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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Death Toll Rises Again

The aftermath of Sunday's deadly car bomb in Homs in Syria

See also Syria 1st-Hand: The Story of The Beloved of Allah Brigade
Israel-Palestine Opinion: Taking Apart Netanyahu's Threats After the UN Vote
Sunday's Syria, Egypt (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Internet Returns as Regime Tries to Hold Damascus "Periphery"

2136 GMT: Syria. The situation in Aleppo may feel like a stalemate to the residents of the city, but there is plenty of efforts being made by both sides to lift that stalemate. For the last week or so the FSA has been sieging the Air Force Intelligence building in Aleppo. Snipers have pinned down the building periodically, and the FSA has hit it with all sorts of RPGs, small arms fire, and recoilless rifles. Videos have even showed the FSA conducting improvised rocket attacks against the building.

But this video is interesting. It reportedly shows insurgents using some sort of small field artillery piece to target the building. An activist translates the talking, and suggests that the insurgents are using a radio to make sure that the shell hits the target, and also to make sure that they are not being targeted by snipers:

2120 GMT: Syria. The FSA is sacking bases around Aleppo, and has the city nearly completely cut off from the outside world. However, while the FSA is advancing in the east, sieging the last vestiges of the Assad regime in Idlib province, making inroads in Daraa, and turning up the heat on Damascus, Aleppo is in much the same position it was a month ago, and the conflict has seen little change in even longer than that. With some of the regime's strongest units still operating in Aleppo, it's clear that while the co0nflict is dynamic, and the the momentum clearly on the insurgents' side outside Aleppo, city itself could remain in this state for some time.

CNN's Arwa Damon reports on the human toll the siege of the city is taking on the residents who remain trapped inside what was once the commercial hub of a modern nation:

2045 GMT: Syria. The LCC reports another massacre in Syria, this one in Zayabieh, south of Damascus (map):

The number of martyrs as a result of the massacre in the town has risen to 38 martyrs. hey were field executed by regime forces following thier arrest at the checkpoint station at Motamarat cross road.

And there appears to be video showing the bodies:

Zayabieh is widely known to be a tense spot - with Assad bases, and many "shabiha," relatively close to opposition neighborhoods. Furthermore, it is not too far from the airport road, where fighting has raged for days.

2034 GMT: Syria. All day today there have been reports of rockets and artillery shells landing on Deir Ez Zor, especially on Mohassan to the south. According to all the reports, the shells and rockets are all being launched from the Deir Ez Zor airport, the largest major Assad base in the east.

However, Assad is not the only one launching rockets. This video, posted today, shows what may be a Type 63 rocket launcher on the back of a vehicle, reportedly firing rockets back at the Deir Ez Zor airp base:

2018 GMT: Syria. The LCC has raised today's death toll to 150:

50 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs, 36 in Aleppo, 14 in Daraa including 10 in Tafas, 12 in Homs, 10 in Hasakeh, 10 in Idlib, 8 in Hama, 8 in Deir Ezzor and 2 in Lattakia.

See our note on the casualty figures published by the LCC.

2011 GMT: Syria. According to one journalist, Assad's spokesman has definitively defected from the regime:

Meanwhile a "diplomatic source" tells Reuters that Makdissi has, indeed, defected.

1956 GMT: Syria. The US isn't the only country worried about the chemical weapons stockpile. According to Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, Israel has asked Jordan's permission to conduct airstrikes against Assad's chemical weapons depots:

"A number of sites are not far from the border," he said, further explaining: "The Jordanians have to be very careful about provoking the regime and they assume the Syrians would suspect Jordanian complicity in an Israeli attack." Intelligence sources told me that Israeli drones are patrolling the skies over the Jordan-Syria border, and that both American and Israeli drones are keeping watch over suspected Syrian chemical weapons sites.

1916 GMT: Syria. Another major announcement, likely coordinated with the UN's (see previous update):

1856 GMT: Syria. Two signs that things may be coming to a head in Syria. First, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the US is already planning "contingency plans" if chemical weapons are used in Syria. No word on what those plans are, but "contingency plans" typically range from special forces operations or surgical airstrikes to full-scale intervention. This may seem liek a small statement, but at no other point in time has the US even recognized the possibility that a military plan was on the table.

