A protest today in Aleppo --- Colonel Abdul-Jabbar Mohammed Aqidi, the commander of insurgent forces, is among the crowd
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Thursday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Ceasefire Theatre While Fighting Continues
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2024 GMT: Syria. At least 94 people have been killed so far today, the first day of Eid and the first day of the ceasefire, according to the LCC which also reports that mortar fire has hit suburbs of Damascus well into the night:
38 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its suburbs 10 of them were martyred in the explosion of Zohour neighborhood, 22 in Aleppo 4 of them were members of the FSA, 11 in Idlib, 7 in Deir Ezzor, 7 in Daraa, 6 in Homs, and 3 in Hama.
In a separate audio feature, EA editor Scott Lucas speaks with Monocle Radio about the latest news from Syria. According to Scott, the fighting in Aleppo will, in the long run, prove far more significant than the ceasefire which was never more than a facade.
2020 GMT: Syria. Much has been made by activists about the fact that the Syrian President, Bashar al Assad, attended Eid prayers last night, and not today as is traditional.
Regardless, this video, taken from Syrian media, shows the President at Eid prayers yesterday:
36 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its suburbs 10 of them were martyred in the explosion of Zohour neighborhood, 14 martyrs in Aleppo 4 of them were members of the FSA, 10 martyrs in Idlib, 7 martyrs in Deir Ezzor, 6 martyrs in Homs, 5 martyrs in Daraa and 3 martyrs in Hama.
Only 10 of these people are the ones killed in the car bomb - and indication that while the car bombing will make international headlines, in the grand scheme of the violence it's a relatively minor event. Even now as night has fallen, there are reports of violence in many places. The LCC even reports heavy gunfire in Douma, after a day of airstrikes.
1602 GMT: Syria. The finger pointing begins. The regime is already claiming that today's bombing is the work of "terrorists." Pro-regime accounts on Twitter are already on the attack. But the opposite is also true, with pro-opposition groups saying that this would be the perfect time to stage a bombing.
All we know for sure is that a lot of people are dead and injured.
So let's look at some relevant information. Jabhat al Nusra, AKA the Al Nusra Front, is a prime suspect. The jihadi organization has committed other bombings, though they have never taken credit or been linked to a bombing of a mosque, nor one where so many children are among the victims. However, Al Nusra has stated that it will not accept the Eid ceasefire:
ISLAMIST group Al-Nusra Front on Wednesday rejected a truce in Syria proposed by peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi for this week's Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, SITE Intelligence Group reported.
"There is no truce between us and this transgressing regime that is shedding the blood of Muslims," Al-Nusra Front said in a statement reported by the US-based monitoring service.
"We, Allah permitting, aren't among those who give a chance to plotters to trick us," the group, which has claimed responsibility for several deadly suicide bombings in Syria, said in the statement posted on the Internet.
What we know is that both sides would gain tremendously by pointing the finger at the other. There's certainly some evidence that the regime has staged bombings in the past, or at the very least doctored the evidence to make them look worse than they were. At the same time, we know Al Nusra has accepted responsibility for some bombings, and we know that there are still others where no group has claimed responsibility.
Unless a group accepts responsibility for this, which may be unlikely, we'll likely never really know who was behind today's explosion.
We do know it was large. The CFDPC posts a video and photo galley of the explosion, which included this video reportedly showing the explosion from above:
1545 GMT: Syria. State TV's broadcast from the scene of the bombing:
Armed people from social protection units belonging to PKK pro-regime open fire towards the FSA in Ashrafiya neighborhood, injured were reported.
A similar report from Radio Sawa's Zaid Benjamin, who may or may not be using the LCC as his source (the PYD is an affiliate of the PKK):
Very heavy shelling at Qadam and Assali neighborhoods is reported from the tanks located on the Damascus-Daraa International Highway.
This confirms unverified reports we received earlier, which included this video reportedly taken in the Al Kadam (Al Qadam) district:
1517 GMT: Syria. Some updates on the bomb blast in Damascus:
Reuters says 5 killed, 32 wounded in Damascus bomb. So dozens injured, fewer dead. #Syria— Jon Williams(@WilliamsJon) October 26, 2012
The source on that report appears to be Syrian State TV.
1506 GMT: Syria. The Guardian carries reports from both Syrian State Media and from activists that a car bomb has gone off in the al-Zouhour district of southern Damascus, near the Omar bin al-Khattab mosque. Dozens have been injured, including children, as the explosion was reportedly near a playground.
