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Wednesday
Feb292012

Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Remembering All the Dead 

A montage of more than 70 people who have died in violence in Bahrain since the start of mass protests in February 2011


2127 GMT: A member of the Syrian National Council, Mulham al Jundi reports on the situation in Baba Amr, Homs:

In a phone call with Abu Haneen from the heart of Baba Amr, he informed us of the following:

Baba Amr has faced multiple attempts of being stormed by the Syrian National Army. Activists worked hard to save the neighborhood and protect the civilians. In the meanwhile, Baba Amr was still being shelled. Clashes continued until the evening. The Free Syrian Army succeeded in affecting loss in the Syrian National Army, both people & supplies. Some of the leaders of the Farooq Division left the site of the clashes to securely transport women and children to safer regions. Activists are still defending the neighborhood against the army that was essentially defeated at its attempts. The activists have seized control of Baba Amr and the Assad army is positioned at the outskirts of the region.

While we can't verify the specific details of the report, there are two key points that continue to be repeated by all the trusted sources EA has made contact with - the FSA has been clashing with Assad soldiers, especially in the northeast of Baba Amr, and the troops have not fully occupied the neighborhood...

Yet. The third detail that is in nearly every report - Assad's military is capable of taking Baba Amr. It is possible that they are holding out to lessen the media attention, or because they want to avoid heavy losses, but the entire city is surrounded by extremely large amounts of pro-Assad military forces, and tonight they are closer to Baba Arm than they have been since the siege started.

2054 GMT: The Local Coordinating Committees of Syria, a network of activists inside the country, are reporting that the French journalist Edith Bouvier refuses to leave the Baba Amr district of Homs unless other injured civilians who have been waiting longer are also evacuated. According to the report, she has asked for the intercession of the French ambassador.

At this point there is no way to verify the report, but we do know that several other western journalists have escaped to Lebanon, including Paul Conroy who was also injured, but Bouvier is still in Homs.

2013 GMT: Al Jazeera has confirmed some news that has been rumored for several hours, than a Spanish journalist who had been trapped in Homs has escaped to Lebanon.

Spanish journalist Javier Espinosa has escaped the besieged Syrian city of Homs and is in neighbouring Lebanon, his employer and his domestic partner both said.

Espinosa "left Syria and was in Lebanon in perfect health", his employer the El Mundo newspaper wrote on its website on Wednesday.

Monica Garcia Prieto, Espinosa's domestic partner, also added that two French journalists, one of them wounded, remain behind in the rebel-held Homs neighbourhood of Baba Amr, which is under government assault.

British photographer Paul Conroy escaped to Lebanon yesterday, but journalist William Danielsinjured journalist Edith Bouvier are still stuck in Homs.

2002 GMT: The LCCS is now reporting that 23 people have been killed by security forces today, "including 11 in the city of Homs among them 5 members of the Al-Bihlaq family. In addition, 3 martyrs fell in each of Damascus Suburbs and Daraa, 2 in each of Deir Ezzor and Idlib; and 1 in each of Hama and Lattakia."

1942 GMT: This video was reportedly taken at the "human chain" near the US embassy in Bahrain.

An EA correspondent in Bahrain also shares this video, reportedly showing a march to display "Loyalty to symbols, the opposition leaders who are behind bars," this evening in Samaheej village:

Many activists have been thinking of Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, who has been on hunger strike for many days and who is in poor health.

There are also unconfirmed reports that Tubli, the area where today's human chain took place, has been covered in tear gas, which activists say is revenge for hosting the protest today.

1912 GMT: An activist shares this video, subtitled by The Telegraph:

Interesting claims, however, there has been little evidence to back them up. So far, EA has seen little in the way of hard evidence that suggests that Assad forces are using their air power for anything more than reconnaissance, and the only video that claimed to show the FSA shooting a helicopter was really taken years ago in Chechnya.

1906 GMT: On most days, despite the internet blackout, there are many videos from Homs. Today there have been precious few. This video was reportedly take in the Al Qusour district in Homs. The protesters chant in support of Baba Amr:

1846 GMT: It's snowing in Homs, Syria, tonight, and the temperature is dropping quickly. Most have no diesel fuel left to run stoves, and electricity is spotty, but most of the time it is off entirely.

Mulham al Jundi told Sky News, "We are strong and we will stay strong, but I'm not sure if we will stay alive. We will be strong until we are dead."

Many are reporting that they are without food, or that they have only had a few bites of bread in the last several days, only increasing the risk of widespread humanitarian crisis in a city that faces so many problems.

1833 GMT: Bahrain - An impressive picture from the "human chain" formed near the US embassy today (click for full-sized image):

1729 GMT: Breaking news - Reuters reports that the Egyptian government has lifted the travel ban on the US citizens who were arrested after their NGOs were accused of tampering with elections:

"The assistant to the attorney general, following a request from the investigating judges, has issued an order to lift the ban," a judicial source said, adding that charges had not been dropped against any of those involved.

This is likely the result of behind-the-scenes diplomacy, and could allow the Americans to leave the country without the Egyptian government facing embarrassment for having backed-down from the original decision to try the NGO workers.

