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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Pressure Builds On Assad

Aftermath of the shelling of the Al-Shifa hospital in Aleppo in Syria on Wednesday --- at least 15 people were killed and 20 wounded (see 1009 GMT)

See also Gaza Live Coverage: A Ceasefire is Declared --- Now What?
Wednesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Damascus Shakes as Assad Regime Wobbles

1735 GMT: Egypt. Nobel Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei is not happy about President Morsi's orders:

1650 GMT: Egypt. President Morsi has issued a series of wide-ranging orders on the political and legal fronts.

Morsi has commanded the retrials of all executives and politicians of the Mubarak regime accused of "committing crimes against the Revolution". He has extended the deadline by two months for drafting of the Constitution by the Constituent Assembly, plagued by divisions. He has ruled that the Assembly and the Shura Council cannot be dissolved by a court, and he has replaced the Prosector General.

Morsi also declared that his decrees cannot be reversed by a court.

Journalist Ahmed Aboul Enein summarises critically:

1520 GMT: Syria. Earlier we noted another insurgent victory, with the taking of a regime base near Mayadeen in Deir Ez Zor Province (see 1150 GMT) --- footage of celebrating fighters:

1450 GMT: Egypt/Lebanon. Amidst the commentary concerning Egypt's recent role in negotiating a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, journalist Mohamad Hage Ali picks up on another dynamic - the signs a possible rapprochement between Egypt and Hezbollah. Ten days ago, the Egyptian Ambassador to Lebanon attended Hezbollah’s “Martyr day” celebration. Hage Ali reports on what happened next:

Following the Egyptian attendance in Hezbollah’s event, Nasrallah made a speech on developments in Gaza, praising Cairo’s position, especially dispatching the Prime Minister to the strip. Yesterday, the Egyptian Ambassador to Beirut, Ashraf Hamdi, visited Hezbollah’s External relations office, making a surprising statement on his country’s new stance towards the Iran backed Islamist party. “The resistance is legitimate, and is subject to respect and admiration”, Ashraf said, as quoted by Hezbollah’s Al Nour Radio. Today, Annahar newspaper published an interview with the Egyptian ambassador, in which he said that “it is impossible to exclude Hezbollah as an influential force in Lebanese politics“.

According to a Lebanese source with Egyptian links, a Hezbollah delegation visited Cairo, and they are looking into expanding the cooperation between both sides. Hezbollah’s relations with Egypt’s Moslem Brotherhood, dating back to the 1990s, will most definitely have an impact on the government’s stance, future cooperation. This rapprochement will remain bounded by Cairo’s international and Arab (specifically GCC) relations.

“The Egyptians are looking at gaining regional influence through supporting popular resistance group, they see an opportunity in the Syrian regime’s absence, waiting to be harvested”, the same source added, rephrasing recent meetings with Egyptian officials.

1432 GMT: Bahrain. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the release of the report by Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). It documented how, in suppressing last year's popular uprisng, the Bahrain government had committed widespread human rights abuses, including torture, which "could not have happened without the knowledge of higher echelons of the command structure". The inquiry was headed by M. Cherif Bassiouni, who has spoken to Human Rights Watch in strong terms concerning the Bahrain government's failure to follow the report's recommendation. Some select quote:

A number of recommendations on accountability were either not implemented or implemented only half-heartedly. The public prosecution has yet to investigate over 300 cases of alleged torture, some involving deaths in custody, and there has been no investigation, let alone prosecution, for command responsibility, even at the immediate supervisory level, of people killed in custody as a result of torture.

You can’t say that justice has been done when calling for Bahrain to be a republic gets you a life sentence and the officer who repeatedly fired on an unarmed man at close range only gets seven years.

[The Bahrain government has demonstrated] a pattern of continued prosecution of individuals solely for exercising rights protected by international human rights law, something King Hamad promised to bring to an end.

Bassiouni also described as "legally unsound" rulings which upheld convictions despite evidence that the defendant had been tortured. Referring to one case where the defendants confession was taken days after his torture, Bassioni said:

I cannot think of a more egregious and specious legal opinion – admitting that the torture occurred but ruling the confession admissible and allowing the conviction to stand,” he said. “This constitutes a violation of the Convention Against Torture, to which Bahrain is a party.

1215 GMT: Syria. The Russian Foreign Ministry has expressed its opposition to Turkey's request for NATO Patriot anti-missile systems on the Syrian border.

This would...not foster stability in the region," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.

1150 GMT: Syria. Activists claim insurgents have taken another military base in Deir Ez Zor Province, near the border with Iraq.

The insurgents have had a series of victories in the area this month, including seizure of an airport last week.

1020 GMT: Syria. David Enders of McClatchy reports on insurgents selling oil from territory thay have taken:

Syrian rebels have captured two of the three major oilfields in the country’s southeastern Deir al Zour province and are extracting oil that they say is helping to support their rebellion.

“We are at the beginning of winter, and people need oil to run the bakeries and to heat their homes. The weather is very cold here,” said a rebel leader here who, for security reasons, identifies himself by his nom de guerre, Abu Mohamed.>[?

...Dozens of trucks wait in line 24 hours a day to fill up at rebel-held wells, which produce a light crude that can be burned without refining, though the result is dense smoke. Some farmers insist the unrefined crude can be used to power farm equipment, though it seems primarily to be used for heat.

Some of those waiting in line at one well this week said they’d been waiting for days. Along roadsides and at intersections all over the area, men could be seen reselling the oil from improvised tanker trucks and barrels loaded into the backs of pickups.

Abu Mohammed said the price at which the rebels sell the oil is largely a symbolic one, and prices at the various wells in operation appeared to be about $5 a barrel, far below the world price that hovers above $80 a barrel.

1009 GMT: Syria. VICE notes yesterday's bombing of the Dar al Shifa field hospital in Aleppo, which reportedly killed 15 and wounded 20 with a probable rise in caaualties --- and points to its documentary on the work at the hsostal:


0707 GMT: Sudan. State media say security services "foiled a sabotage plot this morning aimed at bringing about security disturbances in the country led by figures from the opposition forces", arresting civilian and military figures.

Witnesses said they saw tanks and armoured vehicles moving down a major street in central Khartoum around midnight. A Reuters reporter said security appeared normal early this morning.

Sudan has been ruled by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir since he seized power in a 1989 coup.

0657 GMT: Syria. Insurgent propaganda or evidence of the chemical weapons stockpile of the Assad regime? Opposition fighters show off canisters with names like Adamsite, CN Gas, Phosgene, and Sarin:

0645 GMT: Bahrain. A court has sentenced 23 medics to three months in jail each or payment of a fine for involvement in mass protests last year.

The 23 defendants had "committed crimes and violations, breaching the law and [medical] norms," Prosecutor Abdulrahman al-Sayyed said. Five other medics have been acquitted.

The prosecutor added that the medics could pay a fine of 200 dinars (£330) to have their prison terms suspended, and had the right to appeal.

The defendants had faced misdemenour charges when they were arrested soon after the start of the pro-reform demonstrations in February 2011. Another group of 20 medics was prosecuted on felony charges and initially sentenced to up to 15 years in prison by a military court --- the terms for almost all of them have been reduced on appeal.

The latest court decision follows this week's criticism of the Bahraini regime --- from Amnesty International and from a "senior US official" --- for failure to implement reforms set out by the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Enquiry (see Wednesday's Live Coverage).

0555 GMT: Syria. With a ceasefire declared in Gaza after a week of fighting, the attention of the world's media may return to the longer and bloodier war nearby in Syria.

If so, they will find a conflict which has changed in its dynamics. Insurgents have moved from control of a large portion of the country to expansion and pressure on the regime's cities. Aleppo is already locked in a stalemate, four months after insurgents entered, and now opposition fighters are threatening to put a ring around Damascus. Attacks on regime bases over the last week have further diminished its capability to launch an assault to push back the insurgents, from the air as well as on the ground.

On the political front, the opposition moved from its success in gaining recognition --- notably from the European Union, Britain, France, Italy, Turkey, and Arab States --- to an appeal for financial support. At an international conference in Dubai on Wednesday, the head of the Syrian National Council --- one of the group within the new "umbrella" National Coalition --- called for a "Marshall Plan" of $60 billion for the post-Assad Syria.

George Sabra said the aid should not wait for the fall of President Assad: "What can be described as an economic 'Marshall Plan for Syria' cannot be delayed until the current regime fully collapses. It must be initiated immediately". He called for the "Arab and international business community's support" of "fully or almost completely" liberated zones in Syria's northern cities of Aleppo, Idlib and Tal Abyad.

"The regime is in the stage of decline and will not last long," he asserted.

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