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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: A New Opposition Leadership?  

See also EA Audio: James Miller on Opposition Leadership & Failure of Ceasefires
Wednesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Regime Steps Up Airstrikes


1821 GMT: Syria. An emotional appeal from an online activist:

Closer analysis offers an interesting detail among the tragedy. To be clear, a bomb does appear to fall, causing a massive explosion below. This appears to be East Ghouta, and those appear to be residences, so many may have died.

But those "rockets" are not rockets at all - they are flares, used to avoid surface-to-air missiles. Once again, we have evidence that the Syrian air force has permanently changed their behavior and is routinely guarding against these SAM missiles which have fallen into FSA hands in the capture of many area bases.

An analyst we spoke to over a month ago suggested that most pilots would never fire these countermeasures unless they had a radar alert that they had either been locked onto or fired at. Otherwise, the pilot may run out of flares before needing them. Is the FSA actively hunting regime jets east of Damascus?

1755 GMT: Syria. In Aleppo, the insurgents no longer lack food, ammunition, or other supplies. Some parts of the city are echoing the life before the FSA invaded. Businesses are reopening in some neighborhoods, and the mood has lightened. The reason - a series of FSA victories have changed the situation since August. The Guardian's Matthew Weaver talks to Martin Chulov who is there:

Shops are open, petrol supplies have been re-established, and there is a busy commute between the city and the Turkish border, he says.

The front line of the battle has advanced two to three kilometres further into the city in some areas, but there is still a “grinding sense of stalemate” to the battle. In other areas the frontline has changed only by a few hundred metres, since Martin was last in Aleppo in August.

Today he witnessed tension between Kurds and rebels in the central Ashrafiyeh area of the city, as the two sides tried to negotiate a deal.

Speaking on an intermittent Skype line, he said:

"There has been a lot of two way firing going on over the last four to five days ever since the Free Syrian Army was able to advance into Ashrafiyeh, which a Kurdish area of Aleppo and into al-Bustan where we were today.

"The frontline is moving every so slowly. There is no sign whether the FSA are going to advance any further or whether they going to lose those advances and go back to their original positions."

Islamist fighters are looking to link up with the rebels, Martin confirmed. The rebels are “nervously welcoming them, but they do know the threat that the pose to the revolution”, he said. There is some “piecemeal cooperation” between rebels and jihadis, Martin reported.

Jets continue to pound Aleppo, but from higher altitudes. Rebels do have access to anti-aircraft weapons, but they don’t know how to use them properly and say they need training, Martin reports.

Speaking of a truce, FSA units have apparently brokered a tense truce with the Kurdish forces aligned with the PKK. The situation is made more tense by the fact that the Syrian opposition is backed by Turkey, while the PKK is trading gunfire with Turkey. Furthermore, there's evidence that the PKK may have made deals with both the opposition and the Syrian regime in order to limit bloodshed and gain autonomy.

There is a truce, but mistrust is deep. Reuters, via Guardian, reports:

"We are not against all Kurdish groups, but these PKK-linked groups are helping the regime by attacking us, we had no choice but to act," says Mohammed Hamadeh, head of a rebel unit on the mountain.

Despite some cooperation before the clashes, mistrust has always been high on both sides.

The rebels are wary of the PYD's neutral stance and believe it is working with Assad, while some Kurds are unhappy with the opposition's unwillingness to accept local Kurdish autonomy.

1554 GMT: Syria. 60 people have been killed so far today, according to the Local Coordination Committees:

18 martyrs were reported in Hama, most of them were field-executed in Kazo neighborhood; 15 martyrs in Damascus and its Suburbs; 12 martyrs in Aleppo; 8 martyrs in Idlib; 6 martyrs in Deir Ezzor and 1 martyr in Daraa.

1540 GMT: Bahrain. John Horne reports:

Trade Arabia reports on the "serious financial and administrative irregularities in ministries, government bodies and state-owned establishments" found by the National Audit Court's report for 2011-12. Bapco, the Bahrain Petroleum Company, came in for particular scrutiny:

A major issue raised was Bapco's failure to disclose its financial dealings, which made it difficult to assess if the firm was making profits or losses.

The report pointed out that Bapco incurred huge losses owing to various reasons. The firm delayed the collection of dues from the Electricity and Water Authority, to which it had sold natural gas worth BD71 million ($187.2 million).

