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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: New Opposition Leadership Named --- Now What?

See also Syria Audio Analysis: Evaluating the New Opposition Coalition --- Scott Lucas with Monocle 24
Sunday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: New Opposition Coalition Formed "In Principle"

2215 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees, who resigned from the Syrian National Council last week in protest, have released a statement that they support the new Syrian National Coalition, the new organization finalized in the last 24 hours:

This entity was established independently and outside the purview of any other nation. Moreover, the National Coalition was established in accordance with the principles and objectives of the Syrian revolution and activists’ demands to:

  • Oust the regime (including its symbols and pillars of support);
  • Dismantle the security services;
  • Unify and support the military councils of the Free Syrian Army;
  • Reject dialogue or negotiation with the criminal regime; and
  • Hold accountable those responsible for killing Syrians, destroying our country, and displacing our people.

The National Coalition, in adhering to and fulfilling these requirements, will serve as the legitimate representative of the revolution and the Syrian people in their quest for freedom. In turn, the National Coalition, whose legitimacy as the sole representative of the Syrian people is also affirmed by the Arab and international community, can obtain the necessary support to protect civilians, oust the criminal regime, and reach the revolution’ highest goals to transition to a state of human rights, freedom, and citizenship.

The LCC reaffirms its participation in the National Coalition. The LCC has worked hard, and will continue to spare no effort, to ensure the success of the National Coalition in its service to the revolution. We congratulate the Syrian people, who have held steadfast in their efforts to accomplish this critical step in our revolution for dignity and in Syria’s history. The LCC affirms that it will always remain true to the objectives of our revolution for dignity, and will honor the hopes and sacrifices of our great Syrian people.

2203 GMT: Syria. Reporter Nick Kristoff is in Syria, and the first image he has sent back is somewhat ironic (note the Free Syrian Army colors):

He makes it clear why he's there:

Still, Syrian State Media is trying to make sure that their Twitter feed knows that Syria is working hard to rejuvenate the country's image:

2122 GMT: Syria. Another major international headline on the recognition of the new Syrian leadership group:

2118 GMT: Syria. A different angle on the Syrian crisis does not mask the horror:

2007 GMT: Israel/Syria. According to Israeli media, the tanks that fired into Syria as a response to cross-border fire aimed directly at the Syrian troops responsible for the event - two of whom were injured in exchange:

At least two Syrian soldiers were reported injured Monday by an Israeli tank shell, fired deliberately at a mobile Syrian Army mortar battery that had just accidentally fired a mortar shell into Israeli territory in the Golan Heights.

Israeli TV stations showed what they said was footage of a Syrian ambulance evacuating the injured soldiers.

1925 GMT: Bahrain. John Horne reports:

King Hamad has appointed Sameera Rajab to be the Official Spokesperson of the Government. Rajab has risen through the ranks this year, after being appointed as Minister for Information for State Affairs in April. Previously, her company held a contract with the Bahraini governement to provide "media consultancy services to the Information Affairs Authority".

Sameera Rajab is a strong supporter of Saddam Hussein and a proponent of 9/11 conspiracy theories. At the time of her appointment, the Christian Science Monitor described her as having "a track record of stirring up sectarian tension". Last year, Rajab was also a strong proponent of the anti-Shia conspiracy theory that opposition members had designed a new flag with twelve points, said to signify the twelve Shia Imams. No evidence of this ever emerged. As Marc Owen Jones notes, when Rajab went on Al-Jazeera to prove the conspiracy, she actually relied upon a picture of an old Bahraini flag which had 10 points, not 12.

1643 GMT: Syria. The GCC has just made a potentially significant geopolitical shift towards Syria:

Earlier we reported that statements from France suggested it was close to doing the same. Other analysts believe that 10 countries are close to recognizing the SNC as the official leadership of Syria. The bottom line is that this appears to have been one of the goals of the international community when they first organized this meeting in Doha.

This move could effectively close the diplomatic door to ending this crisis, a door that many analysts (including many at EA) believe closed long ago (or was maybe never really open).

1621 GMT: Turkey/Syria. Mahir Zeynalov, of Today's Zaman, reports that Turkey has condemned the Syrian military operation against towns just across the border with Turkey:

These statements are interesting for several reasons. As news broke that Assad air forces were striking Ras al Ain, one of the questions on our minds was the limited response from Turkey. When the FSA captured the town last week, FSA units attacked from both sides of the border. With the border under close observation by Turkish ground forces and air force, it would be impossible for them to know that the FSA was on the move. This gives the attack an aura of Turkish support. So why would Turkey support the attack but then not block Assad's airforce?

