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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: A Double Bombing in Aleppo "Kills Dozens"

State TV footage of the aftermath of this morning's car bombs in Aleppo in Syria

See Also Bahrain Opinion: "This Campaign of Oppression is Not Going to Stop on Its Own"
Tuesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Propaganda and an American Journalist Held Hostage

2048 GMT: Turkey/Syria. The entire statement from NATO:

As stated on 26 June 20l2, the Alliance continues to closely follow the situation in Syria. In view of the Syrian regime’s recent aggressive acts at NATO’s southeastern border, which are a flagrant breach of international law and a clear and present danger to the security of one of its Allies, the North Atlantic Council met today, within the framework of Article 4 of the Washington Treaty, and discussed the continuous shelling of locations in Turkey adjacent to the Turkish-Syrian border by the Syrian regime forces.

The most recent shelling on 3 October 20l2, which caused the death of five Turkish citizens and injured many, constitutes a cause of greatest concern for, and is strongly condemned by, all Allies.

In the spirit of indivisibility of security and solidarity deriving from the Washington Treaty, the Alliance continues to stand by Turkey and demands the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an Ally, and urges the Syrian regime to put an end to flagrant violations of international law.

2041 GMT: Turkey/Syria. NATO has already started, and ended, their emergency meeting about today's violence:

NATO has completed an emergency of its 28 member-states at the alliances headquarters in Brussels.

A statement issued at the end of the meeting said the death of five Turkish nationals from a Syrian mortar that landed in Turkish territory is a "cause of great concern and strongly condemned" by all NATO allies.

Ankara is currently drafting a letter to the United Nations Security Counsel which will be sent off to the UNSC immediately.

2026 GMT: Turkey/Syria. A journalist offers some perspective on today's events:

Here's what's more interesting. NATO's chapter 5 is clear, binding, and absolutely invocable in this circumstance. If Turkey invokes it, and NATO still doesn't want to intervene, this could be the ultimate test for the NATO alliance.

2002 GMT: Turkey/Syria. A Turkish journalist has a really interesting claim:

Idlib? This is surprising if true. Alcakale (map) is near the embattled border town of Tal Abyad, north of Al Raqqah, nearly 100 miles from the eastern parts of Idlib province. That said, the Syrian military position in Idlib is far less tenable, as the Assad regime is engaged in pitched battles with the Syrian opposition. In other words, the message being sent may be loud in deed if the Turkish government is trying to hit Assad where it hurts as opposed to sending a direct response to this incident.

Mahir Zeynalov has another interesting report (which we have not yet verified) - one that could have serious consequences if there is more cross-border violence:

1946 GMT: Turkey/Syria. Turkey has invoked chapter 4 of the NATO charter:

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had contacted NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and "it has been decided that the NATO council meet urgently," the office said in a statement.

A NATO official said the alliance’s ambassadors will meet under NATO’s article 4, for consultations when a member state feels its territorial integrity is under threat.

Chapter 4 is a non-binding article, forcing a meeting that may happen in the next few hours. or definitely by tomorrow. However, Turkey could still invoke article 5, which says that an attack on a NATO nation is effectively an attack on all NATO nations, thus requiring immediate military action on the part of all NATO countries.

Will Turkey invoke this action? It's possible. Turkey has signaled for some time that it sees the huge amount of refugees living across its borders as a security threat. This is also not the first time Turkey has been attacked. Over the summer a Turkish fighter jet was shot down by the Syrian government, and shells have repeatedly fallen on the Turkish side of the border. Just last week, mortar shells fell near Akcakale, the site of today's incident, sparking condemnation and threats from the Turkish government. So yes, it's possible that Turkey could invoke article 5.

The better question is whether it is likely. The answer is - probably not. Still, this is serious enough where it is hard to imagine that there will not be some sort of consequence for Syria. This could also trigger the first steps towards an organized international response to this crisis on a scale not yet seen.

