Shelling of the Baba Amr section of Homs in Syria this morning
See also Syria Feature: Asking Again, "Will Aleppo Rise?" br>
Bahrain Feature: The Long Tentacles of the Regime's PR Octopus br>
Sudan 1st-Hand: Protests and Raids at the University of Khartoum br>
Thursday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Deaths of The Journalists
Two massacres were committed while the Friends' of Syria Conference being held The Syrian regime committed two new massacres today in Homs and Hama; where the number of martyrs in Hama reached 30 in two separate massacres and the number of martyrs in the Khaldieh massacre in Homs reached 33. The number of martyrs in Syria today is 97 so far in different cities. The Local Coordination Committees regrets the world's inability to stop the regime's brutal violence, which is increases steadily and kills more innocent Syrian victims every day
Sean Maguire, spokesman for the ICRC, told the Guardian that up to a dozen vehicles were involved in the operation. The ICRC is not identifying the evacuees at this time, and Maguire said he "did not have any information" as to whether the two French journalists Edith Bouvier and William Daniels, who are known to have been stranded in Baba Amr, were among those aided.
The evacuees have been taken to Al Amin hospital in central Homs, Maguire said, while the ICRC would be continuing efforts in Baba Amr.
"We're continuing our efforts. It's night-time, so it's more complicated, and there's a possibility our movement might be suspended for a while, but as soon as possible we will resume it."
Here is a picture of brave Anas al Tarsheh who was killed by regime forces today in the #Malaab area of #Homs.
Anas Al Tarsheh also would interview people as part of his contribution to citizen journalism in #syria
1953 GMT: So far, the head of the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, has not been impressed with the actions of the "Friends of Syria" group that met today in Tunisia. While it may be too early to see the significance of today's news, Ghalioun's statements about the acceptance of the Kurds could play a significant role moving forward.
“The new Syria will have a decentralized government, thereby enabling local authorities to take control of their affairs,” Burhan Ghalioun said, according to a copy of his speech.
“Your identity will be nationally recognized and respected and your rights as citizens will be assured. You will play a significant role in rebuilding the Syria of our dreams, the Syria of which we have been dreaming for decades.”
While there have been consistent protests in some Kurdish areas, they have not been as strong in recent months than they were originally. If the Kurdish elders find this statement sincere, that could once again change.
1944 GMT: According to the activist group, the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria, they have been able to verify that 93 people have been killed so far today in Syria, "among them 14 children, a woman, and 18 unidentified corpses which arrived to the town of Khattab. This includes 30 martyrs in Hama, 32 martyrs in Homs, 10 martyrs in Hassakeh,4 in Aleppo, 3 martyrs in Daraa, 10 martyrs in Idlib, 2 in Damascus Suburbs (Moudamaya, Douma) and 1 in each of Deir Ezzor and Raqqa."
The LCCS also share this video, which they claim shows the gunfire in the Midan district, near the center of Damascus, that was directed against protesters at dusk:
1938 GMT: We're still waiting for the Red Cross to release official details, but according to activists the ICRC tried to send 12 ambulances into Baba Amr, but the soldiers only allowed 4 ambulances in. Rami al Jarrah says that only 7 injured people (the western journalists presumably among them) have actually be evacuated from Baba Amr, Homs.
It's possible that this will change, but there seem to be miscommunications on every level of this story.
1925 GMT: Yemen has often hosted some of the largest and most impressive Friday prayer protests in the Middle East. For now, however, with a transition to a new administration in the works, the protesters have set their sights elsewhere.
This is the crowd today in Sana'a, chanting against the Syrian President Bashar al Assad:
1915 GMT: The Syrian Regime loses another ally - after months of signaling that Hamas was slowly pulling away from the Assad government, the leaders of Hamas finally threw their support to the opposition:
"I salute all the nations of the Arab Spring and I salute the heroic people of Syria who are striving for freedom, democracy and reform," Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, visiting Egypt from the Gaza Strip, told thousands of Friday worshippers at Cairo's al-Azhar mosque.
"We are marching towards Syria, with millions of martyrs," chanted worshippers at al-Azhar, home to one of the Sunni world's highest seats of learning. "No Hezbollah and no Iran.
"The Syrian revolution is an Arab revolution."