Also, the UN is pulling all non-essential staff out of Syria:

Citing the "prevailing security situation", the organisation has also cancelled all missions to Syria from abroad and suspended its activities inside the war-ravaged country.

The announcement was made by the UN's under-secretary for safety and security, Gregory Starr, on Monday afternoon. It marks the final step before a full-scale evacuation, a move that has not been ordered at any point during Syria's steady descent into chaos over the past 20 months.

UN staff has been near the line of fire for more than a year, so what makes now so important? It could be escalating tensions between Turkey and Syria. Or it could be those "contingency plans" and "chemical weapons" which are prompting the UN to make the move.

Regardless, two unprecedented announcements like this, coming within hours of each other, don't look like a coincidence.

1839 GMT: Syria. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 125 people have been killed across the country so far today:

36 martyrs were reported in Aleppo, 28 in Damascus and its Suburbs, 13 in Daraa including 10 in Tafas, 12 in Homs, 10 in Hasakeh, 8 in Idlib, 8 in Hama, 8 in Deir Ezzor and 2 in Lattakia.

See our note on the casualty figures published by the LCC.

1725 GMT: Syria. Initially, when I heard reports that the Syrian military was moving its chemical weapons (according to US intelligence sources), my response was that the military likely believed it could no longer secure them in their current locations. As the Obama administration had already defined the use or loss of chemical weapons as a "red line," Assad cannot afford to have those bases fall to the insurgents for fear that it would trigger immediate international military intervention - a real possibility. However, CNN's Barbara Starr, who reported on the situation last time chemical weapons were moved, said that all of her sources say that this time it is significantly different - and Assad may be planning to use these weapons:

1702 GMT: Syria. Despite the intense violence, Syrians continue to take to the streets to protest their government - even if most of those protests now accompany caskets during funerals. The CFDPC reports:

Large participation in the funeral procession for Mohammad al-Hajji and Ahmad Abdel Qader Farhoude that took place in the Qara area of Damascus; they were both elements of FSA.

1620 GMT: Syria. A prominent Syrian activist suggests that the Assad spokesperson has, indeed, defected, and has not been fired:

1555 GMT: Syria. Syrian ministry spokesman Jihad al-Maqdessi has "been relieved of his duties after he voiced stances that don't conform to Syria's official rhetoric", according to MTV. He is reportedly on route to London, via Beirut.

1552 GMT: Egypt. The Supreme Judicial Council has said it will oversee a 15 December referendum on a draft Constitution, despite calls from some judges for a boycott.

Mohamed Gadallah, the legal adviser to President Morsi, said the l Council had met and "agreed to delegate judges to oversee the constitutional referendum". He said the council was "the largest body responsible for judges" and had "realised they had a responsibility before the nation to supervise".

1546 GMT: Syria. And now one airline gives a reason it cancelled today's flight to Damascus:

1536 GMT: Syria. Is the Damascus International Airport (DAM) closed? Yesterday, some airlines announced that they would be running flights again, and the government maintains it's open - however, as far as we can tell, all the international flights to the airport were either cancelled today or were never confirmed to have landed:

The departure situation is even worse:

1526 GMT: Iraq Jane Arraf from Al Jazeera English reports on a further escalation in tensions between the central Iraqi government and the autonomous Kurdish region, as 1000 more Kurdish troops move to Kirkuk:

1512 GMT: Syria. This video has our attention. It was brought to our attention on Twitter, and appears to show rockets, possibly Grad rockets, being fired from the Mezzeh military airport just west of Damascus. One tweet said that this was filmed in Darayya, which makes sense to us as that would place the mountains behind the airport and the east to the right. Simultaneously, the FSA is carrying a report from the Zamalka Coordination Committee that suggests "rocket launchers" has been used to shell the eastern suburb of Damascus.

Why is this important? For starters, Grad rockets are fairly innaccurate, and thus cannot be used in a targeted strike. Many civilians will bear the brunt of these rocket attacks. However, this also shows that Assad is now trying to use all of the weapons in his arsenal, even if they are not specifically designed to fight an insurgency.