1942 GMT: Turkey/Syria. Al Jazeera reports on the situation in southern Turkey, after Syrian mortars have killed at least 5 people:

1930 GMT: Turkey/Syria. Is this over? Many have suggested that Turkey does not want to fight the Assad regime, most NATO members do not want to intervene, the UN will not act, and the US has expressed no desire to get involved in Syria. Many have suggested that this Turkish artillery strike is simply a proportional response, a message to the Syrian regime more than the start of something larger.

However, what if Syrian shells keep falling on Turkish territory. This is an unconfirmed report, but it suggests that this may not be over at all:

1925 GMT: Turkey/Syria. Turkey has retaliated for the mortar strikes that crossed its borders, and has fired artillery shells across the border at the Syrian military:

Turkey says it has struck targets inside Syria with artillery fire in retaliation for a mortar strike which killed a woman and her children in a Turkish town.

A statement from the Turkish Prime Minister's office said it was in response to a "mortar strike across the border".

Sky News also posts this picture, reportedly showing the area where mortar shells fell in Akcakale, Turkey, killing 5:

1911 GMT: Turkey/Syria. Turkey has significantly raised the stakes after Syrian mortars landed in Turkish territory, killing 5:

Technically, Turkey, as a member of NATO, could invoke the treaty by claiming that it is directly threatened. This could, hypothetically, force NATO to provide a solution to Turkey's crisis.

Foreign intervention, however, is still not very likely. But it's possible.

1745 GMT: Syria. The Al Nusra Front, a jihadist group with ties to Al Qaeda in Iraq, has claimed responsibility for the execution of 20 Assad soldiers captured at the Hanano barracks in Aleppo last week:

"God enabled the mujahedeen of the Al-Nusra Front in the city of Aleppo to capture and kill 20 heretic soldiers from the Hanano military post," the Al-Nusra Front said in a statement posted on jihadist forums.

The group, unknown in Syria until several months after the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad's regime erupted in March last year, described the soldiers as "complicit in the bloodletting of the people of Syria."

Al Nusra has a habit of taking responsibility for things without offering much in the way of evidence. However, AFP reports that the claims were accompanied by some photographic evidence, though the pictures were limited in scope:

Its statement was accompanied by a photograph of a man dressed in fatigues and sandals leaning over a row of kneeling soldiers and pointing a pistol at one of them.

This image appears to match the scene of the execution:

No other groups have claimed responsibility for the executions.

1724 GMT: Lebanon. Hezbollah has released a statement that three of its fighters were killed earlier in an explosion when Israeli ordnance, left over for the 2006 war, as detonated. Earlier (see update 1552), it was reported that a Hezbollah arms depot exploded, killing 9.

1717 GMT: Turkey/Syria. A spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has released the following statement concerning Syrian military mortars that killed 5 Turkish nationals on the Turkish side of the border:

The Secretary-General expressed his condolences at the tragic loss of life and encouraged the Minister to keep open all channels of communication with the Syrian authorities with a view to lessening any tension that could build up as a result of the incident.

The Minister had also spoken earlier to Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi about the strike.

1606 GMT: Turkey/Syria.

Now Lebanon reports that Turkey has called for an emergency meeting of cabinet after Syrian military shells have killed at least 5 Turkish nationals. The Guardian carries a report from Hurriyet that residents of the Turkish town where the shells fell have expressed outrage at the violent attack:

Akçakale Mayor Abdülhakim Ayhan said the district’s inhabitants were staging an “uprising” after the incident, as it was the final straw for them. A number of Akçakale residents marched to the district governor’s Office in order to protest the incidents, and the governor left his office in an armoured vehicle, according to daily Hürriyet ...

Ayhan said the area had been living in fear for last 10 days, and that another bomb had exploded in the town yesterday morning. Justice and Development Party (AKP) Şanlıurfa deputy Halil Özcan also said the residents of Akçakale had been living in fear for the last 15 days.

At least three shells hit three different points in Akçakale, another Turkish official said. “More serious steps could be taken by the Turkish government in order to protect its citizens after these events,” he added.

Al Jazeera reports that Turkey is turning up the pressure on the international community to confront the Assad regime:

Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish foreign minister, has briefed Ban Ki-Moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, on the situation in Turkey after a Syrian mortar killed at least five people near the border with Syria.

Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons, reporting from Antakya, near the Turkish-Syrian border, has said that though this is not the first time shells from Syria have landed on Turkish territory it is "the first time Turkish nationals have been killed".

1552 GMT: Lebanon. 9 people have been killed in eastern Lebanon, as a Hezbollah arms depot exploded. There is no word yet on what caused the blasts:

Residents said the blasts hit an arms stockpile in a building under construction in an uninhabited area between the villages of Nabishit and Khodr.

Dozens of ambulances arrived at the scene as members of the Shiite Hezbollah movement surrounded the area, the residents told AFP.

1536 GMT: Syria. The mortar shells that landed in Turkey were aimed at a border crossing, Tal Abyad, north of Al Raqqah, where the Free Syrian Army has opened a new front. The LCC reports:

Heavy artillery shelling is reported from the regime forces' artillery located in Qaisarya, adjacent to the Turkish border. Shells landed in the Turkish village of Aqji, grain silos were hit and 5 homes damaged so far.

Earlier, Scott Lucas noted a video (see update 0030) from Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons who is in the area. Yesterday, I wrote this summary of the situation in Al Raqqah:

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.

1450 GMT: Syria/Iran. For those of us who have not tuned into our Iran Live coverage, you should. Huge protests are taking part in Iran over the devalued currency and rising prices. But the protests have had another interesting twist.

Many people in Iran are fed up with their government's repressive actions in both Iran and in Syria, and would rather see their government focus on domestic issues than putting down someone else's revolution:

1432 GMT: Turkey/Syria. At least 3 people are dead after Syrian regime mortars fell on the wrong side of the Turkish border:

Three people including a child were killed and at least nine others seriously wounded when a mortar bomb fired from Syria hit Turkey's southeastern border region of Akcakale on Wednesday, the local mayor told CNN Turk television.

A Reuters witness saw at least eight seriously wounded people being taken to hospital, three of them police officers.

A Turkish source has more information:

1421 GMT: Bahrain. Prominent Activist Zainab al-Khawaja has been released from prison, according to her lawyer:

"Zainab is free and she is home with her family," Mohammed al-Jishi said adding that she was supposed to be released yesterday, when her two month sentence came to an end.

He said she was released "after orders from the attorney general."

Zainab, whose father is in prison on a life sentence, has just finished a two-month sentence, but she has been arrested many times for reasons related to protests that she has attended and in some case led.

1406 GMT: Syria. The Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre provides this picture of the bombing site in Aleppo, with a description of the square.

This is the scene after several bombs exploded in Saadallah Jabri Square, the main square in central Aleppo where there is a very heavy security presence. The destroyed buildings in the centre were an officer's club, cafe, and a branch of MTN the mobile phone operator. On the left is a hotel which was also badly damaged. Dozens of people have been killed and injured.

The Guardian offers this map of the square, with the location of security checkpoints marked. A contact of theirs near the bomb site says that security is so intense there that there is no way insurgents could have gotten to the square. This matches the hypothesis that soldiers who had not yet officially defected may have conducted this attack. It would not be the first time that regime insiders conducted bomb attacks against regime targets.

View Apr 3rd 2012, Explosion in Saadallah Sqaure, Aleppo. in a larger map

1352 GMT: Syria. Significant escalation in southern Damascus. The LCC now reports that battles have broken out between the Free Syrian Army and regime forces in the areas of Tadamon and Al Qadam (map). Also, heavy smoke is now rising from Qudsaya, northwest of the city (map):

Many videos show shells falling in Douma. This video reportedly shows a home on fire as gunfire echoes close by:

In other words, Syria's capital is ringed by fire, smoke, and death today, with intense violence in all directions.

1340 GMT: Palestine. Human Rights Watch has released a report that accuses Hamas of conducting forced interrogations and forced confessions under torture, at least three of which have resulted in executions:

The report, Abusive System: Criminal Justice in Gaza, calls for urgent reforms, including a moratorium on the death penalty. It cites the case of Abdel Karim Shrair, who, according to family and lawyers, was tortured under interrogation before being executed by firing squad in May 2011 after "confessing" to collaborating with Israel.

