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Syria Live Coverage: Uncertainty Over the Mass Killing in Aqrab

Claimed eyewitness account of Tuesday's mass killing in Aqrab, "Elements of the regime did this"

See also Syria 1st-Hand: A Letter from Aleppo on Deprivation, Islamists, the Opposition...and Hope
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Tuesday's Syria Live Coverage: So, Are "Al Qa'eda Terrorists" Winning the Civil War?

1946 GMT: Syrian Media, SANA, now reports that three different explosions resulted in "martyring of a number of people and the injuring of others" at the Interior Ministry in Damascus. SANA does not say whether any officials have been injured, though rumors are flying, rumors which State TV has already denied. They have posted several pictures, two of which we post here (click for full size):

The problem? Looking at the video we posted at 1634, it appears that the rebars in the floor, were blown directly down. In the pictures below, you can see some of them sticking down. Only a huge explosion would do this. Furthermore, the blast would have to be right above this floor. Also, there are no signs of car parts, or scorching.

In other words, according to some weapons experts we've consulted, the main blast does not look at all like a car bomb. A car bomb would be difficult anyway, as sources suggest that the street in front of the Ministry has been closed by security for some time.

So how could an explosive that powerful get inside the Interior Ministry?

We'd note that these a preliminary findings. As more evidence comes in, and experts have more context with which to analyze that evidence, it may be easier to pinpoint a likely cause of the explosions.

1725 GMT: The New York Times, citing an anonymous US official, says the Assad regime has used Scud missiles against northern Syria:

One American official, who asked not to be identified because he was discussing classified information, said that missiles had been fired from the Damascus area at targets in northern Syria.

“The total is number is probably north of six now,” said another American official, and that the targets were in areas controlled by the Free Syrian Army, the main armed insurgent group.

The SCUD is a huge and highly conspicuous weapon, but to our knowledge no video exists that clearly shows SCUDs being launched. On the other hand, the video evidence for the Assad regime using Type 63 and GRAD rocket systems is well established.

1701 GMT: According to Syrian State media SANA, the explosion that rocked the Syrian Interior Ministry is not the only explosion due to "terrorism" in Damascus today:

Terrorists blew up two explosive devices behind the Justice Palace building in al-Qanawat area in Damascus, injuring one citizen.

A source at Damascus Police Command told SANA reporter that the terrorists had attached one explosive device to a car, adding that the second one was planted between two parked vehicles.

The source said that one citizen was wounded by the terrorist attack, adding that there was material damage to the surrounding cars and stores.

According to the report, two roadside bombs were also detonated in the Jarmana neighborhood, killing a civilian and wounding 4 others.

They have posted several pictures of this, and another scene. This car was reportedly destroyed near the Justice Palace:

1634 GMT: The first video (somewhat graphic) posted by, we believe, Syrian State TV, of the explosion from the Syrian Interior Ministry:

Clearly, some people were hurt (that looks like blood), and the damage was extensive.

Still no word on injuries or deaths.

According to sources, the Kafer Souseh district is on complete lockdown.

1612 GMT: The location of the Syrian Interior Ministry (map) - as you can see from the image below, the walls are clearly visible, but the outer walls are hardly a fortress. A large explosion could have done damage to the building, and people inside it.

View Syria - 2012 December 12 - EA Worldview in a larger map

1604 GMT: Unconfirmed reports from both activists and foreign news outlets:

Power outages would be expected. The power is often cut when the news gets dramatic. But the reporting of heavy clashes is particularly interesting and should be watched closely.

It's also important to note that there's no idea yet how much damage there is to the ministry, or its occupants.

This story is clearly still developing.

1558 GMT: Channel 4's Alex Thomson also reports a large explosion at the gate of the Interior Ministry in Damascus. Sky News' Tim Marshall adds additional context:

1550 GMT: And now a serious wrinkle in Assad's foreign policy:

Damascus has issued a warrant for the arrest of Lebanese former prime minister Saad Hariri, accusing him of sending weapons to rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, the state SANA news agency reported, according to AFP news agency.

SANA reports that Okab Sakr, a member of parliament, has also had an arrest warrant posted. The story that Hariri or his allies have been involved in arming the opposition has been gaining momentum, not just among Assad supporters but in the wider media, for a few months.

How Lebanon will respond to this development is an unknown, but as tensions between Assad supporters and his detractors are growing in recent weeks, and have led to open gun battles in some cases, this could stoke that fire.

1545 GMT: Potentially important breaking news:

More details when we have them. James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us to the afternoon.

1219 GMT: Moaz al-Khatib, the head of the opposition National Coalition, has enlivened the Friends of Syria conference by asking the US to reverse Tuesday's designation of the insurgent Jabhat al-Nusra as a global terrorist organisation:

1211 GMT: Saudi Arabia has announced its recognition of the National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

1056 GMT: State news agency SANA reports that one person has been killed and four people lightly injured by two roadside bombs in Jaramana, south of Damascus (see 0952 GMT).

One person was injured in the double explosion behind the Justice Palace in Damascus.

0952 GMT: State media and activists are reporting two car bombs outside the Justice Palace in Damascus, injuring one person with "material damage" to cars and stores.

State news agency SANA also reports an explosive in Jaramana in south Damascus, causing injuries.

0945 GMT: Human Rights Watch, citing interviews with four witnesses and multiple videos, claims that the regime military has used air-delivered incendiary bombs on at least four locations across Syria since mid-November.

A total of 106 nations have prohibited the use of air-delivered incendiary weapons in populated areas, but Syria is not one of them.

Incendiary weapons can contain any number of flammable substances, including napalm, thermite, or white phosphorus and are designed to set fire to objects. They produce extremely painful burns, often down to the bone, and can also cause respiratory damage. The burns are difficult to treat, especially in conflict areas lacking adequate medical facilities.

0935 GMT: According to a draft declaration for the 130 delegates at the Friends of Syria conference in Morocco have World powers meeting in Marrakech, "participants acknowledge the [opposition] National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and the umbrella organisation under which the Syrian opposition are gathering".

The declaration for the international gathering continues:

Bashar al-Assad has lost legitimacy and should stand aside to allow "a sustainable political transition" process....

Any use of chemical weapons in Syria would be abhorrent and that this would draw a serious response from the international community.

Delegates are also expected to announce the creation of a relief fund "to support the Syrian people".

Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has set a limit on the support, saying it was too early to supply weapons to insurgents, "For now we have decided not to move on this. We shall see in the coming months."

0815 GMT: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has criticised the US recognition of the opposition National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people, saying it contradicted an agreement reached in Geneva in June for a political transition.

Lavrov said, "The United States has decided to place all its bets on an armed victory of the (Syrian) National Coalition."

0335 GMT: President Obama confirmed Tuesday night, in a televised interview, that his administration has formally recognised the National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people:

"We've made a decision that the Syrian Opposition Coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime.

Obama linked the decision, saying the Coalition must organise itself and be inclusive, to the Administration's steps this week to identify the "small" unacceptable portion of the opposition, designating Jabhat al-Nusra as a global terrorist organisation.

0315 GMT: We begin with Tuesday's mass killing --- reportedly of at least 125 people --- in Aqrab, a village near Hama.

News is still confusing, especially about the perpetrators. Almost all of those killed were from the minority Alawite community, of which President Assad and many in his inner circle are members, but eyewitness accounts circulated by activists pointed towards a crime committed by pro-regime shabiha, allegedly after a confrontation in which villagers were held by the militia.

The website of State news agency SANA does not mention the incident, and the opposition Local Coordination Commiittees does not include any figures from Aqrab in its total of 165 people slain on Tuesday.

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