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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Protests Amidst the Regime's Assault?

See also Iraq Revealed: A Mysterious Death and Britain's Secret Detention Camp
Bahrain Feature: What Has Changed in the Past Year?
Thursday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Decimating Homs

2249 GMT: With nightfall, solid information from Syria is only harder to come by. However, with power and internet cut in many key areas, like Homs, and Zabadani and Madaya, good information has been hard to verify all day. We've been searching for many hours, for instance, but have not found a single video from Zabadani or Madaya, true testimony to how closed off and isolated those cities have become.

However, at the end of the day, there are two reports that have our attention, two reports which may be significant once day breaks. The first is from the Kafer Souseh district of Damascus, a key area very close to some major government buildings. The LCCS report large explosions in the area, of unknown origin.

The second potentially significant report come from the Irbeen district of Damascus. The CFDPC report that there is currently a gunfight between members of the Free Syrian Army and Assad-loyal troops. This video that they share shows the gunfire:

2159 GMT: The CFDPC offer this update on the situation in Zabadani and Madaya, northwest of Damascus:

The Madaya and Zabadani areas of Damascus are still under heavy random shelling, while internet and communications are cut off. Madaya is not completely under the control of Assad forces as it was reported earlier and clashes continue.

2152 GMT: It's pretty rare these days that we talk about fighting in Tripoli, but it's even more rare when we talk about fighting in Tripoli, Lebanon.

The city in northern Lebanon has a strong Sunni population, and a small Alawites neighborhood, and people have been taking to the streets with increased regularity to rally for or against the Assad regime in Syria. According to Reuters, today's violence broke out, as RPGs were fired in the city:

Residents said the rocket-propelled grenades were fired from the Sunni Muslim district Bab al-Tabbaneh towards the Alawite district of Jebel Mohsen, but caused no injuries.

The rival districts often clash, but tensions have heightened sharply since the outbreak of unrest in Syria. Friday's violence came after hundreds of people demonstrated in Tripoli against Assad following weekly Muslim prayers.

There are also unconfirmed reports that 2 soldiers and 4 civilians were injured.

2138 GMT: It is not safe to be a cameraman (or anyone) in Baba Amr, Homs:

2124 GMT: The US Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, has released a statement that is highly critical of the Assad regime. According to Ford, one should not equate the violence perpetrated by the regime and that perpetrated by the opposition. Ford had this to say about the artillery bombardment of cities around Syria, including Homs:

There is no evidence that the opposition -- even those opposition members who have defected from the military -- has access or has employed such heavy weapons. Those who defect from the military are often lucky to leave with only the rifle in their hands, fearful that those loyal to the regime will hunt them down for refusing to kill unarmed civilians. It's also important to note the opposition began as a peaceful movement and it is still mostly a peaceful protest movement that has been met by the regime with imprisonment, torture and killing.

In order to illustrate this point, the State Department has released an interactive gallery of satellite images that show the forward positions of artillery units being deployed against Syrian civilians, particularly near al Zabadani, Rankus, and Homs.

The State Department also releases this picture, a satellite image over Baba Amr, Homs (click for full-sized picture).

2116 GMT: According to Foreign Policy, several members of the US Senate are proposing a bill that would pledge support to the Syrian opposition:

"The Senate... urges the President to support an effective transition to democracy in Syria by identifying and providing substantial material and technical support, upon request, to Syrian organizations that are representative of the people of Syria, make demonstrable commitments to protect human rights and religious freedom, reject terrorism, cooperate with international counterterrorism and nonproliferation efforts, and abstain from destabilizing neighboring countries."

There is no word on the likelihood that the bill would pass, but it may be introduced later this afternoon.

2051 GMT: The LCCS has updated today's death toll and is now reporting that 52 people have been killed by Syrian security forces, "including four women and five children. 16 martyrs in Homs, 15 in Damascus Suburbs (Al-Zabadani, Maddaya, Douma and Al Domer), 13 in Aleppo, 5 in Daraa, two in Deir Ezzour and one in Hama.

The death toll, compared to some days in the last three weeks, seems low. However, there were an unusual amount of protesters killed in Aleppo and Dumair, and there are reports of shelling into the night in Homs, Zabadani, and Idlib province.