Fourteen Palestinians have been executed since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. This week, the European Union condemned death sentences handed down last month to two men in Gaza, one for murder and the second for collaboration.

The report also notes that Fatah has been accused of conducting arbitrary arrests of members of Hamas and of torturing prisoners.

1315 GMT: Syria. Eastern suburbs of Damascus are being hammered by Assad's airforce, and tanks have moved into many areas. Videos show MiG jet fighters streaking overhead. Videos show tanks, and vehicles filled with security personnel and "shabiha" moving into Douma, with gunfire and smoke in the distance:

On the other side of the city, in al Kadam to the southwest (map), videos show smoke rising after military ordnance fell on the district. Videos also show smoke rising from Dariyyah, just outside the city:

1302 GMT: Syria. The United Nations has just released it's latest estimates of the number of refugees who have fled the conflict in Syria. What's not reflected in the numbers, which are alarming enough on their own, is that the pace of refugees fleeing Syria is increasing exponentially by the month:

JORDAN as of 2 October:

The number of registered and/or assisted Syrian refugees is 105,190 (including 30,613 in camps and a total of 22,729 refugees awaiting registration)

LEBANON as of 2 October:

Total number of Syrian refugees: 82,712 (including 23,540 awaiting registration)

IRAQ as of 1 October:

Total number of Syrian refugees: 35,484 including 29,291 Syrians hosted in the Kurdistan Region.

Since June 2012, 42,194 Iraqis have left Syria for Iraq.

Turkey, based on figures of the Government of Turkey dated 1 October Total number of Syrian refugees registered and assisted by the Government of Turkey in camps: 93,576

LATEST REGIONAL TOTAL:Syrian refugees registered or awaiting registration =316,962 individuals

1240 GMT: Syria. According to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, at least 61 people have already been killed by regime forces today:

25 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs, among them 16 field-executed in Douma; 12 in Idlib; 7 in Homs; 7 in Daraa; 3 in Raqqa; 3 in Aleppo; 2 in Deir Ezzor; and 2 in Hama.

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

Things appear to be very intense in and around Damascus today, with reports of airstrikes from Kafer Batna to Douma (map).

This video reportedly shows a jet fighter launching a missile at Hammoriyah, an eastern suburb just outside of Damascus (map). While there are no landmarks to verify the location, several prominent and typically reliable sources have shared the video, and it matches eyewitness reports.

1232 GMT: Syria. The Guardian discovers two very interesting pieces of information. Yesterday, we reported that a high-ranking Hezbollah leader and at least two other commanders were killed in Syria and were buried. According to many sources they were killed in Qusayr, a town south of Homs where the Free Syrian Army has been on the offensive. According to FSA members, the attack that killed the Hezbollah members was planned for weeks, and the Syrian military had to conduct a massive operation to extricate the bodies:

Meanwhile, Sky News Arabia, quoting unidentified opposition sources, says Syrian government forces "had to send reinforcements to remove bodies of Hizbollah elements, to remove any trace of their support for the Syrian government".

It adds: "These reinforcements consisted of aerial coverage done by an MiG plane and two helicopters as well as heavy bombing of the military checkpoint."

The second interesting piece of information is that, according to the BBC's Paul Danahar, diplomats he's encountered in the UN are now saying the Hezbollah's mission has shifted. While before they were working on intelligence gathering missions, training, or maybe border security, it now appears that Hezbollah fighters are heavily engaged in the regime's battles near Homs. According to one diplomat, 2-3 members of Hezbollah are killed every day, and have been buried in secret in Lebanon.

This could be the missing piece to a puzzle that has bothered us for a few weeks. The Free Syrian Army is very strong in and around Homs, and has been gaining momentum for a long time. More than a month ago it announced that it was going on the offensive in Homs, a bold statement that suggested that the FSA's most seasoned fighters and commanders believed that they could retake the area. Similar claims were made about Deir Ez Zor and Aleppo, and corresponded to a massive expansion in the scale and scope of the fighting, as well as initial FSA gains. However, in Homs, the FSA which appeared to previously be winning ground has recently appeared to be completely stalled. If Hezbollah has been called upon to boost Assad military operations in Homs, this would explain the sudden shift in momentum in and around the city.