1706 GMT: Syrian activist Hadi al-Abdallah, reportedly calling Al Jazeera from somewhere from Homs, reports on the events today. Abdallah reports that the shelling has never been worse than this, despite 26 straight days of shelling.

1701 GMT: An activist describes the scene as a home burns in the background after the town of Al Harak, in Daraa province, was heavily bombarded earlier today:

1654 GMT: The LCCS confirms earlier reports that a man was killed in the Bab al-Hadeed district of Aleppo:

Aleppo: The Corpes of martyr Ammar Batoos arrived to Banqosa Mosque in Bab Al-Hadeed neighborhood and the residents are preparing for his funeral procession.

1630 GMT: The Libyan government has announced that it will be providing the equivalent of $100 million directly to the Syrian opposition:

Libya government spokesperson Mohammed al-Harizi said the opposition Syrian National Council opened a bank account for the funds which will be used to "provide financial support for humanitarian purposes, equivalent to $100 million."

1625 GMT: This video was reportedly taken today in Aleppo Province. The men in the video say that the firing is coming from a nearby airport (we believe here).

1612 GMT: Another video from Mulham Jundi, taken at around 0900 GMT. In the video, which may have been taken in the "Old City" of Homs (where he reports to be now). He says that the gunfire which can clearly be heard is the work of snipers, and some distant shelling can also be heard:


Video streaming by Ustream

1603 GMT: The Guardian has spoken to an activist, via Skype, in the Khalidiya district of Homs. It's worth noting that there is a good deal of distance between Khalidiya and Baba Amr:

Speaking via Skype, above the sound of an electricity generator, he said:

Around Baba Amr there is fighting between the Free Syrian Army and the regularly army. But it is difficult to know exactly what is happening in Baba Amr.

The activist, who did want to give his name, added: "Today there are many tanks and thousands of soldiers around Baba Amr. We can hear fighter jets, and we've seen helicopters firing at civilians in Baba Amr."

Speaking about his own neighbourhood, he said:

The bombing in Khalidiya is not as fierce, but for 24 days there has been bombing, gunfire and missiles. For the last three or five there has been no drinking water, no food, no electricity.

The Assad regime wants to kill us.

1537 GMT: There is still confusion about the situation in Baba Amr, Homs. Today's events were preempted by a statement from the regime that the Syrian Army ground forces would be invading the city to clear it out. This appears to have been followed by a volley of heavy artillery, which by itself is no longer rare. Communications and electricity were cut, and some soldiers did engage into some sort of operation just northeast of Baba Amr, apparently where they met resistance from the Free Syrian Army. However, it seems clear that as of now a large-scale ground assault on the neighborhood has not happened.

As one EA correspondent describes the event, "regime psy-ops and Chinese whispers."

In other news, activists have posted a video, with English subtitles, showing the bodies of journalists Marie Colvin and Rémi Olchik, stored in a fridge in Baba Amr along with vegetables and fruit.

1529 GMT: An activist posts another picture, reportedly of the rally in Tubli, Bahrain, in front of the US embassy:

Traffic in the area is reportedly at a standstill as many protesters are trying to reach the rally.

1517 GMT: Turning briefly to Bahrain, an EA correspondent in the country has told us that the major opposition parties have called for a protest in Tubli, right near the US Embassy in Manama. Our correspondent is on the way.

A Facebook page associated with the February 14th Coalition posts this picture, a human chain being formed by AlWefaq activists in Tubli:

1501 GMT: While we are still trying to confirm news of gunfire in Aleppo, multiple sources report protests at the University of Aleppo. Below are several videos that we've seen:

1449 GMT: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights summarizes the news that seems consistent with other reports that EA has heard from Daraa province today:

Military forces accompanied by armoured military vehicles have stormed the city of Al-Herak, in Daraa district, amid heavy gunfire and the sound of explosions inside the city. And the security forces raided the village of Gabgb and arrested 12 people. Also, there were reports of heavy gunfire in the town of Al-Mesayffera.

The Observatory, based in London, also reports that security forces have opened fire in Aleppo, a story we have not yet heard:

The Syrian security forces opened fire to disperse hundreds of people gathered at the neighbourhood of Halabe Al-Jadidah in Aleppo city. The people were participating in the funeral of a soldier who was killed in Idlib district.

1441 GMT: Often overshadowed by the growing violence, peaceful protests are continuing across Syria today. This video confirms reports we've heard from other sources that there are large protests in Latameneh, Hama:

1432 GMT: While the exact details of what's going on in Baba Amr, Homs, are unclear, north of Homs, in Al Rastan, there are multiple sources reporting that Assad forces began a fierce shelling campaign earlier today. The Local Coordinating Committees of Syria, an activist network, report that the city was heavily shelled. They post this gruesome video, which they say shows a man whose car was hit by a shell this morning. Since then, they have identified the man as Ahmend Nizar al-Harky from al-Sulmieh, Hama.