Rampant irregularities in the company and "unlimited power" for the firm's chief executive officer were blamed for fuel sales, amounting to $179 million, for Gulf Air. Bapco did not maintain relevant documents and records to support these sales transactions, it said.

The report also highlighted irregulaties, and possible corrupt practices, in leading aluminium firm Alba, as well as the Ministry of Municipalities and Urban Planning Affairs, the sewage system, Bahrain Airport Company, the Bahrain Internet Exchange board, the Bahrain Institute of Public Administration, the Bahrain Poultry Company, Bahrain Polytechnic and the Higher Education Council.

1532 GMT: Bahrain. EA's John Horne reports:

The formal ban on rallies and protests, announced Monday, has so far done little to stop demonstrations. Earlier this afternoon, Said Yousif Almuhafda of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights observed a protest in Samaheej, which has reportedly ended in two house arrests.

Last night, leading human rights defender Zainab AlKhawaja attended a demonstration with the following chants:

"We raise our voices for freedom, we will not be killed in silence."

"We will not bow to criminal dictators."

""God help us against those who oppress us, help us to rise above the difficulties."

Zainab also saw a father telling his young daughter to "shout" because "we want the fall of the regime", adding "you'll be free when you grow up".

1522 GMT: Syria. Syria is a dangerous place for journalists. Many have been killed or gone missing. Both sides share some of the blame. This makes this new development even more concerning:

Van Dyke, a man who admittedly suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, previously traveled to Libya in order to both cover the conflict as a "journalist" but also to fight alongside the rebels. Now, he is doing the same in Syria.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has previously condemned the actions of Van Dyke, saying that he endangers all journalists trying to cover such conflicts. With Austin Tice, an American journalist, still missing and presumed by many to be in the hands of the regime, and with many other journalists missing or dead already, those words ring as true now as they did then.

1511 GMT: Bahrain. John Horne reports:

In a visit to the Interior Minister, Bahrain's Prime Minister delivered a speech yesterday praising the work of the security apparatus against "saboteurs who exploited democracy as a dagger in the midline of the nation". The Prime Minister, who has held his position for 42 years, was speaking a day after the Interior Minister announced a ban on all rallies and protests.

The account of the speech in Bahrain state media reveals an emphasis on "loyalty" and a focus on painting the opposition as having a "delinquent ideology" and "malicious intensions which target the country":

HRH the Prime Minister affirmed that we are strong and that the crisis undergone by Bahrain has strengthened our men and the loyal Bahraini people who have proven their solid stance and cohesion with their leadership in order to safeguard the country's integrity.

Today, we announce explicitly that anyone who rejects or ignores the call of reason should have to hearken to the voice of the law and justice.

The Interior Minister said that the Prime Minister's visit "constitutes an incentive to us to maintain the national security and stability".

1454 GMT: Syria. The word of the day may be "executions." Now Lebanon reports that 11 people have been field-executed by the regime in Hama province. In Barzeh, Damascus, there are reports that several people were executed by the regime, and the LCC posts a very graphic picture reportedly showing the bodies of two of the victims. They appear to be shot in the head.

Then of course, we have today's news that the FSA has executed more than 2 dozen regime soldiers in Idlib province (update 1412). Now there is news that the FSA has won another victory in Aleppo, though it's unclear whether the Assad fighters were killed in the fighting or afterwards:

Also, there are two tweets from the same account (1 and 2) containing very graphic images.

War is hell, and this is clearly a war.

1439 GMT: Egypt. US CIA Director David Petraeus arrived in Cairo today for security talks. Sources told Associated Press that Petraeus is "leading a US delegation that will meet with top Egyptian security officials to exchange information about combating terrorism".

1435 GMT: Iraq. EA's John Horne reports:

Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi today received a second death sentence in court. Al-Hashemi, who fled to Turkey last December, was tried in absentia related to charges of conspiring to assasinate a senior government official. His son in law was also sentenced to death.

In September, AlHashemi received a death sentence on similar charges of plotting to kill rivals. Speaking then, al-Hashemi, a Sunni, he accused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite, of conspirng against him:



The verdict is unjust, politicised, illegitimate and I will not recognise it. But I put it as a medal of honour on my chest because it was Maliki, not anyone else, behind it. I'm proud that it is Maliki, and not anyone else, to target me. The death sentence is a price I have to pay due to my love for my country and my loyalty to my people. I reiterate that I'm innocent, and am ready to stand before a fair judicial system and not a corrupt one that is under Maliki's influence.