This video reportedly shows the scene:
Earlier there were reports of a car bombing in Tadamoun, but they did not seem to have any accompanying casualty reports.
1430 GMT: Syria. The death toll is now rising. 48 people have reportedly been killed by regime forces so far today:
14 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs; 10 in Idlib; 8 in Aleppo; 7 in Deir Ezzor; 6 in Homs; 2 in Daraa; and 1 in Hama.
Number of Eid Truce breaches by the regime has risen to 110 thus far based on what the LCC managed to document.
Based on the number of reports of violence in the suburbs east of Damascus, this number is very likely to rise. It also appears that the rate of violence has increased as the day goes on, which does not bode well for the ceasefire prospects.
1350 GMT: Syria. Intense shelling is reported in Douma and several other northeastern suburbs of Damascus. This live-stream, which just ended, was reportedly taken in Douma. It matches, visually, other videos we've seen, and other reports we've received:
The CFDPC has posted a large video gallery showing what happened to Douma yesterday. In that collection, MiGs can seen firing missiles or rockets, bodies can be seen, and the damage is evident. After this, it appears that tanks and soldiers have moved into some neighborhoods.
They're calling it a massacre.
This video shows a MiG opening fire on the city below:
We cannot verify each video.
According to the report, shots fired from a Syrian military outpost in Tallit al-Dabbousiye hit the towns of Wadi al-Hour, Qalqash, Abboudiyeh and Hokr Janine, in North Lebanon’s Akkar region.
No injuries are reported.
1327 GMT: Syria. Incredible video - this livestream, which just ended, claims to show a protest in the Bustan al Qaser district in southwest Aleppo, very close to the front lines of recent fighting. Several of the signs do appear to say Bustan al Qaser. The protest is being led by a child (turn down the sound, it's very loud):
At the end of the video, a man who we believe is a member of the Free Syrian Army, speaks to the crowd.
1256 GMT: Syria. Pope Benedict XVI was scheduled to visit Syria next week, but the Vatican has cancelled the trip because of the rising violence. This comes at a time that many protesters are frustrated at the lack of support they feel they've received from the Catholic Church.
Protesters in Kafranbel, a hard-hit town, are often irreverent, always witty and critical, and write at least one large sign in English every Friday. Today's reads "Pope! Your queer submissiveness allowed Assad to kill fathers like Fadi Haddad in order to ignite a civil war".
The Guardian has spoken, via Skype, to the author of the sign. Fares says it is not meant to be sectarian, and he is disappointed that the Pope can not visit Syria next week:
Raed Fares, a Kafranbel activist who helped prepare today's banner, said protesters were angered at the Pope's apparent reluctance to criticise the Assad government over the continuing violence.
"The Pope has stayed silent while he can see that Assad is slaughtering us," Fares told the Guardian.
He said Fadi Haddad, who is mentioned in the banner was a Christian father from Homs, who was killed on Thursday.
UPDATE:We asked some Syrians what they thought of the word "queer." In English, that word both means "strange or peculiar," but could also mean "homosexual." We've received some feedback:
@jmiller_ea no it doesn't, they really mean "enstranging"— ★★★(@zimniya) October 26, 2012
Thanks to @SyrianShabab and @YallaIr7al for the translation.
1240 GMT: Syria. But not all of Syria is rejoicing in the streets, and protest chants aren't the only sound filling the air. Assad's violence has not relented in many places, including Homs:
1230 GMT: Syria. Speaking of protests, below we've posted a few examples of some of the protests we've seen:
Many protests start as funerals or memorials for the fallen. This memorial reportedly took place today in Dael, Daraa:
Manbej, in rural Aleppo:
A large and jubilant crowd in Jobar, east of Damascus. Just kilometers from here, airstrikes were conducted today:
An anti-Assad protest in Latmnah, Hama:
1214 GMT: Syria. How's the ceasefire? Conflicting headlines sum up the confusion. The Guardian has collected a few contradictory ones here, Catmari in the comments section shares an article about fighting at a major base east of Aleppo, Syrian jets have conducted air strikes east of Damascus, and shells are falling on Homs. If there is a ceasefire, it is a very fragile one that is very limited in scope.
That said, there sort of is a ceasefire. Protests are larger and more widespread than some recent Fridays (it's still too early to tell how much larger), and the death toll is much lower than it often is at this hour. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 20 people have been confirmed dead across the country:
7 martyrs were reported in Homs; 6 in Damascus and its Suburbs; 4 in Idlib; 2 in Daraa; and 1 in Aleppo.
