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Tuesday
Dec042012

Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: While US Warns About Chemical Weapons, 239 Die

As a motorcade apparently carrying Egyptian President Morsi exits the Presidential Palace, protesters chant "Leave!"

See also Monday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Death Toll Rises Again


2142 GMT: Kuwait. More protests, sparked by the Emir's changes to the electoral laws last month, and encounters with security forces tonight:

2125 GMT: Egypt. The scene outside the Presidential Palace tonight:

2115 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committtees report that 160 people have been killed today, including 107 martyrs in Damascus and its suburbs.

2105 GMT: Egypt. Tahrir Square tonight:

2045 GMT: Tunisia. Police have broken up fighting in Tunis after pro-Government supporters attacked labour union members.

Several hundred attackers, with knives and sticks, charged a gathering of members of Tunisia's biggest union, UGTT, and broke windows at its offices with stones. About 10 people were hurt in the clashes.

Hundreds of UGTT members had been chanting slogans, calling for a general strike and the downfall of the Government led by the Ennahda Party.

2035 GMT: Egypt. The scene in Alexandria tonight:

1930 GMT: Egypt. Ahram Online reports "hundreds of thousands" in the protest outside the Presidential Palace, with Central Security Forces units withdrew from the front line.

The Ministry of Interior had already put out an official statement that President Morsi left the palace after two meetings on Tuesday. It said security forces practiced self-restraint after the protesters breached the barbed wire cordons around the palace.

However, security forces earlier used tear gas as protesters tried to remove the barbed wire and others launched fireworks. The Central Security Forces responded by drumming their armour with sticks and firing sound bombs as well as tear gas grenades.

The security forces retired to around one kilometre away, with protesters chanting, "The people want to topple the regime," and "We will not leave, he will leave."

The Muslim Brotherhood, of which Morsi is a senior member, claimed less than 2000 people were at the palace.

1902 GMT: Bahrain. Leading human rights activist Zainab AlKhawaja reports disturbing news from Bani Jamra. We are currently trying to confirm further details:

Zainab and others are sharing a picture claimed to be the young man. It is very graphic. The lower part of his jaw has been severed. His wrist also appears to be seriously injured.

1848 GMT: Turkey/Syria. As expected, NATO has formally agreed to send Patriot missiles to Turkey. In a joint statement, NATO's foreign ministers said:

In response to Turkey's request, NATO has decided to augment Turkey's air defense capabilities in order to defend the population and territory of Turkey.

1837 GMT: Egypt. A complaint, accusing former presidential candidates, including Mohamed ElBaradei, of espionage and sedition on behalf of Israel has been referred to the State Security Prosecution for investigation.

However, as Evan Churchill has noted, Hamed Sadeq, the lawyer who filed the complaint has a history of advancing conspiratorial claims. During the trial of former President Mubarak, Sadeq claimed that Mubarak had died in 2004 and had been replaced by a lookalike as part of a US and Israeli conspiracy.

1816 GMT: Syria. Another snapshot from Aleppo. NPR's Kelly McEvers meets 16-year old Omar:

We find out Omar has just completed several weeks of training with Ahrar al-Sham, Abu Anas' group. The training was in "sports, shooting, taking care of your weapon," Omar says through an interpreter.

I ask, "Is he pretty good with a Kalashnikov now?"

"God willing," he replies. It turns out this day is Omar's first day reporting to work.

"The government would stop killing people. It's the only way to get them to stop the killing," he says. "Beyond that, I don't know. The rest of it is up to our leaders."

1811 GMT: Syria. AFP reports from Al-Bab on a newly formed "police station" where residents can complain about problems caused by rebels, since the Free Syrian Army seized the town in July. The volunteers are taken from outside the ranks of the FSA and given masks, camouflage uniforms and Kalashnikovs. The men work in conjunction with the Islamic court which was founded shortly after the rebels took Al-Bab.

1806 GMT: Syria. The newly launched site Syria Deeply speaks to a Christian resident of Aleppo:

You sometimes see the images in the news, whole neighborhoods decimated over the course of one report. It’s 2 am now, I can hear the sound of bombings in the silence of the night, long threads of gunfire, interrupted by bombs and shells all the time. They’re shells of different sizes, different types, from air, from land, from tanks. There is food, it’s still reaching the city from the villages. We have basics like flour. There is water, but it’s often cut.

(...)