1412 GMT: Syria. Terrible video from Syria:

This is not the first time that prisoners have been executed. The Al Nusra Front executed dozens of regime soldiers in Aleppo. These do not appear to the Al Nusra fighters, however, and it's unclear at the moment which brigade this is. However, rumors of some additional executions have been spread in recent weeks, particularly in Idlib. Beyond this, some of the fighters in Idlib are originally from Homs, where mistreatment of captors was also reported.

That said, these are still isolated cases. Some perspective:

It's also clear that these incidents will become increasingly common, particularly as the FSA units often struggle to maintain their own supplies. After 19 months of war, some of these units are simply not interested in taking prisoners.

1354 GMT: Bahrain. EA's John Horne reports:

One of the people recently charged with "defaming" King Hamad has been given a six month jail sentence, according to his lawyer Mohammed Abdulameer (translation via Amira Al Hussaini):


One of those accused of insulting the King of Bahrain was sentenced by the Criminal Court to six months imprisonment and the confiscation of his laptop and telephone, which were tools in his crime.

Three other Bahraini citizens also face similar charges following their arrest on October 17th.

1340 GMT: Syria. James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas, who is on the road, for getting us started early this morning.

Time to catch up on the latest news.

Today started with a radio interview on Monocle 24 - the main subject being the announcement by Hillary Clinton that the US is now backing a new opposition leadership group, not the SNC. While yesterday I expressed doubts that this new group will have an impact on the ground, there are at least some early indications that the new group is being accepted. Yesterday, it appeared that the Local Coordination Committees were lining up behind the effort. Today, The Guardian reports that General Mustafa Al-Sheikh, the head of the Free Syrian Army military council, has supported the new group:

I think it is good step to involve Riyad Hijab. We need a man who has practical experience in running a state and dealing with foreign countries rather than having people who have spent all their lives in oppositions and do not have any experience in running the country. I wish success to him.

Al-Sheikh also told Guardian that the international community's inaction has led to the breakdown of the SNC and the increase in radicalism inside the opposition:

Syrians have a reputation as moderate Islamists. Syria’s different ethnic and religious sects have lived peacefully together.

But when the Syrian people were abandoned by the world they began to lean towards extremism to compensate the strategic imbalance in power.

This attitude has put the entire Middle East at the mercy of extremists and terrorists. We have repeatedly warned of this careless attitude but no one was listening. After 18 month of revolution, the Syrian people began to believe in these Islamic organisations because of their sophisticated attacks against the regime, and their support from outside Syria.

Our take - these are all positive signs, but it may take them many months to trickle down to the situation on the ground. This means that the Syrian opposition's military wing will continue to advance for some time --- unchecked, unsupported, and out of the control or influence of the US or its allies --- using tactics and strategies that are free from outside influence or coordination. The lack of logistical support and coordination means that groups like Al Farouk or Saif al Islam will win victories and bring the fight to the Assad regime, but will be unable to break the back of the Assad military.

0605 GMT: Bahrain. The Bahrain Center for Human Reports has issued a lengthy statement which "holds the king responsible for the spread of the culture of impunity which has claimed the lives of tens of victims".

The report cites cases of torture, for which it says almost no one has been responsible, and the recent killings of teenagers Hussam Mohammed Jassim Al-Haddad and Ali Hassan Neamah by the security forces.

0550 GMT: Syria. The continuing news of fighting inside the country, from Idlib Province to the Damascus suburbs to Homs Province, was matched on Wednesday by political developments outside it. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed reports that the Obama Administration has been meeting with peoplewhom it hopes will form a new opposition leadership, replacing the Syrian National Council, in a meeting in Qatar next week: 

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.

How exactly the new people will be more representative of the opposition --- and the insurgents --- inside Syria was not set out by Clinton, but reports indicated that one of those favoured by the US is former Prime Minister Riad Hijab, who left his post soon after his appointment this summer and defected to Jordan.

The Local Coordination Councils report that 121 people were killed on Wednesday, including 53 in Damascus and its suburbs and 44 in Aleppo Province.

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