Smoke rises above the besieged city of Homs on Monday
2104 GMT: Syria. Parallel to the fighting between the Free Syrian Army and the regime is the relentless campaign of gunfire, shelling, and bombing that the citizens of Syria are subjected to on a daily basis by Assad forces. 140 people were killed today, according to the latest tally by the LCC, but that number will almost assuredly rise, as intense violence is reported in southern Damascus, and elsewhere across the country:
61 martyrs in Damascus and its suburbs, including 25 unidentified martyrs found between Daraya and Qadam and 10 martyrs slaughtered by knives in Deir Asafeer; 24 in Aleppo; 14 in Deir Ezzor; 13 in Homs, 11 in Idlib; 10 martyrs in Hama; 5 martyrs in Daraa; and 2 martyrs in Lattakia.
But it's not all death in Syria. This video reportedly shows a large anti-government protest tonight in Almouda, Hasakeh governorate:
2056 GMT: Syria. How significant was the FSA victory in Ma'arrat al Nouman? Significant enough that they held a victory parade with their newly captured Syrian Army vehicles:
2044 GMT: Egypt. Remembering a martyr of the Maspero massacre:
2034 GMT: Syria. At the end of the day, while it seems that the FSA has withdrawn from territory in Homs, the insurgents won several key victories in Idlib province. Ma'arrat al Nouman is reportedly largely under FSA control, there were other victories between the city and Khan Shiekhun, and there there is now a report (from both the LCC and Al Arabiya, who provides video below) of new territory captured by the FSA in Khirbet Al-Joz, northwest of Jabal Zawiyah, on the border with Turkey:
Weakened FSA positions in Homs are alarming to some opposition activists we've interacted with, but the strategic gains in Idlib may, in the long run, be more significant, especially since fighting has intensified in the countryside around Homs, making the city less important to the FSA.
1934 GMT: Syria. We're not exactly sure of the location (we believe it's in Ma'arrat al Nouman, Idlib) but this video shows Assad soldiers surrendering to FSA fighters as the battle rages nearby:
1923 GMT: Syria. The blogger Brown Moses shares some other videos of FSA fighters using slingshots to hurl explosives:
1853 GMT: Syria. Every day there are videos showing Free Syrian Army fighters attacking, or defending against, Assad forces. While some are important because they show successful attacks, troop positions, or the equipment in the FSA's hands (to name a few reaons), many show little valuable information, beyond a reminder that the fighting continuously rages every day.
But this video is curious. A large group of FSA soldiers gather around a giant slingshot and use it to throw what may be unexploded ordnance or a captured explosive device of some sort over a wall, presumably at a regime target. The video is curious. This weapon clearly took time to construct or deploy outside the wall. The men don't seem very concerned about a possible counterattack. Furthermore, a frontloader with an FSA flag on it is parked near the wall, as if the FSA had been there for some time. If the regime forces are just on the other side of this wall, why is the scene so relaxed?
We're not quite sure what to make of it, but here it is.
52 martyrs in Damascus and its suburbs, including 25 unidentified martyrs found between Daraya and Qadam and 10 martyrs slaughtered by knives in Deir Asafeer, 21 martyrs in Aleppo, 13 martyrs in Homs, 10 martyrs in Idlib, 8 martyrs in Deir Ezzor, 5 martyrs in Hama, 4 martyrs in Daraa, and 2 martyrs in Lattakia.
Note that while there are reports of heavy fighting in Homs and Deir Ez Zor, so much of the population of these cities has already fled and so the death totals are lower. However, most of those who have not fled have not done so because they cannot afford to flee, or there are injured, sick, elderly, or young children among the group. In other words, these citizens are extremely vulnerable, and they are the ones who continue to pay the price for fighting in these cities.