This is only one video, and we can;t be 100% sure of the location or type of rocket, but the sudden use of the word "rocket" in many reports over the last week, and a few (inconclusive) videos that suggest Grad rockets, or some other weapon, have been used recently, suggest that a new weapon is being used against the Syrian people.

1451 GMT: Lebanon/Syria. Free Syrian Army spokesperson Louay Al-Moqdad has confirmed that he was part of an "operations centre" with Future Movement MP Okab Sakr. Speaking to New TV, Al-Moqdad said that the centre ran not just "military operations, but all sorts of activities".

Sakr confirmed his role in the operation earlier today, after Al-Akhbar published leaked audio recordings (see 1357 GMT entry).

1436 GMT: Syria. Last week, away from the headlines, the Syrian military surrounded a small town in Daraa province, Tafas, and began to shell it. Eventually, a convoy including perhaps a dozen or more tanks stormed the town and for hours tore up the streets, shops, and homes of many residents. When the FSA began the counterattack, the fighting became fierce. By some accounts, the regime withdrew from the town on Friday, burning perhaps hundreds of homes in their wake. Since then, however, the regime has attacked the down with a near-constant stream of mortars, artillery and tank shells, and rockets, according to activists. If the regime cannot hold the town, they are determined to cut it off an make it pay.

According to sources, that pattern has continued throughout today. The LCC estimates that at least 30 "rockets" have fallen today, and they post a video of the gunfire and shelling. Other videos reportedly show the FSA firing RPGs at tanks, destroying regime vehicles with IEDs, and the video below reportedly shows some of yesterday's fighting:

James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started today.

1357 GMT: Lebanon/Syria. Future Movement MP Okab Sakr confirmed the authenticity of audio recordings implicating him in sending arms to Syrian rebels.

Last week, Al-Akhbar published recordings and transcripts of conversations had between Sakr and men identified as leaders of Syrian rebel groups. The precise dates of the recordings are uncertain.

Okab Sakr: Please tell me, the weapons you want, what are the quantities.

Abu al-Numan (a leader of an armed group): We need around 300 rocket-propelled grenades and twenty launchers. And if it is possible to provide 250,000 Russian rounds [for AK47s], 300 machineguns, and some special pieces of arms.

OS: All of this, for which region do you need it exactly.

AN: Azaz, Tal Refaat, Andan, and the whole of Rif Halab [Aleppo’s countryside].


strong>OS: Will you be there at the delivery?

AN: No brother, Abu al-Nour will be there with the guys and the cars. They will take them from you as usual.

Sakr told Ash-Sharq al-Awsat today that, "This is my voice and those are my words," adding that he is "not ashamed of what I have done and am doing".

The Future Movement denies that it has provided any armed support to the rebels. However, the recordings raise questions about the role of its leader, Saad Hariri. Al-Akhbar alleges that SaKr's was following Hariri's orders, however Sakr denies this. Accusing Al-Akhbar of waging a campaign of distortion, Sakr said, "Hariri has asked me to provide Syrians with humanitarian, political and media aid – no more, no less.

1325 GMT: Syria. The Syrian Foreign Ministry has reiterated that it will not use chemical weapons "against its people". In a televised statement, the regime is reported as saying:

Syria has stressed repeatedly that it will not use these types of weapons, if they were available, under any circumstances against its people.

The comments came in response to US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton who said at a press conference in Prague that any use of chemical weapons would be cross a "red line" for the administration:

We have made our views very clear: This is a red line for the United States.

I'm not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people. But suffice it to say, we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur.

1320 GMT: Lebanon/Syria. Al Jazeera English reports on the plight of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. There are over 134,000 Syrian refugees there, however with no government camps, they are dependent on the help of NGOs and the support of local Lebanese:

1315 GMT: Bahrain. Elisa Massimino, President of Human Rights First, writes in the Washington Post on her recent experience observing the Bahrain legal system:

During my 25 years as a lawyer and human rights advocate, I’ve been in many courtrooms in many places. But I’ve never seen anything quite like what I recently witnessed in Bahrain. I sat in on one of the hearings for the 28 medics being prosecuted after treating injured protesters during the democratic uprising last year.