1843 GMT: The LCCS have posted two disturbing videos from Syria. The first claims to show the bodies of 10 people killed by Assad loyalists in the Khalidiya district of Homs. The second claims to show an entire family, including many children, murdered in Kafr Ton, Hama.
Like so many reports, we cannot verify the information, but EA was aware of botth videos earlier today because both videos were posted by activists before the LCCS posted them on their Facebook Page.
"ICRC spokeswoman Carla Haddad Mardini tells me evacuations of women and children in Homs "under way." Calls it a "first step."
ICRC spox tells me no info on whether bodies of deceased journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Olchik will be retrieved from Homs today.
Scott Lucas provides some analysis on these chaotic developments.
Even if there was an agreement with Damascus, this may not filter through to all Syrian authorities on the ground, and in chaotic situations, it certainly may not reach individual units. There probably was a general agreement reached between the ICRC and the Assad government, but there will be conflicts on the ground in Homs as the ICRC tries to get in.
1815 GMT: This story is developing quickly, and details are conflicting, but the situation in Baba Amr, Homs, is urgent. Now Rami al Jarrah reports that the Red Cross ambulances were denied entry to Baba Amr unless they agreed to ONLY evacuate the foreign journalists.
1803 GMT: There is now discrepancy about who the Red Cross is evacuating in Homs. Activist Rami al Jarrah posts that the Red Cross was only taking injured foreigners out of Baba Amr. NPR's Ahmed al Omran has cited several activist sources that say that the ICRC ambulances were denied entry into the street. Al Omran also spoke to an ICRC spokesman in Damascus who said that the foreign journalists were not the only ones being evacuated.
ICRC Spox: There is an agreement with all parties for a "pause" to allow the ambulances to go into Bab Amr and evacuate the injured.
ICRC Spox: we have doctors on the ground to assess who need help the most to evacuate them first.
However, within seconds Rami al Jarrah has posted this appeal:
The Syrian authorities refused to allow the red cross to entre to Baba Amre in Homs , and allowed four ambulance cars from the Syrian Red Crescent to entre the besieged neighbourhood.
All the foreign journalists refused to leave with the Syrian Red Crescent and asked the attendance of representatives of the International Red Corss to evacuate them with all the wounded Syrian citizens in Baba Amre who need special medical intervention to save their lives.
It worth mentioning that the field hospital in Bab Amre is run out of almost every basic medical consumable and there are only two medical doctors working in the hospital who lack the expertise to treat the hundreds of the injured people who need urgent surgery to save their lives.
In an email to the Guardian an ICRC spokesman said they had been in Baba Amr since this afternoon attempting to evacuate "everyine who needs it".
"ICRC and SARC are in Bab Amro since this afternoon and are negotiationg with the Syrian authorities and the opposition in and attempt to evacuate everyone who needs it without exception."
AP reported that ICRC officials are negotiating with authorities and rebels to try and evacuate "all wounded" – including two foreign journalists.
1751 GMT: A source in Bahrain sends us this video, which was edited together from several different cameras. The event in question occurred on February 18th. Below is the description given to us by the activist. We should warn that the video is occassionally graphic in nature:
A video montage from different angles of the brutality of the mercenaries (police) in Bahrain - After shooting a kid in his eye, they teargassed the place he fell in, not allowing other protesters to rescue him. Then they started beating and kicking him before shooting at him again, before leaving him thrown on the ground. The 15 year-old kid lost his eye.
1733 GMT: Bahrain continues to host large protest rallies organized by the leading opposition parties. Today's rally was in solidarity with Abdulhadi alKhawaja, the former head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights who is in prison for life, and father of prominent activists Maryam and Zainab.
Elsewhere, in the villages, there are more reports of clashes. Anup Kaphle, online editor for Foreign and National Security at the Washington Post, took this picture earlier, with this comment:
"Something about this photo from #Bahrain says a lot about the country right now."
Asked at the start of a bilateral meeting in the Tunisian capital with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton if he thought arming the Syrian opposition was a good idea, the Saudi minister said: "I think it's an excellent idea."
Asked why, he said: "Because they have to protect themselves."
Saud al-Faisal: My country will not take part in an action that will not lead to the quick protection of the Syrians
"Is it justice to offer aid and leave the Syrians to the killing machine?"