1800 GMT: Syria. It seems cold to discuss the loss of buildings when so many lives have already been lost in this conflict, but Syria is host to some of the world's most important historical artifacts, ruins, and buildings. Cities like Aleppo and Damascus are some of the earliest permanently settled areas, and many of these sites are being lost to the violence. Last week Public Radion International had this report:
An activist reports on the Bab Al Nasr district, the northern gate in Aleppo:
1748 GMT: Egypt. A year ago, a group of Coptic Christians marched on Cairo. They were joined by many young Muslims. They marched to protest the lack of protection that the military and police had offered the Christian community in the wake of the fall of the Mubarak regime, where many churches were burned. When they got to an area of Cairo called Maspero, where they held a sit-in protest in front of a television station, police opened fire - and 28 people died.
Today there are more rallies in Maspero, calling for the memory of the martyrs and the prosecution of those responsible:
1726 GMT: Syria. The Guardian posts an unverified statement from a man who claims he is part of the Al Nusra Front, the group that claimed responsibility for last nights suicide bombing attacks against an Air Force Intelligence installation in Harasta (see update 0635). They've also spoken to Khalid Saleh, a member of the Syrian National Council, who points out that the opposition both welcomes and condemns these attacks. While the SNC has not condemned, generally, the use of suicide bombings, the SNC is trying to discourage the tactic, and has condemned specific attacks that have killed civilians:
The reality is that Syrians are having to defend themselves in the most primitive ways. We are facing the latest Russian MiGs at this point. The Syrian army is using very innovative ways to kill its people.
We are trying to co-ordinate with the different FSA units to try as much as possible to avoid carrying out suicide operations. But at the same time, when [people] are getting killed day in day out it is difficult for someone outside the country to say this is OK and this is not. The leadership on the ground is having to make tough decisions ...
We do not communicate with the al-Nusra Front. They do exist on the ground. They have carried out some successful operations. They usually keen to avoid civilian operations. But we do not communicate with them directly.
1717 GMT: Syria. More confirmation of two big stories - Foreign Correspondent Janine Digiovanni reports that the Syrian army is forcing its way into Homs:
The Free Syrian Army clashes with the regime's army and liberated all the checkpoints at the main road between Maaret Al-Nouman and Khan Sheikhon.
What's the significance? The area is hugely important to the Assad supply lines into Aleppo and the deeper parts of Idlib province. This is a significant military setback.
But likely not a permanent one. The important lesson here is that the regime can always assert control in this area, but it can never really win it back. Idlib province is an opposition stronghold, but one that the regime periodically establishes a presence in. In many cities, there are military checkpoints, despite the cities being firmly under the sway of the opposition.
This is the perfect illustration of the nature of the stalemate in northern Syria - the regime is never far away, but the insurgents aren't either.
In other words, this changes little. If the regime recaptures this area next week, that will change little as well. However, the trend is that the insurgents have the upper hand here, and every tank and soldier the Assad regime loses just reinforces the opposition's advantage in the north.
The question is whether the Assad regime can recapture Aleppo, which will reset the battlemaps in northern Syria to where they were in early July.
1523 GMT: Syria. Terror in the suburbs of Damascus. MiG jet fighters have made bombing and strafing runs, and shells have landed in various areas. Multiple sources report another day of intense crackdown, and there are renewed reports of government forces moving into residential neighborhoods today.
Last week, the FSA won several decisive battles east of Damascus, but they opted to not try to hold these positions. This fits with the general strategy that the FSA has employed for months in many of the eastern suburbs. Both before, during, and after these events, the Syrian military has focused on eastern Damascus, and civilian death tolls have climbed there in recent weeks.
This video, one of many we've seen from Kafer Batna in the eastern suburbs, shows a MiG fighter flying overhead, and heavy machinegun fire sounding, as smoke rises from the center of the suburb:
Even closer to the heart of the capitol, this video, shared by the CFDPC, reportedly shows smoke rising from the Al Zahira district in south-central Damascus. The smoke is reportedly the result of fires started when regime forces "blew up" homes.