Perhaps Turkey would like the excuse to strike Assad after a Syrian jet crossed into Turkish air space, or a bomb fell on the wrong side of the border?

1602 GMT: Syria. The opposition news network ANA, out of Cairo, posts this unverified report on their Facebook feed:

ANA: #Madamiyah #Damascus #Syria: about an hour ago a bomb planted in a bus of Internal Security exploded near al-Omari mosque in a residential neighborhood in the Madamiyah suburb of Damascus leading to several injured among civilians.

The following video shows the first images after the blast:

Car bombs and other explosions are becoming increasingly more common in Damascus, but they come in two forms. The first, targeted explosions aimed at destroying regime personnel or infrastructure - these are often suspected of being inside jobs. The second and newest variety target civilians, and tend to use car bombs more than any other more complicated delivery systems.

1550 GMT: Syria. The US State Department has released a statement congratulating the opposition for forming the new Syrian National Coalition:

The United States congratulates the representatives of the Syrian people on the formation of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. We look forward to supporting the National Coalition as it charts a course toward the end of Assad’s bloody rule and the start of the peaceful, just, democratic future that all the people of Syria deserve. We will work with the National Coalition to ensure that our humanitarian and non-lethal assistance serves the needs of the Syrian people. We also commend the Government of Qatar for its steadfast leadership and support of this conference.

1529 GMT: Bahrain. EA's John Horne reports:

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) have issued an appeal for its founder, Abdulhadi AlKhawaja, over concerns that he is being denied necessary medical care. AlKhawaja was arrested from his home last year and tortured, before being given a life-sentence before a military court. Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience and despite protestations from NGOs and governments, AlKhawaja's life sentence was upheld by an appeals court in September. The BCHR statement reads in part:

AlKhawaja continues to have chronic pain in his face (jaw) and left arm for more than a year and a half now. He has been told by the doctor that taking the 18 plates and 36 screws out of his face will not make any change to the chronic pain from which he suffers at the moment. In addition to that, the court continues to reject the request by his family and lawyer to get a copy of the medical report or the BICI findings related to his health, which prevents the family from seeking medical advice outside the prison.

AlKhwaja's daughter Zainab, also a leading human rights defender, is in court today on a new case.

1525 GMT: Egypt. Finance Minister Mumtaz AlSaid said today that the government expects to sign a memorandum of understanding with the IMF this week for a $4.8 billion loan. Reuters reports that the Egyptian cabinet will meet with President Morsi tomorrow, to be followed by a news conference. An IMF negotiating team is in Cairo until Wednesday. Reuters adds that, "Leaks to Egyptian media are seen as an effort to prepare the public for steps that are certain to be unpopular."

Popular opposition to neo-liberal economic policies, particularly the potential for increased privatisation and reductions in labour rights, were crucial underlying demands of the protest movement which toppled former leader Mubarak last year.

1519 GMT: Syria. Khalid Saleh, who will have a leadership role in the new Syrian National Coalition, says that the new coalition represents more than 90% of Syrians, and that the military councils have control of at least 80% of the insurgents fighting in Syria.

Michael Weiss, an analyst and journalist covering Syria, brought this statement to my attention. Weiss and I both agree that this is a gross exaggeration of the strength of any outside opposition leadership's presence on the ground in Syria.

However, we also both agree that the entire purpose of the restructuring of the outside opposition leadership was to create, at least, the illusion of a unified front. With that unified front, slow progress could be made by bringing opposition groups, and FSA units, onboard. Perhaps most importantly, Weiss points out, the move could lead international powers to recognize the new leadership as the official transitional government of Syria - which would allow the new SNC to represent Syria, potentially on the floors of the United Nations. In fact, there are already signs that France may be close to officially recognizing the Syrian opposition leadership.

French authorities said on Monday that Paris recognizes the right of the Syrian people to defend itself against attack and repression by Damascus, but France would not commit on the question of supplying weapons to the opposition forces in the field.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also called in an earlier statement for the international community to recognise the new opposition leadership which he said was "a credible alternative" to the Assad regime.

"We wish that this coalition can be rapidly bolstered by getting the broadest support possible from Syrians "as from the international community," Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said Monday. Asked about more aid now that the opposition has better unity, Lalliot said that France would stick with its international and European commitments in this area.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen also made suggestive statements that the new group was a "big step forward," and he also said that NATO would "do what it takes to protect and defend Turkey".

1402 GMT: Syria. The LCC has posted video which shows a destroyed helicopter, reportedly in Albukamal in the eastern province of Deir Ez Zor. According to the description of the video, the helicopter was shot down today. Scott Lucas adds that he has been hearing this rumor for much of the day:

This news comes with many reports of intensified violence in the region:

Bokamal: Aerial shelling of Bokamal is reported and 3 air raids have taken place so far.