Saud Al-Faisal @ Friends of Syria conference:Syrian regime is illegitimate. The only solution is transfer of power‘willingly or by coercion'
1610 GMT: According to the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria, 51 people have been killed today by security forces, "among them 10 children and 18 unidentified corpses which arrived to the town of Khattab. This includes 23 martyrs in Hama, 15 martyrs in Homs, 6 martyrs in Hassakeh, 2 martyrs in Daraa, 3 martyrs in Aleppo and 1 martyr in each of Idlib and Deir Ezzor."
The report, less than a half-hour old, is likely already outdated. The LCCS is reporting that the Khalidiya district of Homs is being heavily shelled, the Damascus suburb Douma is being shelled, heavy gunfire is reported in the Madomiyah suburb and in Mesraba, and the town of Halfaya, Hama, is reportedly under a full-scale attack.
This video, reportedly taken this afternoon, shows the moment that security forces opened fire on a demonstration in Dael, Daraa. Note the child who appears to be close to the crossfire:
With smoke still in the air, this video reportedly shows a young girl who was injured when a shell fell on Idlib:
1551 GMT: Human Rights Watch posts this picture, which they say shows "the remnants of the tail section of Russian-made 240mm F-864 high explosive mortar bombs in Homs, Syria." The 240mm mortar shell is used to destroy heavy fortifications and fieldworks, which explains the devastating effects the recent shelling is having on the city of Homs.
HRW is not the only group reporting that these heavy shells, the heaviest known shell in Syria's arsenal, are being used to target civilians and the infrastructure in parts of Homs.
1546 GMT: The European Union is also preparing to increase pressure on Assad. The EU has named sanctions on 7 Syrian government ministers, "ministers of health, education, presidential affairs, communications and technology, industry, oil and mineral resources, and transport." These sanctions include a freezing of all assets and a ban on travel.
The EU is also set to impose new sanctions on the Syrian Central Bank. These new sanctions would likely freeze all SCB assets, and the new sanctions would also target cargo flights and trade of precious metals and minerals. They are set to pass on February 27th.
1531 GMT: Echoing reports from the Syrian National Council (update 1415 GMT), Al Arabiya and Reuters also report that the international community is turning a "blind eye" to the smuggling of small arms and other supplies into Syria by wealthy expatriates who support the opposition:
“We are bringing in defensive and offensive weapons... It is coming from everywhere, including Western countries and it is not difficult to get anything through the borders,” the source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“There is not a decision by any country to arm the rebels but countries are allowing Syrians to buy weapons and send them into the country.”
1526 GMT: Much to our surprise, there are potentially game-changing developments on the international front when it comes to Syria today. First, as we said below, is a call for intervention from Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani:
"There is a need to create an Arab force and open humanitarian corridors to provide security to the Syrian people," he said in a speech at the "Friends of Syria" international meeting in Tunisia.
Next, Russia has said that it will back the appointment of Kofi Annan as the UN special envoy to Syria, and Al Arabiya reports that Russia's call for a cease-fire in Homs sound surprisingly similar to statements made by the "Friends of Syria" group:
The Russian Foreign Ministry statement roughly echoed a draft declaration at the Tunis meeting, which urged Syria to cease all violence immediately, but it repeated Russia’s calls on the West and Arabs to pressure Assad's opponents to stop fighting.
“We call on the Syrian government and armed groups, and also those who can exert influence upon them, to immediately take all the necessary steps to avoid the further worsening of the humanitarian situation and to improve it,” it said.
There is now a possibility that a compromise draft-resolution could now be introduced to the UNSC that would call for a cease-fire, at the very least.
1506 GMT: According to Sky News, the Qatari Foreign Minister has called for the creation of an Arab Force to "impose peace" in Syria. Also, the Arab League has called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to pass a resolution demanding a ceasefire.
1455 GMT: Activists are now reporting many protests in and around Damascus. In our last entry, we posted video from the ever-important Kafer Souseh district. This video is reportedly taken in Babila, a southern suburb:
James Miller takes over for Scott Lucas.
1415 GMT: Bassima Kadma of the opposition Syrian National Council has told the Financial Times that insurgents are receiving communciations equipment, bullet-proof vests, night goggles, and medical gear with the help of "international allies".
