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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Regime Steps Up Airstrikes

See also Syria Feature: Obama Administration Seeks a New Opposition Council
Tuesday's Bahrain, Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: "All Rallies and Gatherings Are Illegal"

2252 GMT: Libya. A day after it was suspended because of protests (see 0500 GMT), the National Assembly approved a 30-member Cabinet presented by Prime Minister-designate Ali Zeidan.

A total of 105 members voted in favour, 18 abstainedm and nine voted against the Cabinet. Moments later, protests erupted, with security forces firing in the air.

More than a dozen security vehicles were stationed at the assembly building, as about 60 people gathered outside the tightly-shut main gate.

2232 GMT: Syria. More on the US strategy of supporting a new opposition council, outlined in our separate feature and the 1814 GMT entry....

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking with reporters in Croatia, confirmed that the Obama Administration is proposing the names of people and organisations ahead of next week's talks in Doha, Qatar:

We have recommended names and organizations that we believe should be included in any leadership structure. We’ve made it clear that the SNC [Syrian National Council can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition. They can be part of a larger opposition, but that opposition must include people from inside Syria and others who have a legitimate voice that needs to be heard. So our efforts are very focused on that right now....

This cannot be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes but have, in many instances, not been inside Syria for 20, 30, or 40 years. There has to be a representation of those who are on the front lines, fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom.

2111 GMT: Syria. Our sources suggest that the FSA also made advances in several areas near Aleppo, inside Aleppo city, close to the Aleppo International airport, in several areas of Idlib province, and even in Lattakia. A few videos confirm some of that information:

Furthermore, the LCC reports that a border crossing near Al Bukamal has been captured (we think recaptured) by the Free Syrian Army.

There are even rumors that the FSA destroyed as many as 6 regime tanks in Homs, and there have been reports of intense fighting in Dael, Daraa. Add this to the new offensives in Damascus, and it's not clear if this is all a coincidence or the first day of a new FSA offensive.

Either way, the regime desperately needs to recapture, and hold, the road at Ma'arrat al Nouman. After another day of fighting, this has not happened. It's not clear if this area will ever be recaptured, but every day that the fighting continues there, the regime forces in Aleppo and Idlib grow weaker, and the Syrian military will be unable to divert fighters to other fronts.

2046 GMT: Syria. Many gains for the Free Syrian Army today.First, several bloggers flag some videos showing the FSA advancing, with artillery, south of Idlib city (map - OR maybe MAP, we're not exactly sure), an attempt to expand their area of control in Idlib province:

Where is the air force indeed? For starters, we've been covering the proliferation of more anti-aircraft weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, taken from captured bases. Secondly, this artillery unit was clearly captured from the Assad regime, so it stands to reason that there may have been AA weapons inside those bases. Previously today we posted video that suggests these weapons are being used in Damascus, where SAMs were also captured (see entry 1605).

Furthermore, the FSA has focused on striking at regime anti-air bases at the same time that Turkey has been increasing its presence on the border. This area may be too close to Turkey for the Assad regime to risk attacking.

Whatever the reason, the FSA's use of artillery against Assad positions does not bode well for the Syrian military.

2026 GMT: Bahrain. The US State Department is now "deeply concerned" about the latest developments across Bahrain, including an intensified crackdown and the banning of all protests:

“Freedoms of assembly, association and expression are universal human rights,” department spokesman Mark Toner said. “We urge the government of Bahrain to uphold its international commitments and ensure that its citizens are able to assemble peacefully and to express their views without fear of arrest or detention.

“We urge the government of Bahrain to work with responsible protest leaders to find a way for peaceful and orderly demonstrations to take place. The decision to curb these rights is contrary to Bahrain's professed commitment to reform and will not help advance national reconciliation nor build trust among all parties. We also urge the opposition to refrain from provocations and violence; violence undermines efforts to reduce tensions, rebuild trust and pursue meaningful reconciliation in Bahrain.”

1925 GMT: Syria. A major regime defector will play an important role in the new opposition group being formed in Qatar:

Syria’s former prime minister Riyad Hijab, who defected from the Assad regime in August, has been named on proposed opposition council that has been set up in consultation with the US government as a possible transition government.

The new 51 member 'National Initiative Council' is due to be unveiled in Doha next week, sources in the Syrian opposition revealed to the Guardian.

As Foreign Policy magazine reported they confirmed that the new body will have only 15 seats for the fractured Syrian National Council.

1814 GMT: Syria. The Obama administration is trying to form a new opposition group that will replace the foundering Syrian National Council (see separate feature, Syria Feature: Obama Administration Seeks a New Opposition Council (Rogin)). Will it help unify the opposition?

We're not so sure, but the old strategy was clearly not working. The SNC never had a high degree of respect on the ground, and the group was often criticized by groups that did, groups like the Local Coordination Committees. Also, the SNC never had support or influence over the majority of the armed opposition forces. The United States backed the SNC and certain elements of the Free Syrian Army in Turkey because they were the most moderate, but these groups never had effective command of either Syria's street politics or its battlefields. I previously summarized the problem in a discussion about the direction of US Foreign Policy:

The US has backed a group of defected soldiers led by Riad al Assad. These Free Syrian Army groups have signed onto the Geneva Convention, and have expressed their support for a secular government. The only problem is that many recent victories have been won by insurgents with little or no connection to the Free Syrian Army leaders in Turkey. While Qatar and factions in Lebanon aligned to Saad Hariri have had no problem arming groups like the Al Farouk brigade, a ruthless brigade that has proven extremely combat effective, the United States has been overly cautious in who is arms. The result is that the Al Farouk brigade, armed with a ferocious attitude and shiny weapons from foreign backers, have ruled the battlefields in Syria, while Riad al Assad has yet to show up on the battlefield.

Basically, the US backed voices that most closely resembled its own, but those leaders had no presence on the ground and proved ineffective in gathering support or fostering unity.

Well, this new initiative is taking place not in Turkey but in Qatar, a potential sign that the Obama/Clinton team may try to pull Qatar's closest allies in Syria into the fold.

Will that work? Maybe. However, right now the brigades with the closest ties to Qatar are already well armed, independent, and on the advance. At the same time, they have a reputation (one that is only somewhat warranted) that is not synonymous with "getting along" with the civilian leadership. It's hard to see how this is going to translate into any real impact on the ground in Syria.

On the other hand, the LCC spokeswoman is already showing her support for the new initiative:

1642 GMT: Syria. More signs that the FSA is pressing an attack on the Aleppo International Airport - this video, posted by the LCC, reportedly shows a jet fighter performing a strafing run on the outskirts of the airport - close air support to defend the base.

Unfortunately, without landmarks in the video it's impossible to verify location.

1605 GMT: Syria. There are reports of intense fighting between regime forces and the FSA in Daraa province, near the Aleppo airport, and in several other areas. However, the headline violence appears to be happening in Damascus, qwhere the regime has conducted extensive bombing raids in the eastern suburbs. According to the LCC, 15 people were killed in air strikes in Zamalka alone. Our own research and sources has turned up these videos showing the devastation:

And now the video gets interesting. This video reportedly showing the Saif al Islam brigade destroying a tank earlier today in Zamalka:

Here's what's REALLY interesting about this. The Saif al Islam brigade was instrumental in the capturing of a very large air defense base east of Damascus in early October (read all about it here). In that battle, the FSA brigades captured many light arms, RPGs, armored vehicles --- and self-propelled anti-aircraft missile batteries, not to mention shoulder-fired MANPADS anti-aircraft missiles. Today, there are two videos, the first posted by the LCC claiming to have been taken in Deir Ashreef in East Ghouta and the second, found be EA, claimign to have been taken in Zamalka itself, that show jet fighters firing "rockets" over Zamalka. But these are not rockets or missiles, they appear to be flares used to foil surface-to-air missiles:

1448 GMT: Turkey/Syria. Turkey has called on Germany's help in dealing with Syrian refugees that have fled into Turkey since the conflict began:

"We absolutely need the support and assistance of Germany," he said. "At a time when we're searching for global peace, this is of course a catastrophe and we have to stop it."

Merkel acknowledged the situation in Syria had become "a real burden" for Turkey and offered "humanitarian aid" to help cope with the tens of thousands fleeing the bloodshed.

"We feel responsible for the security of Turkey," Merkel said of Germany's NATO partner. She praised what she called Turkey's "restraint" in response to Turkish citizens killed by Syrian fire.