1517 GMT: Turkey/Syria. The Turkish government has confirmed that additional air units are being deployed to the border with Syria. According to AJE, "At least 25 additional F-16 fighter jets were deployed at Turkey's Diyarbakir air base late on Monday."
1432 GMT: Syria. The Strategic Research and Communication Centre, a group of expatriate opposition members, has this summary from Ma'arrat al Nouman:
Rebel fighters seized control of three more military checkpoints after unleashing a large-scale offensive in the Idlib suburb of Ma’arrat Noman. Dozens of detainees were executed by regime forces before withdrawing from the Cultural Centre checkpoint.
In response, regime fighter jets launched indiscriminate aerial strikes on residential areas in the town of Ma’arrat Noman leaving at least 13 civilians dead mostly women and children raising the total death toll in the province of Idlib to 57, including seven women and 13 children.
According to their latest assessment, Daraa has also been ravaged by regime forces over the last 24 hours:
Regime forces shelled more than 13 different towns in the province of Daraa. At least 34 civilians were killed in town of Karak Sharqi when regime forces opened fire on a number of busses carrying injured civilians trying to flee the violence, while seven more bodies appear to have been executed were discovered in the town of Izraa. The town of Karak Sharqi was then declared a “disaster area” after three days of intense shelling and fighting with rebel fighters. Regime forces invaded the town using kidnapped children and women as human shields thus forcing the rebels to withdraw.
This video reportedly shows the FSA in Ma'arrat al Nouman capturing what appears to be a checkpoint of a weapons depot:
1414 GMT: Syria. Lots of movement on all fronts today. While it looks like the regime has made gains in Homs, early reports indicate it has been blocked in Deir Ez Zor, but, as usual, things are not going well for the regime in Idlib. In Ma'arrat al Nouman, a city that has traded hands several times, the FSA recently withdrew from the city. Yesterday and today, however, they have launched a new offensive. According to some, it appears that they have captured several armored vehicles, and possibly a prison:
36 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its suburbs, including 25 unidentified martyrs found between Daraya and Qadam; 15 in Aleppo; 13 in Homs; 8 in Idlib; 6 in Deir Ezzor and 2 in Daraa.
This tally will rise, as the LCC has noted more deaths since then, and as the reports of escalating violence in many areas come in.
1355 GMT: Syria. An organized Syrian Army offensive? The Local Coordination Committees report that a major offensive has been launchede to recapture large parts of Deir Ez Zor that have fallen to the FSA. According to the LCC, the regime attacked the eastern gates of the city, but have been stopped by the insurgents. Army losses are very heavy, according to the report.
It's hard to say how significant this fighting is, but the LCC rarely makes claims like this. In light of the offensive against Homs, it's not likely that this is a coincidence.
1338 GMT: Syria. Last week we noted a dramatic shift in Homs - Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon have joined the regime in battle, have been actively engaged in the fight there, and were part of a Syrian army counteroffensive in Homs. It now appears, as Scott Lucas noted earlier, that the Syrian army is making a move to finally take Homs city back from insurgents. The Guardian interviews a resident of the city who says that the Syrian air force is dropping barrel bombs on residential neighborhoods:
What we have here is that the Syrian army would occupy two or three buildings in Khalidiya district, the FSA would come and fight them and get these buildings back and push Syrian army backward. The Syrian army would then claim that they have stormed Khalidiya district.
If the Syrian army take Khaldiya – which is a large district – and then Hamidiya, this will be the end of Homs. We did not receive any help since we last talked yesterday – not even a drop of water. No one can bring anything inside if the Syrian army does not [allow or bring] it.
Clashes between the Syrian army and FSA are breaking out day and night. The Syrian army is trying to break in old Homs districts by different entrances but FSA is facing up to them and keeping them out.
In another sign that this conflict could easily spill over the border, the Free Syrian Army has threatened to attack Hezbollah inside of Lebanon if their military involvement inside syria persists.
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started today.
“The party has a basic rule that forbids fighting anyone other than Israel and thus it bans its elements from fighting in Syria,” said Kamel Rifai. “I can definitely say Hezbollah bans fighting in Syria because it could never approve hostility against Muslims."