The LCC is also documenting the regime's breaches of the ceasefire, though this number makes no mention of breaches conducted by the opposition:
Number of Eid Truce breaches by the regime has risen to 95 thus far based on what the LCC managed to document.
The takeaway - the battle is unlikely to stop in the key hot spots (it may not even slow), but away from the heaviest fighting there may be an easing of tension over this weekend. However, the space created by a ceasefire will draw more protesters to the street, if previous ceasefires are any indication. This will test the resolve of Assad's security forces.
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us through the morning.
1135 GMT: Syria. Opposition protest in Sekkari section of Aleppo:
Jobar section of Damascus:
Khirbet Ghazaleh in Daraa Province:
1125 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees in Syria report that 20 people have been killed by security forces today --- 7 in Homs Province, 6 in Damascus and its suburbs, 4 in Idlib Province, 2 in Daraa Province, and 1 in Aleppo Province.
The LCC claimed 95 breaches of the ceasefire by regime forces in its first few hours.
The BBC's James Reynolds sends a message from the Turkish border:
Just took this pic from Turkey border with Syria. Smoke rising from Syria town of Harim. No sign of ceasefire. twitter.com/JamesEReynolds…— James Reynolds (@JamesEReynolds) October 26, 2012
1000 GMT: Syria. Susan Ahmad, spokeswoman for the Revolutionary Command Council in Damascus, has told The Guardian of a Syrian jet firing two rockets over the eastern part of the capital about 9 a.m. local time:
I saw there were two things leaving the jet, but later they became more. Maybe they got into pieces ... kind of a cluster bomb.
Every now and then I can hear MiG fighters over the areas. I saw a MiG fighter shelling an area and I saw the smoke columns. I couldn’t be accurate about the area that was targeted....
I saw there were two things leaving the jet, but later they became more. Maybe they got into pieces ... kind of a cluster bomb.
Ahmad also reported claims that regime forces attacked in Harasta, near the capital:
Early in the morning while people were praying, Assad’s forces targeted the al-Hassan mosque [in Harasta] and many people were reported to be wounded. We got to know that three were killed.
People were doing nothing [to resist]; they were just praying in the mosque. No one was carrying weapons, no one was even chanting, they were just praying. It is Eid al-Adha here and people hoped that they might enjoy the truce.
0920 GMT: Syria. A "song for the martyrs" in Homs:
0916 GMT: Syria. President Assad at an Eid al-Adha prayer service in Damascus this morning:
0742 GMT: Syria. Protests challenging the regime are reportedly taking place throughout the country --- an image from the demonstration in the Damascus suburb of Darayya:
0659 GMT: Syria. Ahmad Rahal, a regime general who defected to the opposition, speaks to Al Jazeera English in Idlib Province about the course of the insurgency, "There is no revolution without mistakes":
"The steps were taken based on the public interest as their conduct...was incompatible with the consular duties associated with their work," said a Foreign Ministry statement on State media, with no further details.
Saudi Arabia closed its embassy in Damascus in March, a month after expelling Syria's Ambassador to Riyadh.
0630 GMT: Syria. State TV has shown live pictures of President Assad attending morning prayers for Eid al-Adha in Damascus.
0530 GMT: Syria. Most outlets lead this morning with the announcement of a cease-fire, accepted by both the regime and the insurgency, for the Eid al-Adha holiday from Friday to morning. The bigger news, however, may be the advance of opposition forces in Aleppo on Thursday.
Not only defying but reversing the regime's narrative that it is regaining control of Syria's largest city, the Free Syrian Army and Kurdish fighters surged in several neighbourhoods, claiming that they now hold at least 60% of Aleppo. Government forces withdrew from some areas, though it is not clear if they were forced out or if they were regrouping in a tactical manoeuvre.
Insurgents also advanced in parts of Idlib and Daraa Provinces and in al-Raqqah on Thursday.
If these advances are confirmed, they change the calculus for any proposed cease-fire beyond Monday. The Assad regime and its military would have to accept that they now hold less than half of Aleppo, presenting a stark choice. Either they work with this far-from favourable situation towards a political settlement, or they regroup for another attempt to push back the insurgency --- crushing it now seems out of the question --- in Aleppo, if not in areas beyond it.
I vote for the latter. Indeed, the break in the cease-fire may come before Monday --- both sides have announced that they will treat movement of the other's forces as grounds for renewed conflict.