Well over 100,000 refugees have fled to Turkey, above the "red line" that Erdogan previously cited was Turkey's carrying capacity.

While in Germany, Erdogan also renewed calls for a no-fly zone in northern Syria. Turkey has been trying to keep Syrian refugees in northern Syria, especially since the FSA has secured stretched of contiguous territory. A no-fly zone would allow international aid workers to take care of refugees in place.

A no fly zone would also effectively ensure a permanent base for Syria's armed opposition.

1402 GMT: Syria. 41 people have been killed so far today, according to the Local Coordination Committees:

17 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs, 12 in Aleppo, 6 in Homs, 3 in Daraa 2 in Idlib and one martyr in Deir Ezzor.

Al Jazeera English posts this video reportedly showing regime jets bombing Deir Ez Zor. A renewed FSA offensive in the area has been met by an increasingly violent bombing campaign in the last week:

1310 GMT: Syria. Syrian State Media has confirmed the death of an air force general:

State television said the general, Abdullah Mahmud al-Khalidi, was killed in the north Damascus district of Rukn al-Din, but gave no further details. The general was shot dead on Monday evening as he left a friend’s home, a security source in Damascus told AFP on condition of anonymity.

In a statement posted on the Internet, the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) said it had killed Khalidi, who it said was in charge of training, along with an air force intelligence officer.

1238 GMT: Syria. Al Jazeera English reports that a large bomb blast has ripped through Damascus, right near the scene of an important Shia shrine. The Guardian adds these details:

A bomb killed at least seven people on Wednesday near a Shia shrine in a southern suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus, Reuters reports citing opposition activists and Syrian TV:

"The semi-official Addounia television said there were casualties in the explosion in the Sayeda Zainab district. Another bomb in the area was defused, the station said."

Bomb blasts are now far more common over the last week, as a series of explosions appears to have targeted civilians. The Al Nusra Front, an organization responsible for some bombings in the past, has denied responsibility, condemned attacks against civilians, and has said it only targets members of the Assad regime.It's also true that they have not claimed responsibility for any attacks where a target that was not regime security forces or leadership appeared to be the target. This could suggest that another group, and anonymous group, is indeed conducting these attacks. If this continues, we could see more sectarian violence inside the capital, as it appears to be Shia Muslims, or Assad supporters in general, who are being specifically targeted in some of these events.

James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started so early this morni9ng.

0550 GMT: Syria. Seven ethnic Armenians have been kidnapped near Aleppo, according to local Armenian sources and the Armenian Foreign Ministry.

The seven, along with three other people, were forced off a bus on their way from Lebanon’s capital Beirut to Aleppo on Monday.

A spokesman for the Armenian Apostolic Church and Ministry sources said an insurgent group probably carried out the abductions.

0500 GMT: Libya. Protesters stormed the national assembly on Tuesday, preventing a vote on a Cabinet ministers in a new Government.

Prime Minister-designate Ali Zeidan had presented a 30-member list that includes liberals and Islamists/ However, as assembly members prepared to vote, there were angry scenes as about a dozen demonstrators entered the chamber.

Assembly President Mohammed al-Magharief said, "What happened constitutes psychological pressure on the members of the congress. Let it be known to all Libyans and to the whole world in what conditions we are working... The situation is out of control."

Al-Magharief suggested that the assembly reconvene on Wednesday for a new attempt to vote.

Zeidan was elected on 14 October after his predecessor, Mustafa Abushagur, was dismissed in a vote of no confidence followed the rejection of his proposed Cabinet.

0445 GMT: Syria. A day after the end of the nominal "ceasefire", the regime carried out airstrikes throughout the country. Activists claimed that more than 20 people were killed by jets and tank shelling in Douma near Damascus. Four bombs were reportedly dropped inside the capital in Jobar, near the opposition-held suburb of Zamalka where insurgents were fighting Syrian troops. 

The regime maintained its attacks on the key town of Ma'arat al-Numan in the northwest, taken by the opposition earlier this month, as shelling reportedly killed dozens of people. The army also fired mortars on the Damascus suburb of Hammouria, killing at least eight people, activists said.

The Local Coordination Committees said 163 people died on Tuesday, including 72 in Damascus and its suburbs, and 50 in Idlib Province.

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