1200 GMT: Syria. Reuters now reports that there were 4 bombs in Aleppo in total, and the death toll has reached at least 40, according to State TV:

"Five minutes after the first explosion a second bomb exploded. A third exploded ten minutes after that," a state television reporter said. "There was a fourth car bomb which exploded before engineering units could defuse it."

Reuters also notes that State TV showed the bodies of 4 men, "disguised" as soldiers, being removed from the rubble, one with a detonator in his hand.

The question immediately becomes apparent - was this an inside job by soldiers sympathetic to the opposition?

1146 GMT: Syria. A series of massive explosions have ripped through the center of Aleppo today, killing at least 31. According to Syrian State Media, 3 suicide bombers detonated their devices, and 2 more were killed by security forces. AP reports:

State-run news agency SANA said the bombings targeted Saadallah al-Jabri square, describing them as the work of "terrorists," and said at least 31 people were killed and dozens of others were wounded. Authorities refer to rebels fighting to topple Assad as terrorists and armed gangs.

A state-run channel, Ikhbariya, showed footage of massive damage around the square, which also houses a famous hotel. One building appeared leveled to the ground. The facade of another was heavily damaged.

The TV showed footage of several bodies, including one being pulled from the rubble of a collapsed building.

"It was like a series of earthquakes," said a shaken resident who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals. "It was terrifying, terrifying."

He said the officers' club and the hotel were almost completely destroyed. His account could not be immediately verified, although the TV footage showed at least one building reduced to rubble.

State Media SANA released this picture, reportedly showing the devastation:

Saadallah al Jabri Square (map) is just blocks away from some of the heaviest fighting of the battle for Aleppo, but has been relatively untouched by the worst of the conflict until now. The Guardian reports that, from what they know thus far, most of the dead are soldiers from the officer's club. They also offer this video which broadcast today on Syrian State TV:

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

0905 GMT: Syria. The Gulf Center for Human Rights has appealed for the release of human rights lawyer Khalil Matouk, whom it claims was abducted by armed men in civilian clothes on Tuesday at a checkpoint on the Syria/Jordan international Highway.

Matouk, executive director of the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research, was abducted as he travelled from his home in Sahnaya to his office in Damascus.

0835 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage of the aftermath of the double car bomb in Aleppo's Saadallah al-Jabari Square this morning --- a Syrian Government official has said that at least 27 people were killed and 72 injured:

0805 GMT: Bahrain. An image of the tens of thousands at the funeral on Tuesday for Mohammad Musaima, a prisoner who died of sickle cell anemia:

Claimed footage of Bahraini police beating a protester after the funeral:

0739 GMT: Syria. Pro-regime TV is reporting at least two car bombs in Saadallah al-Jabari Square in western Aleppo this morning. Activists are claiming dozens of deaths and injuries.

0730 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage of regime shelling of Rastan near Homs this morning:

0630 GMT: Libya. One person was killed and five others wounded during clashes near the northern town of Bani Walid on Tuesday, according to local officials.

The fighting reportedly involved armed groups from Misurata, Libya's third-largest city, and was centred in the valley of Mardun, 10 kilometres (6 miles) east of Bani Walid.

0030 GMT: Syria. Tuesday's violence across the country was distinguished by the escalation of shelling around Damascus, notably the suburbs of Ghouta and Harasta, and in the nearby countryside, including the town of Zabadani.

The Local Coordination Committee reports that, of 160 deaths at the hands of security forces, 54 were in Damascus Province.

Al Jazeera English continues to headline a report by Andrew Simmons of the fears of more than 500,000 people estimated to have fled to the northern city of al-Raqqa, as insurgents say they intend to take the city from regime forces.

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    EA WorldView - Home - Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: A Double Bombing in Aleppo "Kills Dozens"
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    Very good page, Keep up the beneficial job. Many thanks!

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