If true, that aid is similar to the initial wave of support given to Libyan insurgents as they fought the Qaddafi regime last year.
Earlier this week, unnamed US officials in the Department of Defense said "a good number" of unmanned American military and intelligence drones were flying over Syria, monitoring attacks on opposition forces and civilians. The officials said Washington hoped to use the visual evidence and intercepts of communications to "make the case for a widespread international response".
A mass protest in the Kafarsouseh section of Damascus:
A demonstration in Houla in Homs Province:
1325 GMT: The website of Addounia TV, a supporter of Syria's Assad regime, has been hacked. The homepage has been replaced with a series of messages --- "How Long Will You Stay Criminals?" --- and video of a revolutionary toddler.
Nothing has changed it is the same situation, the same siege ... They keep killing and nobody cares about our lives. We feel a lot of anger....
Is there any real action from the world? We don't want statements. He [Assad] will never stop. He will keep killing. We want them to protect our families, our children, our women. To provide food, to provide medicine. To remove this dictatorship from our head.
Any kind of protection for civilians would be welcome. Military interfere[nce] would be welcome. We want action to stop the bloodshed. We want them to remove Bashar al-Assad.
1255 GMT: A demonstration today in Maarat al-Nasan in Idlib Province in northwest Syria:
1240 GMT: We are awaiting the start of the meeting in Tunis of the "Friends of Syria", with representatives of more than 60 countries, but reports indicate that the group will recognise the opposition Syrian National Council.
The SNC, in a seven-point statement, has called for the arming of opposition forces: "If the regime fails to accept the terms of the political initiative outlined by the Arab League and end violence against citizens, the Friends of Syria should not constrain individual countries from aiding the Syrian opposition by means of military advisers, training and provision of arms to defend themselves."
Dozens of Iraqis demonstrated for reforms in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on Friday, the eve of the first anniversary of mass protests in which 16 people were killed across the country.
Security forces had a heavy presence in the square, with soldiers armed with wooden clubs, pistols and assault rifles surrounding the area where the demonstrators were gathered.
Groups of policemen with Kalashnikov rifles were also deployed, as were various army and police vehicles mounted with machineguns.
"The demonstration is to remind the government that the February Youth (protesters) and the youth of Tahrir Square still continue to protest as long as there are demands that are not realized," said Muayid al-Tayyeb, who led chants at the protest.
1150 GMT: Live footage of a demonstration in the Qosour section of Homs:
1110 GMT: An International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman said the ICRC has not had any reply from Syrian authorities on its request for a truce to allow in aid supplies and evacuate the wounded. Hicham Hassan said, "It is crucial that our initiative is met with a positive and concrete reaction urgently."
Saleh departed Boston on Thursday for Ethiopia.
Saleh's return follows Tuesday's election of Vice Presidential Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, the only candidate on the ballot.
Al Jazeera English reports on the prospects for Yemen after the election:
The Guardian speculates that the return is connected with the attempt to evacuate wounded Le Figaro journalist Edith Bouvier from Homs.
Bouvier was injured in Wednesday's bombing of the Baba Amr media centre, which killed 11 people including foreign journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik.
Aboul Fotouh, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, is in intensive care unit with a head injury, according to his campaign manager.
0615 GMT: Developments and protests inside Syria will be accompanied today by a meeting of representatives from more than 60 nations in Tunis as the "Friends of Syria".
Diplomats have said the US, European countries, and Arab nations will issue a warning to President Assad through a document calling on "the Syrian government to implement an immediate cease-fire and to allow free and unimpeded access by the United Nations and humanitarian agencies to carry out a full assessment of needs in Homs and other areas".
What follows if Assad rejects the demand is vague, with sources speaking only of tougher but unspecified sanctions. However, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé put out the specific proposal of "humanitarian corridors", saying that "this must not be abandoned".
The conference faces the challenge with any substantive action that Russia and China, who vetoed action by the United Nations Security Council, have refused invitations to today's discussion.
In a parallel step, the United Nations and the Arab League have appointed Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General, as a special envoy on Syria. They said Annan would seek "a peaceful Syrian-led and inclusive political solution that meets the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people through a comprehensive political dialogue between the Syrian Government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition".