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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Bickering Begins Over "New Opposition Council"

See also Syria Feature: War Within a War? The Tension between the Free Syrian Army and Kurdish Militias
Israel-Palestine Live Coverage (2 November): Is Iran Still an "Existential Threat"?
Thursday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: A New Opposition Leadership?

2011 GMT: Syria. As of an hour ago, the Local Coordination Committees were reporting that 133 people have been killed so far today:

42 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs; 32 in Deir Ezzor; 20 in Aleppo; 15 in Idlib; 8 in Lattakia;8 in Homs; 7 in Daraa; and 1 in Hama.

See our note on the casualty figures posted by the LCC.

That number will increase, possibly substantially, before the end of the day. Heavy shelling campaigns have been reported into the night, and the LCC now reports that even beyond this, the bodies of 25 people have been found in a basement in Aleppo.

The casualty figures have risen to the level that they were at before the ceasefire. Even during the ceasefire there was barely a letup in the number of deaths. For the civilians, it's only getting worse, and despite FSA victories across the country, there is no sign that the regime will fall any time soon.

1944 GMT: Syria. A Safe World for Women reports that a young female blogger, Fatima Khaled Saad, originally tortured while detained by the regime, has died of her wounds.

Fatima was a part of a network of civilian journalists, as many others did, she adopted a different name, and was known among her circle as Farah El Rayes.

As a qualified nurse, she was known in her poverty stricken suburb for her kindness and generosity. When Assad’s forces initiated the crackdown, she volunteered to teach other residents in the city basic first aid training. Her help was essential especially after regime forces destroyed the community’s only public clinic.

Saad was first arrested with her father and brother. Several of their belongings were confiscated, including Fatima’s camera. Found on the camera was a video and several images showing several of her friends carrying the Free Syrian Army’s flag and chanting against the regime.

Fatima was subjected to physical and psychological torture by the Syrian regime in an attempt to make her name those in her photos.

1930 GMT: Bahrain. Photojournalist Mazen Mahdi reported earlier that this afternoon, after a "tense stand-off between police and protesters" in Duraz, police detained Said Yousif Almuhafda, head of Monitoring for the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. Said was in the process of checking "on an injured youth with [a] head injury". Unconfirmed reports suggest that the youth was stuck by a tear gas canister.

There was a tweet purportedly from Said that said he had been released, but this never happened.

He said that he was taken to Budaiya police station and questioned about his presence in front of a house in Duraz.

Meanwhile, more teargas:

That account also tweets a picture of a reported victim of a police shotgun. It is graphic.

And now some context about the arrest of Said Yousif:

And in a rare appearance in Western newspapers, the Washington Post describes, in detail, recent developments across Bahrain.

1711 GMT: Syria. The ceasefire fell apart. The humanitarian crisis deepens, as does the refugee crisis. The fighting is escalating and crossing international borders. And the world is struggling to "solve" the Syrian crisis.

The decision of the Obama administration to dump support of the SNC and form a new opposition council will have significant consequences. In one sense, it makes sense strategically (discuss some of this in yesterday's radio interview, and in yesterday's live coverage). The message is clear - get on-board with the American plan, or potentially be left out in the cold:

U.S. officials and opposition leaders are calling the initiative the "Riad Seif plan," named after the former Syrian parliamentarian and dissident who was imprisoned after he signed the Damascus Declaration on respect for Syrians' human rights in 2005. He was released in 2011, beaten up by a Shabiha gang in Noember 2011, and finally allowed to leave Syria in June 2012.

Seif is central to the formation of the new council and is seen as a figure with broad credibility with both the internal and external Syrian opposition.

"We have to get [the internal opposition] to bless the new political leadership structure they're setting up and not only do we have to get them to bless the structure, but they have to get the names on it," the official said, noting that the exact structure of the council will be determined in Qatar, not before.

"We need to be clear: This is what the Americans support, and if you want to work with us you are going to work with this plan and you're going to do this now," the official said. "We aren't going to waste anymore time. The situation is worsening. We need to do this now."

However, the Obama administration's plan has been met with intense criticism from some groups, and most notably from the SNC itself. The head of the SNC, Abdelbaset Sida, has stated that the US and Europe ignored the complexities in Syria and never supported the SNC. Other opposition figures have expressed statements of distrust, both for the new group and for former Prime Minister Riyad Hijab who is likely to play a prominent role. Furthermore, Syria's band Muslim Brotherhood, which has close ties to some military units, has also condemned the move (predictably, they were making progress inside the SNC). While many opposition groups openly support the new group, including the prominent LCC, these opponents could make it harder for the new group to foster unity.

Furthermore, for those who think that an internationally brokered peace deal is possible, Russia and China have openly condemned the new Syrian National Initiative (SNI), as well as its support from the United States.

Making things more complicated, the SNC is leading the way in condemning yesterday's alleged incident where Free Syrian Army fighters executed a number of Syrian regular army soldiers, an incident that Amnesty International and the United Nations are already calling a "war crime" (see video up top):

“We urge the (rebel) Free Syrian Army and the revolutionary movement on the ground to hold to account anyone who violates human rights,” SNC human rights committee head Radif Mustafa told AFP by telephone...

“Though the rebel armed groups’ violations are not as serious or numerous as those committed by the regime (of President Bashar al-Assad), we cannot be silent over such violations because that would only help them to increase,” Mustafa said.

“The FSA and other armed groups need to respect human rights.”

The US's bold actions here may jump-start the new Syrian opposition leadership, but they also threaten to create a schism within the opposition, a development which would promote division, not unity.

Our guess - it won't work either way. Each FSA unit is nearly autonomous, refusing to be held accountable or lead by anyone, even though coordination between units is clearly increasing. The FSA is winning "the rebellion," as Hassan Hassan framed it earlier, and it's not clear the SNI is any more capable of influencing the armed insurrection than the SNC was. It's still too early to tell if the SNI will have any effect on "the revolution," but the immediate impact of this new initiative is unlikely to be felt on the ground in Syria for quite some time.

1554 GMT: Syria. Many of the victims of Assad's air strikes are civilians, and east of Damascus the bombs are falling with routine. However, the bombing is not completely unprovoked (though they are indiscriminate). Reports have been coming in today that the FSA has launched a series of attacks in and around Douma. Now, the CFDPC, a network of activists working to report on the capital and its suburbs, report that a tank has been destroyed by insurgents in Zamalka, and the FSA is on the advance in Douma:

#Duma #Damascus #Syria - 2nd November 2012 destruction of the Jesr Mesraba checkpoint of regime forces in the Duma suburb of Damascus at the hands of FSA.

#Duma #Damascus #Syria - 2nd November 2012 FSA took the control of the municipal building of the Duma suburb of Damascus.

While FSA victories in Aleppo, Idlib, and Deir Ez Zor are important, these locations are far from the heart of the Syrian regime. However, victories in Lattakia, and in Damascus, strike at the most hardened strongholds of the Assad regime.

The battle is coming to the capital. As it does, the civilians will pay the price.

1520 GMT: Bahrain. John Horne reports:

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon yesterday added his voice to the chorus of condemnation over the decision by the Interior Minister to ban all rallies and demonstrations. In a news statement, his spokesperson said:

The Secretary-General expresses his concern about the restrictions on public demonstrations and other public gatherings declared by authorities in Bahrain on 30 October. He reiterates his appeal to the Bahraini authorities to abide fully by international human rights standards, including respect for freedom of expression and peaceful assemblyand association. The Secretary-General believes these restrictions could aggravate the situation in the country and urges the Government of Bahrain to lift them without delay. The Secretary-General also calls on protesters to ensure that any demonstrations are, in fact, peaceful. Recent violence that reportedly killed two police officers is unacceptable.

He also called for "the Bahraini Government to complete the full implementation of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s recommendation".

1515 GMT: Bahrain. EA's John Horne reports:

Footage from a rally last night in Bani Jamra in solidarity with political leader Hassan Mushaima, secretary-general of the banned Haq Movement. Many in the opposition have been raising concerns over Mushaima's health, with claims that he has been denied medication for nearly seven months which is needed to keep his cancer in remission. Mushaima is one of the political and human rights leaders, including Abdulhadi AlKhawaja and Ibrahim Sharif, who are currently serving sentences up to , charged with "attempting to overthrow the monarchy". Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience.

1456 GMT: Syria. Some protest videos from across the country.

Lots of attention is paid to the big protests in the big towns, but small towns often have a much greater turnout percentage - though it's no less dangerous for them to protest. This video was reportedly taken in Maliha, Damascus, a small town in Ghouta, southeast of the capital:

Al Qusayr, south of Homs, one of the more dangerous places to be protesting the Assad regime:

Tal Abiad, on the Turkish border - this is where the regime first killed Turkish civilians, just across the way, sparking artillery strikes:

Qaboun, northeastern Damascus - just kilometers away the regime is conducting airstrikes:

Houla, Homs, site of one of the regime's worst massacres:

1436 GMT: Syria. We should caution that this is VERY unconfirmed news, but an FSA battalion in Mohassan, Deir Ez Zor is claiming that it shot down another regime jet fighter today.

This video reportedly shows the anti-aircraft gun that shot the fighter down. The black smoke is reportedly the impact area:

Other videos (1, 2) show FSA soldiers, reportedly with the unit that shot down the plane, firing at an aircraft and then celebrating its fall. The LCC has posted a video statement, reportedly from the Joint Leadership of the Free Syrian Army in the region, saying that they shot down the jet fighter.

We can't confirm this without video of the plane itself, but this many sources suggest that the story may be true.

1413 GMT: Syria. Another aircraft reportedly shot down by the FSA - this video, and multiple sources, report that an L-39 was shot down (it appears by Anti-Aircraft machinegun fire) in Anjarh, west of Aleppo (map):

h/t to @felimmcmahon for finding the original video.

There are also reports that another jet fighter was shot down over Douma, east of Damascus. We've been posting videos over the last several days that show regime jets firing flare countermeasures, so it's possible that the FSA is using newly-captured SAM missiles to target Assad airforce near the capital. We've not confirmed that a jet was shot down in Douma with video, however.

Just a few months ago, no planes had been shot down. Now, this is becoming routine.

1410 GMT: Bahrain. EA's John Horne reports:

Despite the storm of controversy it caused this year, Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone today said he is "not concerned" about next years race in Bahrain. (h/t @ahmedali_)

Bahrain was recently selected as the "Capital of Arab Tourism 2013" by the Arab Tourism Organisation. The 2013 Bahrain F1 is seen as a central event, alongside those planned by the Ministry for Culture, to mark this.

1345 GMT: Syria. The rebellion also marches on. According to The Guardian, after several checkpoints were captured by the FSA in Saraqib (and dozens of prisoners were executed - see video at the top of our coverage) the regime has retreated from the town:

Saraqeb straddles the junction of two main highways leading to Aleppo and the pullout will make it harder for government forces to reinforce or resupply Aleppo.

The opposition Observatory said troops had retreated from Alwees, northwest of Saraqeb, leaving the town and surrounding areas "completely outside the control of regime forces".

With areas of rural Aleppo and northern border crossings to Turkey now under rebel control after 19 months of conflict, the loss of Saraqeb would leave Aleppo city further isolated from Assad's southern strongholds.

This analysis is accurate, but it misses the fact that Saraqeb itself may be a victim of the regime's supply lines already being cut to the south, at Ma'arrat al Nouman. These battles also mean that the FSA is comfortable enough with the situation to the south to continue to advance north.

If Ma'arrat al Nouman does not fall to the regime soon, and we're somewhat confident that it will not, then the FSA will be able to continue to advance north and east. And with every victory comes fresh arms, ammunition, and supplies.

1322 GMT: Syria. Every Friday since March of 2011 there have been widespread protests across Syria. Those protesters have often been shot at, arrested, bombed, shelled, beaten, teargassed, and generally repressed, but people take to the streets anyway.

Hassan Hassan, a Syrian journalist, explains that there are really two parts to the Syrian opposition (at least), and the protesting part is often ignored:

In Syria, there's a revolution and there's a rebellion. Revolution is alive but currently overshadowed. For now the rebellion is the urgent one, to get rid of Assad. The path to freedom in Syria goes through two stations, the first is the regime's fall and the end of killing, the second is a democratic struggle.

The people of the first are different from the people of the second. It’s important not confuse the two. That’s important to note in order to see clearly and consider a way out.

That is basic but sadly many confuse the two and that complicates the situation even further. A rebel may sound democratic but they're not. They think they're pro-democracy because they're against the regime, that fallacy has a name: illusory correlation.

Every Friday, however, the peaceful protesters, the heart of the pro-Democracy movement, reminds the world that they are still there, and suffering. And every Friday we try to pay attention.

Every Friday also has a theme. The Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre explains today's theme:

Today is the Friday of "Daraya, brothers of the grape... and blood", a reference to the worst recorded atrocity of the Syrian uprising so far (hundreds of residents of the Damascus suburb of Daraya slaughtered from 24-28 August 2012). As we rapidly approach 40,000 recorded martyrs, killed by the Assad regime (meaning how many Syrians are really dead? 50,000? 100,000? more?), the people of Kafaranbel send a clear message to the world: "It is not a civil war, it's a genocide. Leave us [to] die but do not lie."

James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas, who is on the road, for getting us started today.

0710 GMT: Syria. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has declared that Ankara will not allow an autonomous Kurdistan, like the one in Iraq, in the north of Syria:

Should a similar development take place [in Syria], we would react differently than how we did in the case of Iraq. We know how the scenario in Iraq got under way, but we won't let a similar scenario to be built in Syria.

0600 GMT: Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims that insurgents killed at least 28 regime soldiers in Thursday's attacks on three army checkpoints on the main road from Damascus to Aleppo.

The Observatory said five insurgents were slain in the fighting near the northwest city of Saraqeb.

The regime continued aerial attacks in the northwest, where much of the territory is now held by the opposition, and in Damascus suburbs.

The Local Coordination Committees claim 149 people were killed on Thursday, including 53 in Damsscus and its suburbs, 28 in Idlib Province, and 25 in Aleppo Province.

0550 GMT: Syria. Unsurprisingly plans for a new opposition leadership, announced by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, have not been welcomed by those claiming to lead the challenge to the Assad regime.

Mohammed Sarmini, the spokesman for the Syrian National Council, declared, “The politics of the United States are very, very bad, very stupid. This may be an American project, but it is very offensive to the Syrian people. You should support us on the ground, not get into our politics."

Radwan Ziadeh, a prominent SNC member and executive director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies, warned, “I think that no country...can interfere or can impose the leaders on the Syrian opposition. I call on the international community to back and support the Syrian opposition groups so they can organize themselves, not to interfere in the different groups.”

The selection of the new opposition is supposed to take place at a conference in Qatar next week.

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