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Thursday
Dec132012

Syria Live Coverage: "Assad Forces Using Scud Missiles"

State TV footage from today's bomb in Qatana, which reportedly killed 16 people (see 1015 GMT)

See also Syria Analysis: Was There a "Massacre" in Aqrab on Tuesday?
Egypt (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Stumbling Towards a Referendum
Wednesday's Syria Live Coverage: Uncertainty Over the Mass Killing in Aqrab


1556 GMT: The Local Coordination Committees claim that 81 people have been killed today, including 41 in Damascus and its suburbs.

1512 GMT: The Foreign Ministry has denied claims that the regime is using Scud missiles.

The Ministry claims the allegation is a conspiracy by "Turkey and its partners", with the aim of distorting Syria's image and position in the international community. It said that it is well-known that Scud missiles are strategic long-range missiles and are not used when facing "armed terrorist gangs".

However, AFP, citing a defected First Lieutenant, reinforces the claim that Scuds were fired on Monday.

First Lieutenant Aaraba Idriss said he is still in contact with officers and members of his former Battalion 57, part of Brigade 155. He said they had fired five Scud missiles from their location in Nasiriyeh on the highway between Damascus and the central Syrian city of Homs.

Idriss, who now heads the Hassan Battalion of the insurgent Free Syrian Army, said "the missiles were fired northwest at 10:45 (0845 GMT), 12:30, 13:50, 15:15 and 17:10" and may have struck in Aleppo Province or Idlib Province.

Idriss said the "Golan-1" missiles were either Russian-made or Russian-modified" and have a range of up to 300 kilometres (186 miles).

AFP writes that a soldier, who defected on Tuesday morning, corroborated the report.

1452 GMT: The leader of the opposition National Coalition, Moaz al-Khatib has said the Syrian people no longer need international intervention to topple President Assad.

Al-Khatib said the opposition would consider proposals from Assad to surrender power and leave the country, but would give no assurances until it saw a firm proposal.

Al-Khatib explained:

The horrific conditions which the Syrian people endured prompted them to call on the international community for military intervention at various times.

"Now the Syrian people have nothing to lose. They handled their problems by themselves. They no longer need international forces to protect them. The international community has been in a slumber, silent, and late (to react) as it saw the Syrian people bleeding and their children killed for the past 20 months.

Al-Khatib said the international community was "partly responsible for the emergence of some disturbing phenomena", such as extremists among the opposition, "because of its negligence towards peoples and nations".

1352 GMT: Al Jazeera English reports on refugees going back to Syria because of harsh camp conditions in Jordan, "We'll return to living under rocket fire. It's better than living here":

1053 GMT: A "security source" has said Minister of Interior Mohammed al-Shaar was lightly wounded in Wednesday's bombing near the Ministry building.

"He was wounded in the shoulder when the ceiling fell in his office," the source said. "He was taken to hospital but his condition gives no cause for concern and he should be discharged rapidly."

1031 GMT: For the first time, a senior Russian official has said the opposition may defeat President Assad.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said today, "We must look at the facts: there is a trend for the government to progressively lose control over an increasing part of the territory. The opposition victory can't be excluded."

Bogdanov's comments follow last week's sudden meeting between US Secretaryn of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, which fuelled speculation that Moscow might be withdrawing support from Assad. Lavrov later denied a shift in the Russian position.

Bogdanov warned that opposition victory would come at "an absolutely unacceptable price" and repeated Moscow's all for a compromise:

The fighting will become even more intense, and you will lose tens of thousands and, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of people. If such a price for the ouster of the president seems acceptable to you, what can we do? We, of course, consider it absolutely unacceptable.

1015 GMT: State news agency SANA claims 16 people have been killed by a bomb in Qatana, 15 miles southwest of Damascus.

Lebanon's Al-Manar channel, a primary source for stories from the regime, said more that 25 people were wounded.

0715 GMT: On the political front, representatives from more than 100 countries at the Friends of Syria conference in Morocco formally recognised the opposition National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

There were also pledges of $143 million in aid for the Syrian opposition, including $100 million from Saudi Arabia.

0700 GMT: State news agency SANA reports that at least eight people were slain by six bombs in Damascus on Wednesday.

Three of the bombs reportedly targeted the Ministry of Interior building in the Kafarsouseh area, killing five people and injuring 3. The Ministry said two explosive devices were detonated within moments of each other in front of the building, followed five minutes later by the explosion of car bomb carrying around 200 kilogrammes (440 pounds) of explosives.

The Minister and senior officials of the Ministry were unhurt, but Social National Party MP Abdullah Kayrouz was among the dead.

Earlier in the day, there were explosions in the front of the Justice Palace and in Jarmana, south of Damascus. SANA claimed a six bomb, planted in a public minibus, later exploded in front of a school in the Mezzeh district, killing at least two people and injuring others, including three critically.

State media journalist Anmar Yassin Mohammad was one of the two killed.

0630 GMT: The Local Coordination Committees claimed to document 113 deaths on Wednesday, including 41 in Aleppo Province and 31 in Damascus and its suburbs.

Perhaps significantly, the LCC has not reported a large number of slain from Aqrab, near Hama, after other activists had said more than 150 people were killed on Tuesday. We will have more on that in a separate feature later this morning.

0610 GMT: In what appears to be a significant --- perhaps desperate --- escalation in the use of weaponry, President Assad's forces have allegedly fired Scud missiles at opposition fighters.

Throughout Wednesday,  US officials reiterated the claim, which first appeared in The New York Times. Meanwhile, White House spokesperson Jay Carneysaid that, if the reports are true, it would be "the desperate act from a regime that has shown utter disregard for innocent life, utter disregard for the lives of its own citizens".

The Times , quoting anonymous officials, said the Syrian military had fired about six Scud missiles from the Damascus area against insurgents in northern Syria in recent days.

The Guardian's Martin Chulov, citing the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria, gives details on two of the alleged Scud launches:

Human Rights Watch, citing witnesses and videos, also claimed that regime warplanes have now used incendiary bombs --- highly flammable materials designed to inflict severe burns --- in populated areas for the first time. They said evidence established that at least four locations had been targeted. 

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