2000 GMT: Multiple sources are reporting to the LCCS that the Syrian military is conducting an operation in Ma'arrat al Numan, Idlib:

Regime forces are launching random artillery fire on the city, and have rained approximately 20 BMP shells in addition to heavy gunfire from heavy machine guns. The FSA is indicating that a defection has taken place at security checkpoints

The city has been subject of blitz attacks by security forces for many weeks, but the attacks have been more frequent over the last several days. Partially, this is because of a large presence of Free Syrian Army fighters reported there. Partially, it is because of scenes like this one, reportedly taken earlier today:

1911 GMT: A videographer films an explosion, reportedly today in Daraya. At the end of the video, the snap of a bullet indicated a near hit, and the cameraman appears to double over. The description on the video says that he was shot:

1751 GMT: According to the latest tally by the LCCS, 52 people have been killed today by security forces in Syria, "including four women and five children. 16 martyrs in Homs, 15 in Damascus Suburbs (Al-Zabadani, Maddaya, Douma and Al Domer), 13 in Aleppo, 5 in Daraa, two in Deir Ezzour and one in Hama."

These figures do not include the 28 that SANA claims were killed in the bombings in Aleppo, and they do not include any casualties among the Syrian security forces that may be the result of attacks made by the Free Syrian Army.

1741 GMT: The Zo Al Norain brigade of the Free Syrian Army posts four videos which they say show an FSA attack on a police station in the Bayada district of Homs. In the first, the fighters are firing from on top of the post office building:

In the second, we cannot see their location or their target, but the fighters have scoped rifles and appear to be coordinating with other fighters over the radio:

In the next two videos, the police station has obviously taken considerable damage, and the FSA fighters appear to be using much heavier weapons, especially in the last video:

1720 GMT: The Guardian catches a piece of news, and a priceless gem, from Syrian state TV SANA. The first, that the official death toll of the bombings in Aleppo has been updated. SANA is now saying that 28 have died, and 275 are injured in the blasts.

The gem, however, is the Syrian regime's alternative explanation for the events in the Baba Amr district of Homs, which the opposition is saying is being hit bu shells and rockets (which fall from the sky, in case you did not know):

Armed terrorist groups on Friday detonated a number of booby-trapped houses in Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs with the aim of terrifying citizens and to give the impression that the Army is shelling the neighborhood.

A source at the governorate told Sana correspondent that military engineering units dismantled 15 explosive devices, weighing between 10 to 15 kg, which the armed terrorist groups planted at some streets and houses in the neighborhood to target civilians and law-enforcement forces.

We'd be laughing if today's news was not so tragic.

1704 GMT: The Local Coordinating Committees of Syria have released a statement about the attack against the city of Zabadani, 20 miles to the northwest of Damascus, which is still, for the moment, under the control of the Free Syrian Army:

The brutal shelling of Zabadany continues into its sixth consecutive day, with over 150 mortar and artillery shells dropped on various parts of the city, resulting in the complete demolition of seven homes and partial destruction of 40 homes, the complete demolition of Maree mosque and the city's church, and damging two other mosques.Since the beginning of the shelling, 35 homes have been completely destroyed and 400 homes have been damaged.Today seven people were martyred and forty people were injured, known among the martyrs are: two young men from the Zaleikha family, a young man from the Dalati family, a young man from the Nasab family, a child from the Shamali family and Akarm Olbeh. This is in addition to over two hundred missing people, whose whereabouts are unknown, especially considering that ruins cannot be cleared due to the intensity of the fire.

