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Syria Live Coverage: "220 Executed" as Regime Advances in Homs

Rally in Deir Baalba in Syria, November 2011

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Saturday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: UN Envoy Brahimi's Mission is "Dead in the Water"

1735 GMT: Syria. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has told thousands of Syrian refugees that their country is preparing for a "sacred birth" replacing President Assad with the will of the people: "We can see very clearly that God's help is close. Don't forget victory comes to those who are patient."

Erdogan stood next to Moaz Al-Khatib, the head of the Syrian opposition National Coalition.

Refugee camps in Turkey host 150,000 Syrians who have fled the conflict.

1705 GMT: Syria. A protest in central Damascus, with chants and songs for national unity:

1615 GMT: Egypt. Prime Minister Hisham Qandil has reassured that, although the economic situation is "difficult and critical", “Countries don’t go bankrupt, only companies do."

Qandil saiid that the Cabinet would quickly take measures to address major economic challenges such as high unemployment and the gaping budget deficit, with new job opportunities and an improved investment climate.

The Prime Minister called for national dialogue among decisionmakers and economists and said the Cabinet would hold talks with International Monetary Fund officials in January over a $4.8 billion loan that was delayed in December.

1555 GMT: Syria. Rasha al-Akhras, a cousin of Asma al-Assad, has denied reports that she wrote a sharp letter to the Syrian First Lady condemning the Aasad family and the regime and saying that “the revolution will reach victory very soon" (see 0755 GMT).

Al-Akhras said, “I did not post a letter to Asma al-Assad. I think the letter was fabricated by someone who aims to cause trouble for me.....I really have nothing to do with the letter. I don't want the situation to be blown out of proportion on my part."

1428 GMT: Bahrain. Two policemen have been sentenced to seven years in prison after they were convicted of torturing detainee Abdul Karim Fakhrawi to death, soon after the start of mass protests in February 2011.

The court had suspended the case against the two defendants in May for lack of proof and sent it back to the prosecution for further investigation.

1404 GMT: Syria. The aftermath of an airstrike on Kafarbatna near Damascus:

People searching through the rubble for bodies:

1328 GMT: Syria. Insurgents fire at regime armoured vehicles in the streets of the Damascus suburub of Darayya:

1322 GMT: Syria. Following his meetings in Damascus and Moscow, United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, has warned:

The situation in Syria is bad. Very, very bad. It is getting worse and therefore if nearly 50,000 were killed in nearly two years if, God forbids, this crisis continues for another year, it will not only kill 25,000. It will kill 100,000. The situation is deteriorating.

Brahimi, who saw the Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby this morning, declared, "I warn of what will come. The choice is between a political solution or of full collapse of the Syrian state."

Asked if there is any willingness by President Assad and the opposition to enter a political process, the envoy replied, "No, there isn't. This is the problem."

1318 GMT: Israel. The Supreme Court has overturned a ban on the participation of MP Haneen Zoabi in January's elections.

The nine-justice court ruled unanimously that Zoabi "shall be a candidate for the Knesset".

Zoabi has been targeted for criticism because of her involvement in the Freedom Flotilla, which tried to get supplies to the blockaded Gaza Strip in May 2010 and was attacked by Israeli commandos, killing nine people.

The Central Elections Committee voted on 19 December to disqualify Zoabi, saying she had shown "support for an enemy state or terrorist organization engaged in armed conflict against Israel".

Minister of Environment Gilad Erdan criticised the ruling, saying Zoabi had been involved in "expressing solidarity with our enemies".

1315 GMT: Syria. Graphic footage has been posted which claims to be of some of the 220 people allegedly executed by regime forces in Deir Baalba in Homs on Saturday.

1305 GMT: Iraq. Bodyguards of Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq wounded two people when they fired warning shots at Sunni protesters who pelted his convoy with bottles and stones.

Al-Mutlaq, who is a Sunni, was trying to address demonstrators in Ramadi in Anbar Province in western Iraq, amid days of mass protests over discrimination and claimed Government oppression of the religious minority.

"Leave! Leave!" the protesters shouted at Mutlaq. Guards then opened fire to disperse the crowd after objects were thrown.

Footage of the demonstration:

0905 GMT: Bahrain. An EA correspondent reports that photojournalist Ahmed Humaidan, seized by about 15 undercover officers from a shopping mall on Friday, has been charged with attempted murder, attacking a police station and security personnel, and participation in illegal protests.

One of Humaidan's award-winning photos:

0805 GMT: Yemen. At least three insurgents were killed in al-Bayda Province on Saturday in the latest uS drone strike, government sources said.

State news agency Saba reported that the victims were "elements of Al Qa'eda". A Ministry of Defense said a senior Al Qa'eda operative, Saleh Mohammed al-Ameri, was slain.

The US has renewed airstrikes in the past week after a two-month break. At least five people were killed on Christmas Eve, and two insurgents were killed in Hadramout Province in eastern Yemen on Friday.

0755 GMT: Syria. Rasha al-Akhras, the cousin of President Assad's wife Asma, has reportedly written a sharp letter to the First Lady:

I forgot to tell you, my relative, that my love, the city Homs, was destroyed. There is no reason that you would take any interest in that. Nothing ties you to it. You never traced lines on its sidewalks to play hopscotch with the neighbourhood kids, you never carried a tray of food over to your neighbors there, and you never walked down its streets in adulthood, with guys calling out to you. Nor was your first romance in there. Did you ever visit its market and smell that wonderful smell conjuring up the memory of all those people who walked among its stalls for millennia? It was all destroyed. Did you hear that the people of Homs were dispersed in all directions, displaced, forced to flee, or killed. Oh, how stupid of me. I forgot you don't like to hear the sad news. Your tender heart can't bear it....

Look into your son's eyes. Do you see in them the eyes of a child walking barefoot on the cold earth? Or a child embracing a loaf of bread as if it was a treasure he had found at the end of an arduous journey? Or a child gripping his dead mother in his arms believing it will bring her back? Did you feel the burn of his tears? I'm sure you never saw any of these. All that you see in the eyes of your son is the blue he inherited from his father. Feel your daughter's head well, is it still in its place? What would you feel if it were brought to you detached from her body? Just imagine and come back to me with a response....

"Our revolution will succeed. Know that you will be brought to justice before us and before Allah for all that is taking place in our country. Allah will take his vengeance upon you and upon all evil. I hereby notify you that I will not be angry about this, because your blood no longer concerns me, and if I could replace my blood I would.

0655 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordianation Committees, including the 220 claimed victims in Deir Baalba, write that 397 people were killed on Saturday. There were 62 deaths in Damascus and its suburbs and 40 in Aleppo Province.

0645 GMT: Syria. Like Aleppo, which has received far more attention since last summer, Homs has been a divided city. The regime decimation's of many districts in February and March failed to suppress the insurgency, which began to reclaim neighbourhoods during the summer and autumn.

Suddenly on Saturday, Syria's third-largest city re-emerged. Initially, the news was a straightforward report, put out by activists, that President Assad's forces had re-claimed the Deir Baalba district on the northeastern edge of the city.

Then a bloodier account began to circulate. Scores of people, according to activists, had been killed during the advance. They had not died in the initial fighting, however. Instead, after the regime victory, they had tried to pass through a checkpoint near the university. They failed: 220 victims, according to the Local Coordination Committees, were detained and executed.

Beyond that claim, it is unclear whether the slain were all insurgent fighters who were trying to leave after their defeat, or whether there were civilians among the dead. Syrian State news agency SANA does not offer a clue, making no reference at all to Homs.

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