas were raided overnight and early this morning. We're not sure what the significance of this pullback is, other than that this video shows the extent of the firepower the military moved into the city:
1429 GMT: Syria. While there is a debate as to whether the regime has strategically retreated in some areas of Aleppo or its control of the city has collapsed, what is clear is that outside the city, in places like Idlib province, the Free Syrian Army has never been strong. Take this video, reportedly taken today in Salqin (map), an area where an extremely large Assad military base is slowly slipping into FSA control.
This FSA fighter shoots a recoilless rifle, reportedly at regime tanks in the distance. Heavy equipment like this has recently fallen into the FSA's hands as it has overrun several major bases in the region in the last two weeks. Faced with a freshly supplied insurgent force, with supply lines cut, and with air support dwindling, the regime forces stuck behind enemy lines continue to fight a losing battle:
With large parts of Idlib under FSA control, the insurgents continue to advance west into the regime stronghold of Lattakia. With fewer regime tanks available to fight, especially in the mountains, the FSA is now advancing with 4x4 trucks like these, and even with tanks and armored vehicles, into new territory:
Meanwhile, overnight there were reports that several military checkpoints fell to the FSA in and around Al Raqqa, to the east (map). This is significant, because previous to this the fighting in this region was further to the north, but in recent days the FSA has been advancing south. It would appear as though they are not meeting much resistance.
This video reportedly shows the fall of one of the checkpoints:
Regardless of what's happening in Aleppo, there is already the sense that the FSA is on the advance nationwide.
1354 GMT: Syria. A map of the recent events in Aleppo:
The key to all of this, as you can see, is the government-controlled box at the bottom left of the map. There are several military strongholds in that area. Also, while there is fighting reported near the Aleppo International Airport to the southeast, the government still controls the area.
If the airport falls, Assad loses one of his largest air bases in the entire country - perhaps the one with the most military equipment operating out of it. There's no evidence that this will fall today.
But that could change. Right now this looks like a planned withdrawal - one which might be a sign of government weakness, but one that is not necessarily a sign of government collapse. If these bases are threatened today, however, this would change our perception of what just happened. Brow Moses adds another possible piece of evidence that, if it's seen, could be a sign that the army is in serious trouble:
1338 GMT: Syria. For those looking for an easy FSA victory in Aleppo, don't count on it. First of all, it's suspicious that the regime has pulled out so quickly, and one the eve of ceasefire as well:
The regime let the already unpopular FSA in Aleppo go into the Christian areas of Aleppo with no fight, the night before the ceasefire.— The 47th (@THE_47th) October 25, 2012
In the meantime, many are reporting two things:1) FSA taking the Assyrian Church as a base2) regime amassing troops outside Xtian hoods— The 47th (@THE_47th) October 25, 2012
Something dirty is going on.— The 47th (@THE_47th) October 25, 2012
So besides the suspicious circumstances of the FSA's sudden advance, another syrian observer echoes our analysis about the major bases in Aleppo still being in regime hands:
So the question is this - is this some sort of sudden collapse of the regime's strength in the city, or is it a dirty trick, the kind of which we witnessed right before the previous ceasefire back in late spring?
It's too early to tell, but we have a guess.
It's probably both.
Reports from friends inside suggest that Aleppo is falling to rebel troops. Both major Christian areas – al-Syriaan al-Jadide and al-Syriaan al-Qadime have fallen. The regime’s largest Mukhabarat station is in the second area. FSA sharpshooters have gone to the tops of all buildings in these areas with no government opposition. The major Kurdish neighborhood – Ashrafiya – gave no resistance. The government had been counting on the Kurds to hold back the FSA fighters. Game up in Aleppo it would seem. Regime seems to have cut it loose. This is what I am being told by Aleppine friends who are on the phone with relatives inside both these areas. They have sharpshooters on top of their buildings. One said the family’s Filipino maid fainted due to the loud shooting earlier in the day. People are terrified. For now (7:00 Eastern S. Time), an eerie silence has settled over the city. Where will the government try to hold the line?
Ashrafiyeh is strategically important as it sits on city heights and is a route between the central and northern parts of the country's commercial capital, which has been the theatre of intense fighting between rebels and government troops since mid-July.