A candle burns on roadside billboards around conflict-racked Syria, urging people to save energy as winter arrives and President Bashar al-Assad’s sanctions-hit regime scrambles to secure new fuel supplies.
War has given these once unremarkable posters promoting energy efficiency a political edge as electricity blackouts and crippling oil shortages force the government into deals, such as the quiet agreement revealed on Tuesday to import fuel from Iraq.
The arrangement, which resulted in the delivery of $14m of industrial-grade fuel oil in June and July, has concerned the US and highlighted the deep international divisions over how to deal with the Assad regime.
The deliveries ahead of Syria’s often severe winter season also raise fresh questions about where the precious oil is being used, as aid agencies warn of the dangers facing a population that has seen whole communities razed, shortages of basic medicines and the collapse of some essential services.
“It’s a disaster,” one Syrian doctor said of the approaching chill, reeling off a list of threatening seasonal diseases including bronchitis and pneumonia. “People are very afraid of winter right now.”
In a separate article, Peel and Saigol describe the Iraqi agreement to provide Syria with 720,000 tons of fuel oil as part of a one-year, renewable supply contract.
0945 GMT: Syria. Back from an academic break to find Syrian insurgents warning Lebanon’s Hezbollah that they will move take the conflict to “the heart” of Hezbollah's stronghold in Beirut's southern suburb of Dahiyeh.
Fahd al-Masri of the “Free Syrian Army Joint Command” told the London-based daily Ash-Sharq-al-Awsat that insurgents were holding “13 Hezbollah hostages" in a town close to Homs. He said he captives “admitted carrying out killing operations in Syria and some of them acknowledged that they committed a grave mistake by believing that they were fulfilling a jihadist [duty] against an international conspiracy”.
Al-Masri claimed, "Most of the hostages [are from the Lebanese] Baalbek-Hermel area." He asserted that Hezbollah members were present in the Homs countryside, mainly in Qusayr and Talbiseh, and controlled checkpoints in the area..
Jamal al-Wadi, the spokesperson for the Syrian Revolution Command near Damascus, told a Saudi newspaper that Hezbollah fighters had been “disguised” as members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.Wadi is the spokesperson for the “Syrian Revolution Command” located near Damascus
Last week, a senior Hezbollah commander was buried in East Lebanon’s Beqaa valley, amid claims that he was was killed in Syria.
Yesterday another Hezbollah fighter was buried with the praise that he had died "fighting for jihad", seen by some observers as an euphemism for service in Syria.
0635 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage of an Air Force Intelligence on fire last night after a bombing in the Damascus suburb of Harasta --- the jihadist Al-Nusra Front claimed responsibility for the attack:
0505 GMT: Syria. While Syria and Turkey continued their skirmishes of occasional shelling and rhetoric on Monday, fighting surged in and near Syrian cities. Regime forces bombarded insurgent-held areas in Idlib Province in the northwest, Daraa Province in the south, and in Aleppo.
The regime's offensive appeared to be most intense in Homs, the country's third-largest city, where President Assad's forces carried out a deadly, weeks-long assault in January and February. While that campaign had finally pushed out insurgents, at the cost of hundreds of lives and widespread devastation, it has not kept them out. Over the summer, the opposition fighters had re-emerged in some of the city's neighbourhoods.
After shelling and bombing over the weekend, including the use of TNT "barrel bombs", the Syrian military advanced around the Khalidiya section on Monday, trying to squeeze out the insurgents. Free Syrian Army commanders appealed for heavy arms, likely knowing they will not get them, as the area was cut off from medical care, food, and other supplies.
The Local Coordination Committees reported 170 deaths at the hands of security forces, including 40 in Aleppo Province; 37 in Idlib Province, most of them in the shelled town of Maaret Numan; 35 in Daraa Province; 32 in Damascus and its suburbs; and 20 in Homs Province.