Deir Ezzor: Fierce clashes between the Free Syrian Army and the regime's army are reported in Cinema Al-Fouad street.

Claimed video of the shelling of AlBukamal:

The bottom line is that the Assad regime has a relatively limited number of helicopters, and that number has already been thinned considerably. As Assad is relying on air power to make his presence felt across Syria, every loss of an aircraft, especially a helicopter, is a significant blow.

James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us through to the afternoon.

1352 GMT: Bahrain. EA's John Horne reports:

A delegation of Bahrainis will travel to the Hague this week to raise the issue of the 31 opposition members who had their nationality revoked last week. The delegation will be present for the 11th session of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Although Bahrain is not party to the ICC, the ASP will include a pres conference on Bahrain organised by international rights group No Peace Without Justice, who are hosting the delegation.

1325 GMT: Syria-Israel. Israel has fired into Syria for the second day in two days, after a shell originating from Syria landed near an Israeli town in the occupied Golan Heights. An Israeli army spokesperson told Reuters that they "fired at the source of the fire in Syria".

1215 GMT: Syria. Wladimir van Wilgenburg writes about today's aerial bombardment of Ras al-Ain (see 1137 GMT), "resulting in the death of several civilians and the destruction of houses" and the movement of wounded to hospitals in Turkey....

The Democratic Union Party (PYD) is against the entry of the Free Syrian Army into the area, since it fears this would bring destruction by the Syrian air force. When the FSA entered the Kurdish-controlled districts of the city of Aleppo (Sheikh Maqsoud, and Al-Ashrafiyya), the regime also started bombing the area, killing dozens.

The Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) claims Syria cannot be freed from Ras al-Ain, and that the FSA should focus on Damascus and Aleppo instead. Statements of the PYD's rival, the Kurdish National Council, are also critical of the entry of the Free Syrian Army from Turkey since the Hasakah Province has been not part of sustained violence.

Moreover, there are Arab settlers in the area, and the KNC and Kurdish sources suspects Sheikh Nawaf Bashir, head of the Baqara tribe from Deyr az-Zour, has been working with the FSA to enter the area to prevent Kurdish control. Allegedly, Bashir was responsible for the failure to include Kurdish demands during this autumn's opposition conference in Cairo.

After the FSA moved into Ras al-Ayn, the PYD's militia (YPG) removed remaining security elements from Derik, Amude, Derbisiye, Tel Emir, fearing the arrival of insurgents and spread of fighting.

1137 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage has been posted of the victims, including children, of regime shelling of Ras al-Ain near the Turkish border (see 0855 GMT).

1127 GMT: Bahrain. Farah Halime of The National writes about the ongoing dispute between the regime and the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions over the sacking of more than 4000 workers soon after the start of the February 2011 mass protests.

Most of those who were dismissed have now been reinstated but the GFBTU says more needs to be done to compensate workers.

"The government has not only strived to control a political strike, but industrial strikes too, they don't want us speaking out about anything," said Karim Radhi, the official spokesman for the union.

Radhi estimated that $5.3 million in backdated payments and insurance claims are still owed over unfair dismissals.

Sabah Salem Al Dossari, the undersecretary of the Ministry of Labor, claimed, "The matter is now fundamentally resolved. Any remaining issues that arise related to these workers would be handled through the normal applicable laws, procedures and courts." He asserted that the regime has "successfully resolved some 98 per cent of the almost 5,000 cases of suspensions and dismissal cases that were registered through the government's procedures and in dialogue with the GFBTU".

1039 GMT: Yemen. The main oil export pipeline was blown up in two places on Sunday night in an attack in the Wadi Abidah region in the west of the country.

The 270-mile Maarib pipeline carried about 110,000 barrels per day (bpd) of light crude to the Ras Isa export terminal on the Red Sea coast until a spate of attacks in 2011 and 2012.

A long closure of the line last year forced the country's largest refinery at Aden to shut.

1002 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage of regime shelling of a funeral in Al Bukamal on Sunday:

0954 GMT: Lebanon. The moment on Sunday when clashes erupted in Sidon between supporters of Sunni cleric Sheikh Ahmad Assir, and backers of Hezbollah --- two of Assir's entourage and an Egyptian passer-by were killed and seven others, including two Hezbollah officials, were wounded:

An urgent meeting has been held today to discuss the burial procedures and security.

0946 GMT: Israel and Palestine. Israeli police officers have distributed "closed military zone orders" for four West Bank villages to 13 prominent Israeli activists, prohibiting them from entering the areas during Friday demonstrations.

