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Saturday
Dec012012

Syria, Egypt (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Breaking Through the Blackout

Today's rally in Cairo in support of Egyptian President Morsi and the draft Constitution:

See also EA Video Analysis: Mr Obama, Why Should We Trust You With Drones?
Friday's Syria Live Coverage: The Country Goes Dark as Internet Cut Off


Friday's Palestine, Egypt (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Statehood for the Palestinians, A Constitution for Morsi


1948 GMT: Egypt. President Morsi has set 15 December as the date for the referendum on the draft Constitution.

1945 GMT: Syria. Medics announce the opening of a new field hospital Aleppo, some of them covering their faces for anonymity.

A previous field hospital was shelled by the regime last month.

1925 GMT: Egypt. President Morsi says, "I reiterate my call for national dialogue to resolve grievances, protect our newly-born democracy, and not to prolong the transition."

1915 GMT: Egypt. President Morsi, having received the draft Constitution, is now speaking: "The Egyptian people are determined to fulfil the goals of the blessed Revolution."

1910 GMT: Syria. Reports are circulating of Syrian fire again crossing the border --- Turkish journlaist Mahir Zeynalov:

1841 GMT: Egypt. President Morsi has formally received the draft Constitution from the Constituent Assembly. He will soon address the body in a ceremony shown on State TV.

The Egypt Independent has posted an English translation of the proposed Constitution.

1741 GMT: Turkey and Syria. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has described the Syrian regime as an "armed militia" and a threat to the "well-being of the region". Speaking in Istanbul at a summit of Arab leaders, Davutoglu said:

[Syria] has turned into an armed militia power that resorts to all kinds of brutal methods just to stay in power.

The Syrian regime, which is a serious threat to the future of its own people and country, with each passing day increases the threat it poses to the well-being of our region, through its actions that target peace and security beyond its borders.

Turkey recently asked NATO for Patriot surface-to-air millies to secure its border with Syria. Formal approval from NATO is expected to come this week. NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said yesterday that "if the decision is taken it could take several weeks to deploy, rather than months.

1718 GMT: Palestine/Israel. Hamas has accused Israel of violating the recent ceasefire agreement, after Israeli troops fired on Palestinians protesting near southern Rafah, leaving a 21-year old man dead and five others wounded.

Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said that they have "discussed this with Egyptian officials, so they guarantee a cessation to those violations". Hamas has also complained about the seizure of nine Palestinian fisherman by the Israeli navy on Wednesday.

Israeli officials say that they fired on the Palestinians near southern Rafaq after they were seen attempting to vandalize the fortified fence.

1705 GMT: Syria. Cloudflare is tracking the gradual restoration of Internet connections.

1655 GMT: Syria. BBC journalist Lina Sinjab reports from Damascus on "daily life" during the 3-day internet blackout:

People are going back to the old ways of checking in on each other - landline phones or visiting each other door-to-door.

This has been the hardest time here - and we've seen the most intensive firing from government forces.

The bombardment of Damascus' suburbs, with MiG warplanes and helicopter gunships, has been unprecedented.

(...)

For now, basic supplies are not a pressing problem in Damascus - but every time you go to a store, there will be something missing from the shelves.

The capital is supplied by its suburbs but the violence and the shutdown of some of the factories there have caused shortages.

In addition, the prices of petrol and diesel, which many people use to heat their houses, have shot up.

1639 GMT: Syria. Despite claims by officials that Damascus International Airport has reopened and is returning to normal, most international flights scheduled for today appear to have been cancelled.

1609 GMT: Dr Sean Foley, a contributor to EA, confirms from a source in central Damascus that the Internet is up and running in central Damascus.

Residents also said that services had resumed in Homs and Hama after a blackout of more than 48 hours.

"All communication lines are back up in Damascus, after maintenance works were completed," State news agency SANA said.

After an earlier flutter that Virtual Private Networks and the anti-filtering, anti-surveillance system Tor might not be available, it appears they can be used:

1605 GMT: Iraq and Syria. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said today that his country is not able to search all Syrian-bound planes that fly through Iraqi airspace.

However, responding to accusations by the US that Iran is sending weapons bound for Damascus via Iraq, al-Maliki said that he is committed to preventing arms being shipped to Syria.

1559 GMT: Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused Western states oof trying to advance democracy abroad through "iron and blood", as he reiterated Moscow's refusal to demand the exit of President Assad.

"Russia is not opposing Western influence or putting a stick in the spokes of Western-initiated projects out of spite," Lavrov said. "The fact is, advancing democracy through iron and blood just does not work, and this has been made clear in recent months --- the past year-and-a-half."

The Foreign Minister claimed that intervention "in most cases it produces the opposite reaction" and leads to "the strengthening of extremists and repressive forces, decreasing the chances of real democratic change".

1555 GMT: Iraq. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has warned of the risk of "ethnic conflict" after talks between the Central Government and the autonomous Kurdistan region broke down yesterday.

The talks collapsed after Baghdad refused to abandon the Tigris Operations Command, which encompasses territory within the Kurdish region. Speaking to journalists in Baghdad, al-Maliki said that the federal army has the right "to be in any part of Iraq". He added, "If conflict erupts, it would be unfortunate and painful, and it will be an ethnic conflict [that is] not in the interest of Kurds nor Arabs nor Turkmen."