In the chaotic courtroom, the judge dismissed arguments by defense lawyers that their clients had been tortured. That’s when Nabeel Tammam, one of Bahrain’s leading ear, nose and throat specialists, raised his hand and asked for permission to speak. Seemingly mistaking him for one of the defense lawyers, the judge acknowledged Tammam, who spoke the words he had not been allowed to say publicly before any Bahraini judicial authority since his detention in 2011: “My name is Nabeel Tammam. I am one of the medics, and I was tortured.” Tammam described what he suffered at the hands of government officials; the judge quickly ended the hearing.


The United States, which has sent observers to the medics’ trials, should state publicly what it says in private: The trials fall far short of international standards. This should be part of a more muscular U.S. approach toward its ally.

1309 GMT: Bahrain The Court of Cassation today set January 7th as the date when it would announce a verdict in the case of the "Bahrain 13", the group of leading opposition activists who include Abdulhadi AlKhawaja, Ibrahim Sharif and Hasan Mushaima (see 0638 GMT)

The appeal session was attended by a representative from the UN, as well as foreign diplomats. The detainees, whom Amnesty considers prisoners of conscience, were denied release on bail.

1144 GMT: Syria. Turkey has confirmed that it scrambled jet fighters after Syrian warplanes bombed the town of Ras al Ain near the border.

Since Ras al Ain was taken by insurgents last month, the regime has carried out aerial attacks on the town and nearby area.

1134 GMT: Syria. The New York Times puts out an ominous story:

The Syrian military’s movement of chemical weapons in recent days has prompted the United States and several allies to repeat their warning to President Bashar al-Assad that he would be “held accountable” if his forces used the weapons against the rebels fighting his government.

The warnings, which one European official said were “deliberately vague to keep Assad guessing,” were conveyed through Russia and other intermediaries....

One American official provided the most specific description yet of what has been detected, saying that “the activity we are seeing suggests some potential chemical weapon preparation,” which goes beyond the mere movement of stockpiles among Syria’s several dozen known sites. But the official declined to offer more specifics of what those preparations entailed.

Over the weekend, the activity in Syria prompted a series of emergency communications among the Western allies, who have long been developing contingency plans in case they decided to intervene in an effort to neutralize the chemical weapons, a task that the Pentagon estimates would require upward of 75,000 troops. But there were no signs that preparations for any such effort were about to begin.

1130 GMT: Israel and Palestine. The Netanyahu Government is facing a barrage of international pressure this morning over its weekend announcement that it will expand settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including in the controversial "E1" zone.

The British Foreign Office tweets, The Israeli Ambassador to London, Daniel Taub, has been formally summoned to the @foreignoffice this morning by Minister Alistair Burt."

France has also summoned the Israeli Ambassador, Sweden has expressed its concern, Germany has urged Israel to refrain from expansion, and Russia has voiced its criticism.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, anticipating the pressure, defiantly said yesterday that West Jerusalem stands by its plans --- see our separate analysis, "Taking Apart Netanyahu's Threats After the UN Vote".

1054 GMT: Egypt. A senior member of the Freedom and Justice Party, Amr Darrag, who played a role in drafting Egypt’s controversial draft constitution has downplayed the significance of a possible judiciary boycott of a referendum on the Constitution on 15 December.

Members of the Judges Club said on Sunday that they will not oversee the vote, but Darrag told AFP, "I'm sure the judges at the end of the day will supervise the referendum.”

1029 GMT: Bahrain and Kuwait. Bahrain's Gulf Daily News has accused several newly-elected members of Kuwait's parliament of "strong links with militants in Iran and Syria".

The newspaper alleges that one MP has been named in a plot to blow up a convoy of the late Emir, while another had contacts with Iranian secret services during the Iraq-Iran war. Other MPs are accused of managing funds for Iran's nuclear project, plotting to blow up Islam's holiest shrine in Mecca, working with Iran's Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon, and hijacking a plane belonging to the Kuwaiti airline Al Jabiriya in 1988.