The activists from groups such as Anarchists Against the Wall, Ta’ayush, and the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement are barred from the villages from 8:00 a.m. to 7 p.m. every Friday. Palestinians in Bil’in, Nil’in, Nabi Saleh, and Kufr Qaddum are protesting the construction of an Israeli "security wall" cutting through the West Bank.

0943 GMT: Syria. More footage of shelling and fighting in the southern Damascus suburb of Tadamon (see 0900 GMT):

0904 GMT: Syria. Lauren Williams of The National reports on "hopelessness" at the al-Qaim refugee camp in Iraq:

Three-by-two meter white plastic dome tents line row by row across a dusty, barren moonscape, enclosed by a barbed wire fence. Inside, hundreds of grubby-faced children wander around aimlessly, kicking up dirt as they play with a few plastic balls. A heavily pregnant woman crouches, washing a small collection of tin plates. Another woman kneels, scrubbing clothes with soap and water in tin tubs. Laundry curtains along lines suspended across the tent peaks.

The chores of daily survival are about the only things to offset a sense of omnipresent boredom and hopelessness here in Camp 2, home to 4,000 Syrian refugees, most of them from the Syrian border town of Albu-Kamal, some 20 kilometers away.

It is one of two camps in the area, built to accommodate some 5,000 refugees but currently housing some 8,000, according to Hasanain al-Qotbi, the media spokesman for the Anbar province’s immigration and displaced emergency unit.

Just a kilometer away, within sight of the heavily fortified Iraqi customs house, the green, black and white Free Syrian Army rebel flag, painted on the back wall of the now derelict Albu-Kamal customs house on the Syrian side, stares down defiantly.

0900 GMT: Syria. Insurgents have reportedly launched attacks in southern suburbs of Damascus this morning --- claimed footage of smoke over the Tadamon area:

0855 GMT: Syria. A witness has said that the regime's aerial bombardment of Ras al-Ain in northern Syria continues this morning.

A fighter jet reportedly hit the town, close to the Turkish frontier, as scores of people ran from the area to cross the border fence.

Ras al-Ain, with a largely Kurdish population, was taken by insurgents last week.

Claimed footage of smoke after the attack:

0805 GMT: Palestine. A spokesman for Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has said the Palestinians will proceed with an approach to the United Nations General Assembly to become an "Observer State", despite a personal call from President Obama to abandon the bid.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh said Abbas had a long phone conversation with Obama, who “expresses his opposition to this step”.

The White House press office said that Obama “reiterated the United States’ opposition to unilateral efforts at the United Nations" and “reaffirmed his commitment to Middle East peace and his strong support for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians”.

Earlier Sunday, at a memorial service for former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Abbas reiterated his intention to proceed in November:

Some powers are trying to tell us that the two-state solution doesn’t come from the UN but through negotiations. Negotiations are crucial. But to get UN recognition is also key.

We will turn to the United Nations, even though they do not want us to do this… We do not want to deny the legitimacy of Israel; only the legitimacy of the settlements.

0615 GMT: Syria. After almost a week of meetings, opposition groups gathering in Qatar have named the leadership of a new Syrian National Coalition. A leading Sunni cleric from Damascus, Mouaz al-Khatib --- imprisoned several times by the Assad regime before leaving Syria in July --- was named as President.

Al-Khatib's deputies are Riad Seif, a prominent dissident seen as a leader of the US-backed initiative to set up an umbrella group supplanting the Syrian National Council, and Suhair al-Atassi, one of the relatively few women in the Initiative. Participants said a third deputy, from Kurdish groups, might be named.

Khatib, the former imam of the ancient Umayyad Mosque, called on soldiers to quit the Syrian army and on all sects to unite, "We demand freedom for every Sunni, Alawi, Ismaili [Shia], Christian, Druze, Assyrian ... and rights for all parts of the harmonious Syrian people."

The Syrian National Council, after hesitating earlier in the week, offered its support for the new organisation. Its new leader, George Sabra, said "This is a serious step against the regime and a serious step towards freedom."

The Kurdish National Council asked for 48 hours to consult leaders outside of Qatar.

International actors moved quickly to offer support. Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani said, "We will strive from now on to have this new body recognised completely by all parties ... as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people." Ahmed Davutoglu, the Turkish Foreign Minister, said there was "no excuse any more" for foreign governments to hold back their co-ooperation. 

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius declared, "France will work with its partners to secure international recognition of this new entity as the representative of the aspirations of the Syrian people."

Participants in the Initiative said it will organise a provisional government within the next two months before moving to the north of Syria and calling for  a humanitarian corridor and no-fly zone backed by the international community.

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