The brutal shelling targeted the entire infrastructure of the city, the electricity network was targeted, the garage of the civil defense and the fire trucks, Al Jarjaniah hospital, the electricity generators even the spare ones all were targeted in addition to the sidewalk was destroyed and the lighting column on it were entirely destroyed. On the human side, the city is suffering from water scarcity because there is no electricity to pump the water to the houses, all the rations finished from the city which is being besieged since more than 10 days in row, all kind of food, fuel or anything similar were not allowed to enter the city since then.On the healthcare side, all the medical supplies, including medical gauze finished, while tens of injured are still in the city as there are no safe way to transfer them to another place. The military forces are located now on the south entrance on about 300 Meter from the city’s entrance, storming is expected at any moment, the military forces include more than 30,000 solider, more than 300 tanks and armored vehicles queuing up to 8Km

1658 GMT: Al Jazeera tries to sort the latest reports on the situation in Aleppo. They show footage from Syrian State TV of the bomb blasts that reportedly killed as many as 28, and they also report that a commander in the Free Syrian Army has denied responsibility for the bomb blasts, but has claimed responsibility for an attack on Syrian security forces in Aleppo.

There was no mention n the AJE report of the protests and other violence in Aleppo that EA has confirmed today (see updates at 1531 GMT and 1515 GMT).

1648 GMT: The city of Dael, Daraa, is reportedly under attack today. According to activists, this burning car was being used as an ambulance to evacuate protesters, and it was filled with wounded before it was hit by a tank shell. There is no way to verify the report:

The Guardian also posts this video, which they say shows protesters, armed only with rocks, running from a tank that is chasing them through the streets, firing all the way.

1636 GMT: There is widespread violence in Syria, but a story that is, perhaps, less dramatic, but no less important, is that we've seen hundreds of videos of large protests across the country today. Today's theme "Russia is killing our children."

So far, the most impressive videos are coming from Idlib province, an area nearly completely hostile to the Assad regime. This was reportedly taken today in Khan Shiekhoun:

Binnish, Idlib:

Inkhel, Daraa Province, a funeral for a martyr:

1622 GMT: The men in this video futilely try to put out this car fire with a fire extinguisher, reportedly after a shell hit in Baba Amr, but the nearby house has already caught on fire:

1614 GMT: The Guardian posts his video, reportedly showing tanks firing on Baba Amr, Homs:

A contact in the neighborhood, Abo Emad, has spoken the The Guardian, and reports that more than 30 people have already been killed there today:

Emad claimed a ground invasion of Homs is already beginning to happen. He said: "Yesterday and the day before they [the army] and entered the Inshaat neighbourhood, near Bab Amro. And they have thrown the people out of their homes."

He added: "The Free Syrian Army isn't getting help from anyone." It is fighting back but it can't hold off the regular army, he said. "You can't fight a tank by Kalashnikov, you can't fight an air plane by RPG. We are asking the international community to support the Free Syrian Army."

People are sharing everything they have to survive, he said. Emad said the electricity and communications in the area had been cut, but that he was communicating via a satellite internet connection powered by a generator.

He said: "Our laptops are very important to tell the whole world what's going on here in Syria."

30 people killed in Baba Amr, #Homs, an activist in the area claims (mp3)

1554 GMT: In Homs, the situation is once again grim. This video may not look as dramatic as the blood/guts/explosion videos, but the narrator in Baba Amr is pointing out that the military has fired on this water tank, and tanks like these are the only source of fresh water in the city.

But there are no shortages of graphic and disturbing images in Homs, today. This video shows a woman with no head in Baba Amr. Another graphic video shows the injuries in a field hospital hidden somewhere in Baba Amr. Yet another video shows cars filled with bodies. And yet another, blood in the streets, and a child martyr.

Despite the violence, protests continue. This video was reportedly taken in the Qusour district:

Bab Sbaa:

1546 GMT: The Coalition of Free Damascenes for Peaceful Change have this update on the situation in Madaya, adding details to what we've previously reported:

The Madaya area of Damascus is now under the control of Assad army forces after clashes with the Free Syrian Army that withdrew from the area; tanks are now stationed within Madaya and Bokkin, some arrived to the Bloudan area.

The shelling continues and now is more concentrated on the Zabadani area.

1539 GMT: EA Correspondent Josh Shahryar makes this important update on EA's live coverage of Iran:

IRNA is reporting that seven Iranian engineers who had been abducted by 'terrorists' have now been released in Syria. The report adds:
According to an informed source at the energy ministry, these Iranians were engaged in the construction of the first gas unit of Jandar Combined Cycle Power Plant in Syria before being kidnapped near the Syrian city of Homs on December 20.
Terrorist groups kidnapped the engineers under the false accusation of cooperating with Iran’s Islamic Revolution's Guard Corps (IRGC), said the report.
We cannot independently verify that they have been indeed released and whether they are the same engineers that some claim were shown in an FSA video and claimed to be IRGC fighters. For more on this story, read our in depth investigation into the abduction.