Al-Maliki also ruled out any US involvement as a buffer in the region, "[It is] the responsibility of the Iraqi government and the (Kurdistan) region to work to end their problems without the assistance of a third party."

1536 GMT: Lebanon/Syria. The Lebanese government has said it is investigating the deaths of Lebanese fighters who were reportedly killed by the Syrian army in the town of Tal Kalakh. There are conflicting reports about the incident and the number of dead. Yesterday, The Daily Star, citing a Lebanese security source, reported that "at least 20" men had been killed, however it is possible this number may be a lot less. The Lebanese Interior Minister, Marwan Charbel, told The Daily Star today that they have only been able to confirm three deaths.

We are trying to get information and what is available to us now is that there were some Lebanese who were killed, some kidnapped and others who escaped. But we cannot determine the exact number that were killed.

The picture is still unclear. We need at least 24 hours to understand what happened.

Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat described the dead Lebanese fighters as "marytrs", but he also called upon the government to better secure the border with Syria, adding that his party was against any larger military involvement.

1532 GMT: Syria. Multiple activists and news outlets are reporting that the internet is now back online in Damascus, as well as other parts of Syria.

1430 GMT: Egypt. A father and son at the rally in support of President Morsi:

1250 GMT: Syria. A couple of interesting notes in a Global Post overview, "Are Syria's Rebels About to Win?":

Ali, a 28-year-old Alawite living in Lattakia, the regional capital, said Alawite villages he recently visited had been nearly emptied of men after the regime enforced conscription for any member of the Alawite sect aged between 18 and 50....

“Every day there are 50 to 60 wooden coffins brought through Lattakia’s Bassel al-Assad Airport. There are funerals in most villages every day,” he said. “The regime’s media used to cover the martyrs’ funerals but in the last few months they stopped broadcasting news of dead soldiers.”

1230 GMT: Syria. As heavy fighting continues around the capital Damascus --- including along the road to the airport --- regime forces are reportedly shelling suburbs in an attempt to secure the perimeter. Areas hit include Douma, Darraya, and East Ghouta.

1200 GMT: Egypt. Tens of thousands --- of people have gathered in the "Legitimacy and Sharia" rallies backing President Morsi and the draft Constitution.

The largest gathering is at Cairo University, where the crowd is chanting, "From East to West, Egypt will remain a Muslim state whether secularists like it or not."

0920 GMT: Bahrain. Police fired tear gas and stun grenades to break up overnight protests in villages around the capital Manama.

Marchers were responding to a call by the February 14 Youth Coalition for rallies against a blockade on the village of Mahazza. "The blockade will not make us afraid" and "Down with [King] Hamad", chanted the protesters, waving the Bahraini flag and pictures of political prisoners.

0810 GMT: Kuwait. Voting began at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) for a new Parliament, amid large protests at the Emir's changes to the electoral law.

A coalition of opposition groups have claimed that the Emir's actions, following his dissolution of the Parliament elected in February, will make it easier for his officials to influence the outcome.

On Friday, tens of thousands of demonstrators rallied in Kuwait City and called for a boycott today.

0630 GMT: Tunisia. Amid escalating protests, President Moncef Marzouki has asked Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali to appoint a new Cabinet.

In a nationally televised address on Friday, Marzouki said that coalition Government had not "met the expectations of the people" and asked that a smaller and specialised administration be appointed to deal with the unrest, largely over economic conditions.

Marzouki has little power to enforce the call and Marzouki, from the centre-left Congress for the Republic, has clashed with Jebali of the Ennadha Party in the past.

Marzouki warned, "If the clashes continue and the government's response is not adequate, there will be chaos and a dead-end."

Medical sources said more than 300 people have been injured in four days of protests, and n radio stations said the army had moved into Siliana, a focal point for anger against the local and national governments.

0622 GMT: Egypt. Supporters of President Morsi, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have called for rallies today to back a new draft Constitution.

More than a week after Morsi issued decrees expanding his powers, the groups calimed that they show most of the Egyptian public supported the Constitution --- rushed through on Friday by the Constituent Assembly after months of delays and to be sent to the President on Saturday for a decision on the date for a referendum --- and Morsi's presentation of his moves for "stabiity".

On Friday, opponents of the decrees protested throughout the country, with clashes in the second city of Alexandria. Marchers chanted, "Freedom, down with the Constitutional establishment", as riot police charged along the streets,

The protests against Morsi will continue in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Saturday.

0615 GMT: Syria. Friday was testimony both to the efforts of the regime and the opposition to gain the upper hand at what appears to be a critical point in the 20-month Syrian conflict.

The Internet and large areas of mobile phone service were shut down for the second consecutive day, as the Assad forces tried to repel the gathering assault of the insurgents on the capital Damascus, following opposition advances throughout the country.

However, despite that effort, the opposition were able to bring out some news of fighting and defiance. While clashes continued near Damascus International Airport, shut down on Thursday and on limited service on Friday, a series of videos --- posted in EA's Friday coverage --- testified to opposition protests.

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