In this video, this man stands in the rubble of a home, reportedly destroyed today in Al Rastan:

1421 GMT: The Guardian posts this live stream from Mulham al-Jundi, a member of the Syrian National Council, who is in Homs. Among the rain and snow, the occasional explosion can be heard in the background

Jundi appeared in front of the camera to say there was a lull in the fighting, but then gunfire could be heard. He insisted it was safe to broadcast. Once again his location is unclear.


Video streaming by Ustream

1413 GMT: Another report from Sammy who claims to be in the Inshaat district in Western Homs, just north of Baba Amr:

1354 GMT: There are conflicting eyewitness reports from Homs. Activist "Sammy," whom EA has spoken to in the past, had this Tweet translated by another activist: "@Samsomhoms says situation there is the same as it's been for 26 days: shelling and siege. Verbal escalation today is psycho op by regime."

Sammy reports to be in the Inshaat district, just north of Baba Amr. (see map of Homs below). Activist Rami al Jarrah reports that his most trusted sources of information have been cut off, but both agree there is potentially some degree of exaggeration that the situation is that bad. Rami replied to Sammy's tweet with this:

However, Rami also reports that he has confirmed the existence of new checkpoints and an arrest campaign going on in Baba Amr.

At this hour, it does appear that the regime forces have entered Baba Amr, where they have cut electricity and communications, and are conducting another bloody day of shelling in Baba Amr and beyond. Reports of "slaughter" in the besieged neighborhood, however, are premature.

As one source said yesterday, however, as far as they're concerned every single day in Homs is a slaughter.

James Miller, back from his working vacation, takes over today's live coverage, with thanks to a busy Scott Lucas for working so hard to pick up his slack.

1335 GMT: The United Nations Support Mission in Libya says the situation in a remote southern part of the country, where more than 100 people were killed in tribal warfare this month, remains tense although a cease-fire brokered by local officials is holding.

The Mission said that up to half the population of Kufra have fled and that around 200 foreign migrants are still waiting to be moved out of the area.

1330 GMT: Although Homs is almost cut off by the regime siege and possible ground attack, an activist reports that he has been in contact with someone inside the Syrian city within the last few hours:

No one I've spoken to in Baba Amr says that regime forces have entered the neighborhood, but the FSA is trying to prevent them from doing so. There are extremely strong clashes surrounding Baba Amr, my contact had to shout as loud as he could so I could hear him. Many, many dead. He went offline now as he says internet access is not safe anymore.

1240 GMT: Kuwaiti MPs have adopted a resolution, by a 44-5 vote, calling on the Government to recognize the opposition Syrian National Council as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

1220 GMT: Homs has now been completely sealed off, according to commanders of the insurgent Free Syrian Army. The commanders said the regime's military had blown an underground aqueduct that had been the last viable route for smuggling in supplies.

Hadi Abdullah of the Syrian Revolution General Council said power had been cut to the city.

1130 GMT: Back from an academic break to find the claim by Associated Press that Syrian ground forces are advancing on the besieged neighbourhood of Baba Amr in Homs. A Syrian official has confirmed that an offensive is under way, saying the area would be "cleaned" within hours.

"The army is trying to go in with infantry from the direction of al-Bassel football field and fierce confrontations with automatic rifles and heavy machineguns are taking place there," activist Mohammad al-Homsi told Reuters.

Heavy overnight shelling preceded the attack.

Both Sky News and The Guardian have lost contact with activists in the city.

Jess Hill of The Global Mail confirms the cut-off as she writes, "Last thing Abo Emad, one of the activists, typed to me was "God protect us".

Miles Amoore of The Sunday Times has a similar story: "No communication from inside Bab Amr now for 15 hours. Electricity cut, phones down, shelling of neighbourhoods....Last message from the activists inside was: we are going to be killed."

A mass demonstration in the Hama suburb of Latamneh today:

0730 GMT: A protester, in front of a blocked road in Aldair in Bahrain, holds a poster of human rights activists Abdulhadi Alkhwaja, imprisoned for life last year and now in the third week of a hunger strike, "Abdulhadi, you are our teacher. Bahrainis will sacrifice for you":

A protest in Bori last night with posters calling for the cancellation of this year's Formula One Grand Prix, "Oh [F1 head Bernie] Ecclestone, start to worry, No to F1" and "NO TO F1 while torturers are free". An eyewitness told EA, "They reached the main road before forces came and attacked":

0620 GMT: Tuesday's headline coverage was dominated by the drama and confusion over the possible evacuation of wounded journalists Paul Conroy and Edith Bouvier out of Syria's third-largest city Homs, now enduring its 26th day of regime bombardment and siege, to Lebanon. After hours of disputed information, the situation appeared to be that Conroy had been smuggled out of the country --- albeit at the cost of several lives amongst the Free Syrian Army unit escorting him --- and Bouvier was still in Homs.

Beyond this specific story was this general picture. On a day when the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillay, called for the Assad regime to be held to account for the "well over 7500 people" killed since last March, another 104 people perished. While 26 of the deaths were in Homs, there was testimony to the violence elsewhere: 35 of the casualties were reportedly in Halfaya in Hama Province.

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