1531 GMT: More news from Aleppo - according to the Local Coordinating Committees, more than 70 people have been injured when security forces and "shabiha" opened fire on protesters in the Marjeh district today.

1521 GMT: There are terrible reports coming from Zabadani and Madaya, two towns approximately 20 miles to the northwest of Damascus that are under siege. Here is the latest from the LCCS:

The violent shelling of the town with rockets and cannons by the regime's army continues. There are dead bodies scattered in the streets and cannot be pulled out, and many wounded that cannot be treated because of the deteriorating humanitarian condition which the city is suffering from; There is a sever shortage of medical supplies and food, as well as complete communication, electricity and water cut. The city is now completely isolated because of the heavy siege

Zilal adds that Madaya is completely under the control of Assad forces, though Zabadani is only surrounded.

1515 GMT: These videos were reportedly taken in the al-Ferdous district of Aleppo. In the first, a crowd gathers in protest. In the second, the crowd scatters, reportedly attacked by police.

A contact, Zilal, who is familiar with Aleppo, confirms that these videos came from that area, and also reports protests in the Myassar neighborhood and the Izaa neighborhood. She shares this video, reportedly taken today in Myassar (unfortunately, the sound failed to upload):

This is the protest near the al-Rashid mosque in the Izaa district of Aleppo:

And this is the neighborhood where the Salahadeen protests took place:

According to Zilal, Al Jazeera is reporting that 13 protesters have been killed in Aleppo so far today.

1434 GMT: Another commander in the Free Syrian Army has denied that the FSA had any involvement in the bombings in Aleppo today. Other commanders in the FSA, and an official statement from the Syrian National Council, also deny that the FSA had any involvement, though one FSA commander earlier had suggested that the Free Syrian Army was behind the attacks.

1426 GMT: There is also violence reported in al Bukamal, Deir Ez Zor, for the second day in a row, and in Deir Ez Zor itself, the Free Syrian Army has reportedly clashed with the pro-Assad forces:

Rows of the regime's army's tanks enter the city leading to clashes with the Free Syrian Army at the Halabiya (Aleppo) roundabout in the region of Salihiya

Security forces and Shabeeha storm Joora neighborhood amid an arbitrary arrests campaign on Wadi street, and unconfirmed reports of the fall of a martyr in the neighborhood

1410 GMT: We're still catching up on news from Syria today. The Local Coordinating Committees report that a protest in the Marzeh district, a fairly central district in Damascus, has been fired upon by security forces:

Damascus: Mazzeh: More than 15 wounded fell after security started shooting using and sound bombs to disperse the demonstrators in Farooq neighborhood

This video reportedly shows the crowd before the gunfire:

Elsewhere, Injuries are reported in Hama, an attack on the town of Zabadani reportedly continues, at least six people have been shot and killed in Dumair, east of Damascus, and Homs is continually under attack. Dramatic videos that the LCCS has posted are from Dael, Daraa, where tanks and soldiers reportedly opened fire on protesters:

All in all, the LCCS reports that 34 people have been killed by security forces, "including five martyrs and three women. 12 martyrs in Aleppo, 10 martyrs in Homs, 8 martyrs in Domair in Damascus suburbs, three martyrs in Daraa, and a martyr in Deir Ezzor."

1357 GMT: Speaking from Manama, Bahrain, below is a statement by Michael H. Posner, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor for the US government. The statement is extremely balanced. First, he says that he has spoken to people from all walks of life, from the opposition to the regime, to journalists and other professionals.

Beyond the diplomatic statements of continued support, Posner has a series of extremely critical things to say about the regime's actions. Though many of the incidents raised by Posner are now 11 months or a year old, and covered in the BICI report, Posner also speaks about police tactics being below international standards, excessive teargas, and other problems that occur to this day.

