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Egypt, Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Morsi v. The Protests

Supporters and opponents of Egypt's President Morsi clash in front of the Judges Club, where the judiciary condemned Morsi's decrees, on Saturday (Photo: Hassan Ibrahim/Daily News Egypt)

See also Syria 1st-Hand: Visiting the "Deadly Stalemate" in Aleppo
Friday's Egypt, Gaza, Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Morsi, the New Pharaoh?

2113 GMT: Syria. James Miller reports, from several opposition sources, about rumours that a major helicopter base east of Damascus, Marj al Sultan (map), has fallen to the Free Syrian Army.

Blogs and microbloggers have posted claimed video of the FSA attacking the base at night, with tanks:

Another blog suggests that the FSA destroyed 2 helicopters, at least one of which appears to be on fire in this video:

A statement by the Al Habib Mustafa brigade, which is reportedly responsible for the raid, claims:

  • 1 T72 tank captured.
  • 1 BMP armored troop transport captured.
  • 2 regime tanks were damaged.
  • 2 armored personnel carriers were damaged.
  • 50 prisoners were taken.
  • 10s of Assad soldiers were killed or injured.
  • The FSA controls a nearby early warning radar (which Markito suggests is north of the base), part of the air base, and the FSA is taking the fight to the other half of the base.

If true, this would be another significant victory for the FSA, just 15 kilometres outside the capital. It would indicate that, if the regime has been sacrificing bases in the rest of the country to focus on Damascus, the strategy is not working.

2049 GMT: Egypt. The "Judges for Egypt" group has declared support for President Morsi's decrees expanding his powers.

Judges for Egypt convened to challenge the extraordinary general assembly of the Judges' Club, which ended in criticism of Morsi for threatening the independence of the judiciary.

Spokesperson Walid Sharaby said the Judges for Egypt meeting was attended by hundreds of members and jibed at other judicial officers, "We are honoured that our meeting was not attended by members of the High Constitutional Court. We know of their orientation; they only seek to restore the old Mubarak regime."

The HCC has frequently accused Morsi-appointed Minister of Justice Ahmed Mekki and the Islamist-led Constituent Assembly, tasked with drafting Egypt's new Constitution, of attempting to infringe upon its authority.

1811 GMT: Egypt. Abul-Ezz El-Hariri, the head of the Socialist Popular Alliance party and former Presidential candidate, has been beaten in Alexandria.

El-Hariri accused the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party of hiring thugs to attack him and his wife in front of the FJP offices, where he was supposed to meet the Alexandria security director about protesters who were arrested earlier in the day.

1739 GMT: Yemen. At least four Houthi members have been killed and seven injured when a suicide bomb exploded among a crowd commemorating the Shia Muslim holiday of Ashura in the capital Sana’a.

The explosive device detonated as a crowd of Houthis left a hall.

Muhamed Miftah, Chairman of the Preparatory Committee of the Umma (Nation) Party, an affiliate of the Houthis, said that eye-witnesses also saw machine guns being fired and grenades thrown at the crowd.

Miftah said, “I do hold the interim government authority responsible for what happened today, as they’re also responsible for previous bombings, including suicide bombings… fueling a sectarian war.”

1734 GMT: Saudi Arabia. The Grand Mufti, the highest religious authority in the birthplace of Islam, has issued a condemnation of demonstrations: "The Arab Gulf is being targeted by attacks seeking to discredit religion and eliminate the material interests and wealth it holds," Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al al-Sheikh said in his Friday sermon in Riyadh.

Al-Sheikh warned people not to follow "enemies" who called on them to protest, saying they aimed to divide the people of the region.

1729 GMT: Egypt. Police have barred Shia Muslims from entering Al-Hussein Mosque in Cairo to observes the holiday of Ashura, which commemorates the killing of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Mohammed.

The decision reportedly came after Salafist Youth and Sunni movements filed a complaint requesting the ban.

Al-Azhar, the leading religious institution, issued a statement warning against any ceremonies in the mosque, saying that Ashura would only be marking through fasting and praying and that Egypt and Sunnis refuse any form of "heresy that will only cause sectarian conflict".

1724 GMT: Egypt. Twenty-two human rights organsiations have posted a lengthy statement condemning President Morsi's decrees, claiming they "arrogate unparalleled powers and immunize his decisions against judicial oversight...[thus] seeking absolute powers that will allow no person or body to challenge his rule or contest his decisions.

The statement continues:

By issuing this constitutional declaration, President Mohamed Morsi directly attacked the judicial branch, the rule of law, and indeed the very concept of the modern state. The president, who now possesses authorities beyond those enjoyed by any president or monarch in Egypt’s modern history, has dealt a lethal blow to the Egyptian judiciary, thereby declaring the beginning of a new dictatorship in which it is not permitted to oppose the president, criticize his policies, or challenge his decisions. Although these acts were taken under the pretext of protecting the revolution and its goals, they portend a bleak future for human rights and liberties in Egypt.