All of those named by the Gulf Daily News are Shia. Bahraini outlets have been accused by activists of responding to unrest within the country by stigmatising Shia and portraying the conflict as sectarian.

1009 GMT: Israel and Palestine. The Israeli domestic intelligence service Shin Bet says a Palestinian man was killed when he rammed the car carrying their agents and attacked them with an axe.

Palestinian security sources said they had been informed of the incident, but the area was declared a closed military zone. They identified the man as Hatem Shabib, from a village near the northern West Bank city of Tulkarem.

0931 GMT: Bahrain. Under the headline "Honourable Record", the pro-regime Gulf Daily News cheers:

Bahrain yesterday vowed to continue efforts aimed at promoting human rights. "There will not be any backtracking in the drive to bolster human rights," the Premier said, pledging to spare no efforts to instil the culture of human rights in conformity with international covenants.

Chairing this week's Cabinet meeting, His Royal Highness Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa hailed Bahrain's honourable human rights record.

He took pride in the landmark gains achieved in the prosperous era of His Majesty King Hamad, stressing respect and protection of human rights and dignity.

The article does not refer to recent reports that the regime has only fully implemented three of the 26 recommendations of the November 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission Inquiry, or indeed any issue of rights, apart from "sacked workers".

The Cabinet session explained, "International organisations are being supplied with wrong information to achieve political designs rather than ensure gains for workers."

0921 GMT: Israel and Palestine. Electronic Intifada reports that Israeli authorities are now stamping the passports of visitors of the West Bank "Judaea and Samaria Only".

Since 2009, the stamp was "Palestinian Authority Only". The change to the ancient Jewish name for the territory leads Electronic Intifada to call the measure an "effective annexation".

0638 GMT: Bahrain. Thirteen prominent political prisoners serving long sentences --- some of them for life --- return to the Court of Cassation today.

The daughter of Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights who has been given a life term, posts an account of his torture. Maryam Alkhawaja writes, "As painful as it is to recount this information, but it is important for people to know what the Bahraini regime is responsible for. My father is serving a life sentence, and the joke of a judicial system is looking into his case again tmrw. We do not expect much, without international pressure not much will change."

0628 GMT: Kuwait. Protests were held across the country on Sunday night, following the weekend Parliamentary elections boycotted by the opposition.

The Shia minority gained seats, holding more than 1/3 of the 50-member Parliament for the first time. Sunni parties suffered losses, reduced to only four seats.

0622 GMT: Syria. State TV broadcast images Sunday of at least five dead bodies with Lebanese identification, claiming the men were among 21 Lebanese Salafist fighters who fell into a Syrian Army ambush on Friday.

The channel said that the men were killed in Tal Kalakh after sneaking into the country from Wadi Khaled. State TV also carried another report saying the Syrian army had thwarted an attempt to smuggle Al Qa'eda fighters from Lebanon through the border near Qusayr.

Sources who knew the men and insurgents told Lebanon's Daily Star that between 25 and 27 men, age 18 to 25, had gathered for evening prayer in a Tripoli mosque Thursday. Planning to die in battle, some of them wrote their final wills.

0615 GMT: Yemen. A high-ranking commander, Mohammad al-Subaihi, escaped an assassination attempt by a gunman on Sunday in the southern governorate of Lahj.

Al-Subaihi is the commander of the Al-Anad military base.

Military sources said Al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula is suspected of the attack, since al-Subaihi is leading a military offensive against the insurgency in Abyan governorate.

More than 60 Yemeni officers, most of them are intelligence officers, have been kiled this year.

0605 GMT: The Local Coordination Committees report that 202 people were killed on Sunday, including 82 in Damascus and its suburbs, 42 in Aleppo Province, and 29 in Homs Province.

Casualty figures had fallen in much of the country in recent weeks, except for areas near Damascus, where the regime appears to be concentrating its attacks. That attempt to hold the periphery is now taking an escalating civilian toll, and clashes and shelling near Aleppo are bringing a renewal of death. 

Fifteen of the Sunday deaths in Homs Province were the outcome of a car bomb in the upscale Al-Malaab area of Homs city, where many cafes and restaurants are located.

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