They also carry a report that there is ongoing military presence in at least 5 neighborhoods:
@safia05 no the 5 biggest neighborhoods still under government control out of 55 let say 30% of Aleppo— Zaid Benjamin (@zaidbenjamin) October 25, 2012
We'll continue to track this information as it rolls in. Here's the bottom line:
The FSA is not likely to take all of Aleppo today, or even any time soon. The Syrian Army also has several extremely large and heavily fortified barracks, particularly in the southern districts, so uncontested FSA control is not on the horizon. However, this is a sudden and hugely significant collapse of regime lines. We've been reporting for over a week that the FSA has nearly completely cut regime supply routes to the city. We've also been reporting that over the last month the FSA has captured several key checkpoints, and won several large victories in the countryside of the city. The fact is that the FSA does appear to be grinding away at the regime forces, and those efforts are prevailing.
The main obstacle to the FSA is now, and has always been, lack of logistics. Months ago we predicted that if the FSA proved resourceful enough to weather this obstacle, they would succeed.
It's also early. It's possible that the regime has made a strategic move here, and will reposition troops insider the city, or outside of it, for strategic gain.
However, the regime has lost a massive amount of territory in Idlib province, many key bases, huge stockpiles of weapons, and some of its most strategically important highways and supply routes. If the Assad army does not win a quick victory with the troops is has pulled out of these districts in Aleppo, it could be a sign that the military in the northern half of the country is in complete collapse.
Regardless, this does not bode well for the prospects of ceasefire. In Syria, only one thing is certain - where there is bad news for Assad, there will be blood.
James Miller takes over today's live coverage, with thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started today.
1125 GMT: Libya. Chris Stephen of The Guardian reports that pro-government militias have fired at residents trying to return to the town after it was reclaimed by the forces from Qaddafi loyalists on Wednesday.
Stephens said there was “a scene of chaos” on the outskirts of the town when residents were blocked from returning after pro-Qaddafi fighters continue to resist arrest inside Bani Walid.
The government had said last night that everyone could return in time for the Eid holiday.
While we were there things got very heated. The army started opening fire - the bullets seemed to be going over our heads. People were running, children were screaming. It was pandemonium and I think things are getting worse. Army checkpoints in Tripoli are insisting people [who had fled the violence in Bani Walid] can go home. Now we have thousands and thousands of people backed up along this road, very very angry that they are not being allowed back in.
The team, led by Brazilian expert Paulo Pinheiro, has been gathering evidence and testimony on atrocities committed by Syrian regime forces and insurgents. Investigators have drawn up a secret list of Syrian individuals and units suspected of crimes including murder and torture.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Foreign Ministry has written to the UN Security Council, the UN General Secretariat, and the UN Human Rights Council, calling on them to "expose the crimes of the armed terrorist groups, condemn them, and hold these groups to account".
For more than 24 hours, President Bashar al-Assad’s soldiers fought their way through this city, bleary-eyed men, worn down by months of combat. Afraid to go into the streets, where snipers pick their targets, the government men snaked their way through “mouse holes” punched in walls of blown-out buildings. Their goal was to retake one building, just one, a former school controlled by the rebel Free Syrian Army.
“We will eventually get this school,” said Rifaf, part of a small group of soldiers on the mission. “But it’s a matter of time.”
In many ways, Homs serves as a microcosm of Syria, a community of Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites and Christians who lived side by side, only to find that the collapse of the police state quickly dissolved any sense of common purpose. Civil war came to Homs early, and it has ground on ever since, one street, one building, one apartment at a time. It has been a seesaw, with the opposition gaining ground, then the government taking it back.
That is the story of the school, this group of government soldiers and a nation caught in a contest of attrition. Half of Homs exists as it did before, where some Christians and Alawites, allied with President Assad, still cling to a normal routine, visit cafes and enjoy strolling the streets.
The other half is rubble.
0510 GMT: Syria. Wednesday was marked by posturing over a ceasefire for the Eid al-Adha holiday.
Initial reports of a statement by United Nations-Arab League Lakhdar Brahimi in Cairo said the Assad regime had agreed to the proposal. In Damascus, however, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi was saying that the Syrian military was studying the initiative and a decision would be made Thursday.
Indeed, Brahimi had mentioned his belief that the regime would accept but had then said that the confirimation was awaited. The opposition, both in the Free Syrian Army and in the Syrian National Council, said they would take no steps until Damascus had put out its official line.
State news agency SANA has no news this morning of the regime position; however, it offered an endorsement of the ceasefire by reporting the UN Security Council's support of Brahimi.
Meanwhile, the Local Coordination Committees said 150 people were killed by security forces. Among the 84 deaths in Damascus and its suburbs was a claim that 30 people had been "field-executed" in the suburb of Douma.
Activists and regime media traded different accounts of the incident. The opposition said, ""More than 20 civilians have been slaughtered by shabiha [pro-government militia] who were at a checkpoint and then stormed into a residential building nearby." State TV said 25 people had been killed by "terrorist members of the so-called 'Liwa al-Islam'".