1634 GMT: Egypt. Prosecutor General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud has rejected his dismissal by President Morsi, saying the decree is "null and void because the judicial authority is the only authority that has the power to judge" and that the order "will not be good for the Egyptian people".

Mahmoud denied that his office was slow or ineffective in prosecuting those who killed unarmed protesters before and after last year's uprising against the Mubarak regime: ""The ministry of interior has never referred any suspects to the office of the prosecutor general in the Two Saints church bombing in January 2011, Maspero massacre in October 2011, Mohamed Mahoumd clashes in November 2011, and the Cabinet clashes in December 2011."

1624 GMT: Gaza. Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy to Hamas political director Khaled Mashaal, has said that the organisation will not stop arming itself.

Abu Marzouk said talks on a further easing of restrictions on the territory, which has been subject for years to an Israeli blockade, are to be held in Cairo on Monday through intermediaries.

An Israeli security official has said West Jerusalem is likely to link a significant alteration of the blockade to Hamas’ willingness to stop arming. Abu Marzouk rejected the demands, "These weapons protected us and there is no way to stop obtaining and manufacturing them."

1318 GMT: Egypt. At an emergency meeting, the Supreme Judicial Council has said President Morsi's decree granting himself sweeping new powers --- including immunity from court review --- is an "unprecedented attack" on the independence of the judiciary.

The Council urged "the president of the republic to distance this decree from everything that violates the judicial authority".

1315 GMT: Gaza. Hamas official Osama Hamdan has said, “The relationship with Hezbollah was very special, but it has come to a stalemate regarding the conflicting views over what is going on in Syria. No one can ask the Palestinians to take stance that contradicts their convictions and will."

Hamdan said the relationship is "expected to improve soon after the resistance’s victory in Gaza".

1115 GMT: Egypt. Political parties opposed to President Mursi's claim of sweeping new powers have called for protests on Tuesday in Cairo.

The parties said their followers should march to Tahrir Square with the aim of "toppling the fascist, despotic constitutional declaration" issued by Mursi on Thursday.

"We are facing a historic moment in which we either complete our revolution or we abandon it to become prey for a group that has put its narrow party interests above the national interest," said the statement, issued by the liberal Dustour Party on its Facebook page late Friday.

1045 GMT: Syria. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has announced, "Across the region... the number of Syrian refugees in surrounding countries now stands at 442,256, an increase of more than 213,000 since the beginning of September."

UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva, "This figure does not include the hundreds of thousands more Syrians who did not come forward for registration."

The agency said 127,420 Syrian refugees were registered in Lebanon, 125,670 in Jordan, 123,747 in Turkey, 55,685 in Iraq --- a tripling in that country since 1 September --- and 9,734 in the North African countries.

0735 GMT: Syria. President Assad met Irsnian Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani on Friday. In its report of the occassion, State news agency SANA emphasised the link between Syria and the Gaza War in Larijani's comments:

Of course we made valuable and very important discussions, particularly regarding the events in Palestine and the great victory achieved by the Palestinian people and the Syrian leadership and people. President al-Assad and his father, the late president Hafez al-Assad, had a very important role in the Palestinian Resistance.

At a time when some countries in the region were afraid of sending one bullet to the Palestinians, the Syrian government and people were putting all resources at the disposal of the Palestinian people. This is what made some of the region's countries send armed groups to Syria.

We highly value the role of the Syrian government and people who have always supported the Resistance.

0705 GMT: Israel and Turkey. "Two senior Israeli officials" have said that, despite last week's Gaza War, West Jerusalem has resumed talks with Turkey on ending the crisis in relations between the two countries.

Ties have been strained since the 2008/9 Israeli invasion of Gaza and its attack on the "Freedom Flotilla" in May 2010, when nine Turkish citizens were killed by Israeli commandos.

The officials said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's envoy, Yosef Chiechanover, met this week in Geneva with Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu.

The discussion between Chiechanover and Sinirlioglu was scheduled some weeks ago, but it was postponed. Despite Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's heated criticism of Israel over the Gaza assault, the two sides decided not to cancel the meeting.

One official said the topic was a solution to the "Gaza flotilla crisis". Turkey has demanded an Israel apology for the killing of the nine activists, who were on board the ship Mavi Marmara as it tried to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. Turkey is also calling for Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

0635 GMT: Syria. Amid protests and continuing reports of insurgent advances, especially across the north, the death toll fell on Friday. The Local Coordination Committees reported 76 people killed by security forces, including 30 in Damascus and its suburbs and 17 in Aleppo Province.

0615 GMT: Egypt. Protests against Thursday's decrees by President Morsi, granting himself extensive powers, continued through the night across the country.

Thousands of demonstrators returned to Cairo's Tahrir Square, the heart of the 2011 revolution against the Mubarak regime, not only challenged the orders --- under which Morsi's rulings cannot be challenged by courts --- but also called for his downfall and the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party.

Marches in other cities, such as Alexandria and Port Said, turned violent, with the burning of FJP offices.

Morsi remained defiant, addressing supporters on a stage outside the Presidential Palace. Emphasising the need for social and economic stability, he said, "Those who killed the Revolution must be dealt with."

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