I have a little bit of savings, it should last me for a few years here in Aleppo if I spend it wisely. Other people are spending everything they have, or selling their jewelry if they have any. Many people are already bankrupt. During the Lebanese Civil War I used to hear a lot that people still had work, in East Beirut people would make a living. But here the situation is completely the opposite. The city is on full stop. The factories are all bombed and closed. All the workplaces are shut. I’d say 90% of the laborers in Aleppo are out of work. At least half of the population of Aleppo has left the city, if not more. Politically, there is no sign of hope, because neither side is recognizing the other. We can never have a ceasefire, because they won’t talk.

1800 GMT: Syria. Journalist Jenan Moussa updates on the FSA in Aleppo:

1710 GMT: Egypt. An activist tweets from the protest outside the Presidential Palace (livestream here):

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that President Morsi may have left:

1520 GMT: Israel. Former Assistant Secretary of State, P J Crowley calls on Israeli citizens to reconsider electing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

The E1 announcement [expanding Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory] puts a clear choice before Israeli voters. Should the government build settlements or pursue peace? Can't do both.

1450 GMT: Syria. In the closing entry in last night's Live Coverage, James Miller posted video and wrote:

For the last week or so the Free Syrian Army 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.

CNN follows up today with provocative claims from insurgents:

Rebels have choked off a sprawling military base outside Aleppo with some 450 government soldiers trapped inside.

The rebels could easily overrun the base, fighter Ali Jadlan said. But they want to give government soldiers a chance to defect.

Already, about 250 soldiers have escaped the siege, and most of them have joined the opposition....

The government has tried air-dropping food to its soldiers, often missing its targets. Opposition fighters have shot out their water supply.

While the soldiers still have stockpiles of artillery, their options are dwindling.

1340 GMT: Syria. State news agency SANA claims an insurgent mortar has hit a school in a camp for displaced people near Damascus on Tuesday, killing nine students and their teacher and wounding 20 people.

The mortar smashed into Bteiha school in Wafideen camp about 20 kilometres (13 miles) northeast of Damascus, according to SANA. Other reports put the death toll at 29, with activists claiming that it was the regime military that fired the mortar.

Wafideen is home to after 25,000 people displaced from the Golan Heights by the Israeli occupation since 1967.

1310 GMT: Syria and Turkey. Patriot missiles could be deployed on the Turkish-Syrian border "within weeks", Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said.

Rasamussen reassured Moscow that the missiles would have nothing to do with implementing a no-fly zone in Syria and would be used to defend Turkey from Syrian missiles.

1255 GMT: Syria. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has echoed President Obama's call on Syria not to use chemical weapons:

The possible use of chemical weapons would be completely unacceptable for the whole international community. If anybody resorts to these terrible weapons, then I would expect an immediate reaction from the international community.

1245 GMT: Turkey. A plane carrying Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz has been prevented from entering Iraqi airspace and has been forced to land in the Turkish province of Kayseri.

Yildiz had been due to attend an energy conference in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. It is also reported that Yildiz was to finalise a massive deal for Turkish-backed oil and gas development and the construction of pipelines.

1235 GMT: Turkey. Speaking at his party meeting, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan congratulated Palestinians for a UN vote recognizing the Palestinian Authority as a non-member state and criticized Israel once again:

Israel should first and foremost stop deceiving its own people. Israel is harming regional peace but it is also harming its own people in the process,” he said. “We wish for Israel to come to its senses.

1230 GMT: Israel. Having approved the construction of 3000 new housing units in East Jerusalem and West Bank, the District Planning and Building Committee is expected to discuss a controversial plan to build 1,700 homes in the East Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.

The plan for the expansion of Ramat Shlomo was approved in March 2010, during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden to Israel.

1215 GMT: Israel. Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser summarises West Jerusalem's defiance on the settlements issue, putting the ball in the court of the Palestinian Authority:

The Israeli government needs to make it clear that unilateral steps by the Palestinians [by going to the United Nations for recognition] are not the way things are going to get solved

We're trying every way possible to get the Palestinians back to the table. The Palestinians think that they can get achievements by unilateral action, and we are showing them that they cannot. If anyone thinks that because of pressure Israel won't build in Gilo and Ramat Shlomo then he doesn’t understand the map of Israeli interests.

In the last 48 hours, many countries --- including the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Brazil, and Australia --- have called in Israeli Ambassadors or expressed concern about the Netanyahu Government's declaration that it will build thousands of new units, including in the controversial "E1" zone near east Jerusalem.