Of course, Posner also mentioned the use of molotovs and other weapons that have been used by some members of the opposition, incidents that have led to many injured police officers.

The bottom line is that Posner is calling for reform. The real question remains - what will he, and the US government, do if reform is insufficient?

1337 GMT: The Syrian State TV, SANA, posts a series of pictures (warning: some are very graphic) that they say show the extent of the damage in Aleppo, where the government claims that two bomb blasts outside a security building has killed 25 and wounded 175.

In discussions with Swedish journalist Fredrik Johansson, he noted that all of the major "car bombs" that have gone off, two incidents in Damascus and now one in Aleppo, have gone off on Friday. This could serve as a convenient distraction from the growing protests. Also, the opposition would perhaps be ill-advised to launch attacks on a Friday, as the explosions, and the resulting security presence in the streets, block protests from happening. Also, we both note the convenient timing - as today is the first Friday since the start of the intense onslaught in Homs, and the 7th day of the attack, world attention is on Syria's 3rd largest city. Now, much of that attention has been diverted to look at Aleppo.

1317 GMT: James Miller takes over today's live coverage, with a big thank you to Scott Lucas, who has managed to do many of these updates while on the road.

The Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre sums up the day so far in Syria:

Today is the friday of "Russia is killing our children", at least 25 martyrs have fallen among them 3 kids in Homs, Damascus Countryside and Daraa. after planting mines at the borders with Turkey to prevent the flee of the people, Assad troops has recieved gas masks in preparation to big military operation there. 2 explosions happened this morning in Aleppo next to military intelligence centre and riot police centre. FSA denied any responsibilty of it. Baba Amru, for the 6th day is like this ...

Quick observation - if things are this bad for the cameraman who is in this relatively sheltered building, imagine what it must be like for anyone caught in the streets of Baba Amr, Homs.

1205 GMT: Supporting the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Prime Minister, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has supported the crackdown on US-funded non-government organisations, including the trial of 19 American among 40 defendants for operating without licences and accepting foreign funds.

1155 GMT: Thursday's statement of US Assistant Secetary of State Michael Posner after three days of talks in Bahrain --- the American official sets out "stability" as the priority and is broadly supportive of the regime, with King Hamad's "commitment" and steps by the Government to implement the recommendations of the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, while saying "more needs to be done":

1135 GMT: Interesting notes of scepticism in the Associated Press report of the two bombs in Aleppo, Syria's second-largest city, this morning:

Outside the compound of the Military Intelligence Directorate, hit by one of the morning explosions, a weeping corespondent on state-run TV showed graphic footage of at least five corpses, collected in sacks and under blankets by the side of the road.

Debris filled the street and residential buildings appeared to have their windows shattered. But the location did not appear to be closed off, as local residents milled around the site, with few uniformed police around. No emergency vehicles or ambulances were visible in the footage and there was no sign of wounded, as earth-moving equipment was seen clearing the rubble.

The presenter said the blast went off near a park where children were playing and claimed children were also killed. Although it lingered over the adult bodies, the TV footage did not show any child victims.

1120 GMT: Syrian State news agency SANA posts a brief item, followed by very graphic images:

Two terrorist attacks on Friday morning targeted Military Security Branch and headquarters of law-enforcement forces in Aleppo City.

[A] source at the Ministry of Health said that the bodies of 25 martyrs and 175 injured people were admitted to the national hospitals.

The attacks caused great damage to the two headquarters and the nearby residential buildings.

State and pro-regime TV has also been showing graphic footage of bodies on the ground, with parts thrown across the explosion site.

0450 GMT: We begin Friday looking back at what has happened and forward to what may happen in Syria.

By yesterday afternoon, another 127 people were dead at the hands of security forces. More than 100 were slain in Homs, shelled for a sixth day, but the regime's assault also continued in the northwest, in the south, and in the Damascus suburbs.

So to today. EA's James Miller, in his analysis this week, noted that the defiance of protest had continued despite the deadly attacks. Given that tanks have now rolled into towns and cities as the regime tries to reassert control, will this be the case on another Friday in the Syrian crisis?

An anti-regime march last night in the Midan section of Damascus:

And in the Khaddam section:

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