However, some countries have setting clear limits on their criticism --- after French President Francois Hollande said Monday that Paris was not considering economic punishment of Israel, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said today that European sanctions are not an option.

1105 GMT: Yemen. Amnesty International has released a report claiming "violations committed by [the insurgency] Ansar al-Shari’a when cities and towns in Abyan were under their control and during the subsequent armed conflict", for about 10 months leading up to mid-2012".

The violations in the southern Abyan Province "included recklessly exposing civilians to harm during attacks; killing captured soldiers; abducting civilians; and obstructing medical treatment for wounded people".

Amnesty also documents "how government forces used disproportionate force during the conflict".

1052 GMT: Bahrain. Bahrain Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa has told a delegation from the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, "Bahrain is a democracy, reform and popular participation hub where rights are protected and liberties are respected,"

The Prime Minister said the kingdom "has attained milestone human rights achievements on which we can build".

1045 GMT: Israel. The United Nations General Assembly, by a vote of 174-6 with six abstentions, has called on Israel to open its nuclear programme to inspection and to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty "without further delay".

Israel and the US were joined in opposition by Canada, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau.

Israel, which reportedly has at least 200 nuclear weapons, refuses to confirm or deny possession.

1040 GMT: Syria. State media is reporting that a pro-regime reporter has been killed: "An armed terrorist group assassinated the journalist Naji Assaad in the Tadamoun district of Damascus as he was on his way to the Tishreen newspaper."

0910 GMT: Egypt. The Ministry of Interior has warned "infiltrators", with protests against President Morsi's decrees and the draft Constitution planned for today.

Meanwhile, journalists at a number of leading Egyptian newspapers have joined the protest by going on strike. The newspaper carrying the report of the Ministry's warning now has a black box with the inscription: "You are reading this message because the Egypt Independent objects to continued restrictions on media liberties, especially after hundreds of Egyptian gave their lives for freedom and dignity."

0900 GMT: Syria. A snapshot from Aleppo from journalist Jenan Moussa:

No matter how hard I try to explain how hungry this city is, I won't be able. Tens of people walked up to me today begging 4 bread.

In a bakery, a mom stood for 13 hours to get bread 2 her children. With teary eyes, she tells me, "My babies sleep hungry."

0850 GMT: Bahrain. A video posted on YouTube on Sunday has prompted Chief of Police Tariq Al Hasan to order an enquiry into a police raid of a house in Sitra.

The video shows a policeman kicking in the front door, followed inside by a group of officers. policemen. A short time later, the police emerge without any suspects. As they leave the scene, one policeman picks up a cinder block and throws it at a person behind a window.

The police chief said, “While it may appear that the officers were being taunted by the person inside the window, it is nonetheless unacceptable behavior on the part of the policeman who threw the cinder block. The entire matter is being investigated."

0610 GMT: Syria. Headlines this morning are likely to be about the US warning to Damascus over its stocks of chemical weapons. The Obama Administration followed up the story it placed in The New York Times with messages from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then President Obama himself:

Today I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command: The world is watching.

"The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable and if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.

Meanwhile, the daily death toll continues to rise. The Local Coordination Committees report that 239 people were killed by security forces on Monday, including 116 in Damascus and its suburbs and 41 in Aleppo Province.

On the political front, the Internet was full of chatter that Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi had defected and fled to London, following reports by Lebanon's Al Manar TV --- an outlet for news from the Assad regime --- that Makdisi had been sacked for making statements that do not reflect the Damascus line.

A senior Turkish official said that, in a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to a new diplomatic approach attempting to persuade President Assad to relinquish power.

Putin was less accommodating in his public statement, "Russia and Turkey for the moment cannot find a mutual approach on the methods of how to regulate the situation in Syria," although he added, "Our assessment of the situation completely coincide."

Putin continued, "We are not defenders of the existing regime in Syria, I have already stated this, we are concerned about something else, we don't want to repeat the mistakes of past."

Putin also criticised Turkey's proposed deployment of NATO Patriot missiles on the Syria border, "Creating additional capabilities on the border does not defuse the situation but on the contrary exacerbates it."

Russian political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov said, from contacts at the Foreign Ministry, that “people sent by the Russian leadership” who saw Assad two weeks ago described a man who has lost all hope of victory or escape:

His mood is that he will be killed anyway. If he will try to go, to leave, to exit, he will be killed by his own peopleIf he stays, he will be killed by his opponents. He is in a trap.

It is not about Russia or anybody else. It is about his physical survival.

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