A demonstration on Sunday night in Hama in Syria
UN peace envoy Kofi Annan arrived in Ankara. Annan met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and is scheduled to meet with Syrian opposition members on Tuesday. Annan said:
"There are grave and appalling reports of atrocities and abuses. The killing of civilians must stop now. The world has to send a clear and united message in this regard.
This a very complex situation. We are going to press ahead for humanitarian access, for the killings of civilians to stop, and that get everybody to the table to work out a political solution."
So, the latest round-up on Kofi Annan's plan is that Hillary Clinton (likely mirroring the sentiments of the "Friends of Syria" group), has said that no progress can be made politically unless the regime stops attacking civilians first.
But the Assad regime says it's not killing civilians, it's killing terrorists, and the terrorism must stop first.
Assad is pretty clear: "No dialogue can succeed while there are armed terrorist groups operating and spreading chaos & instability." #Syria— Shadi Hamid (@shadihamid) March 12, 2012
Of course, Assad is classifying the peaceful protesters and the armed members of the opposition as "terrorists." If you remember, long before the Free Syrian Army was formed, and even before the opposition had a militarized component, Assad was calling the protesters "armed gangs" on which he was blaming the attacks that were killing civilians. Assad was also blaming these gangs for the deaths of soldiers whom appeared, to outside observers and the opposition, to be defecting soldiers who were shot by their compatriots. Also, Assad had previously agreed to withdraw his soldiers from Syrian cities, but never did so, stating immediately that the syrian army was abiding by a ceasefire except in places where there were "terrorists," a move that began to spark the growth of the armed opposition.
Thus enter the Syrian Catch-22 - Assad won't stop killing until there is no opposition, and the opposition won't go to the table until the killing stops.
1904 GMT: Back from a break to find that the narrative we started earlier has just intensified. There are reports of deaths all across Syria, in Homs, in Hama, in Idlib, and now in Al Raqqa, in the north.
We've been following this story every day, and while we're still organizing and supporting the reports, it feels as though this conflict is expanding in scope. Homs is a fairly isolated city, but now there are widespread reports of military campaigns across the entire country, in and around the suburbs and centers of nearly every city.
To give a clearer idea of what we're talking about, we'll focus right now on the "new" areas reporting violence, areas that unlike Homs don't see daily death and destruction.
The LCCS reports that the city of Azaz, north of Aleppo near the Turkish border, is being shelled, and communications have been cut off, and the speakers on the mosques are blasting "Allau Akbar" in defiance. The roads leading to the town have also been cut off. The Aleppo governorate is not an Assad stronghold - like some still consider Aleppo city to be - and recent military campaigns in northern Aleppo province suggest that the regime is trying to shut down the opposition that is close to the Turkish border. Al Atareb, west of Aleppo, between Aleppo and Idlib, and between Aleppo and the Turkish border to the west, was also targeted today. With Idlib province to the west of Aleppo, and protests growing within Aleppo city, the regime is in danger of having it's second largest city surrounded.
While Hama is often a place where there is violence, the LCCS now reports that there is a pitched battle between the Free Syrian Army and the Assad military, right in the center of the city near the central prison.
In Damascus, there are reports that shabiha, plain-clothed thugs who work with the blessings of the police and security apparatus, have burned down the home of "martyr Yaseen Mehnayeh" in Jobar. We're seeing more targeted attacks like this one inside and around the capital, suggesting that the regime supporters are getting nervous that the situation inside the capital is slipping out of their hands:
Perhaps most importantly, however, an activist forwards us this video, reportedly a large rally in Qamishli, a largely Kurdish town with a growing opposition. The Kurdish leaders have been hesitant to back the opposition, but more and more Kurds appear to be joining the anti-Assad demonstrations every week, and today there were reports that security forces opened fire on demonstrators and even shelled several neighborhoods, indicating that the regime is scared of this possibility.
1625 GMT: Turning to Bahrain, the presence (or lack thereof) of foreign journalists in the country has often been cited as a reason to distrust the government. However, even journalists inside Bahrain are struggling to access information, as many opposition websites and news agencies are blocked by government filters:
1605 GMT: It's already becoming hard to keep up the reports of all of the violence in Syria. We've heard reports that Ma'arrat al Nouman, in Idlib, and several other surrounding towns have been attacked by heavy machine guns, and even shelling.
Al Qusour, south of Homs, was reportedly shelled. Houla, the area west of Homs, has been attacked, and there are reports than many have been killed there. Several areas of Homs are also reportedly under attack.
1549 GMT: Three more Palestinian civilians and two more militants were killed in additional Israeli air raids in Gaza today. A total of 23 Palestinians, 18 of whom were militants, have been killed so far in the escalating fighting, as the ceasefire in the region is falling apart.
At a news conference in Gaza City on Monday, masked members of Islamic Jihad's military wing demanded Israel cease fire first and stop targeting militants.
"We warn the leaders of the enemy of the consequences of testing our patience. Our patience is limited and shall be turned into fire and destruction upon them," one of the masked men said.
Chief military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai said Israel would halt its raids if the rocket fire stopped, but added that the Israeli military would continue to take pre-emptive action to foil militant attack plans.
Rockets being launched from Gaza has wounded several Israelis and seriously disrupted life in the last week.
"The situation is so bad and so dangerous that all of us cannot afford to fail," he told reporters in Damascus.
Annan plans to pursue contacts with opposition factions, including the Syrian National Council, the National Coordination Body, the Free Syrian Army and others, and will encourage them to create a unified opposition front.
"It will be a step by step process. We have to get the opposition on board. We have to get the opposition parties to unify under one umbrella," Fawzi added. "And then we have to convince the government to come and meet them in whichever venue he (Annan) proposes."
Thus, Fawzi brings up another problem with Annan's plan. If the opposition splinters, with some making peace with Assad and others remaining in the fight, the consequences could be disasterous. Annan seems to accept this, and is looking for a unification of the opposition. Ignored in this equation, however, is a basic question - if the leaders of the opposition unite and make a deal with Assad, will the people of Syria listen? What happens if some continue to fight? What happens if protests continue? What happens if Assad keeps shooting at the protesters?
All of which raises another question - is this option even realistic enough to consider, or is Annan just wasting more time?
1410 GMT: The disconnect continues - on Friday, after UN Envoy Kofi Annan said that a political process was the best way to settle the crisis in Syria, I asked whether Annan was in the wrong country. Now, with more upbeat assessments, The Guardian shares in my confusion:
It is difficult to see how Kofi Annan could be optimistic following his weekend talks with Assad and what's being today alleged in Homs. But his spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, says Annan thinks the "process is on right track".
Annan held talks in Doha today with Qatari leaders. Qatar has backed calls for the international community to arm the Syrian opposition. Annan has warned against any further militarisation of the conflict.
On the right track? How? The entire opposition leadership has refused to even consider the prospect of negotiating a settlement with the regime, and there have been perhaps several hundred people killed since Friday.
Even the Syrian regime is consistently skeptical about the prospects for ending the crisis, so it's hard to see what Annan could possibly be citing as signs of progress.
A reported protest on the campus of Aleppo University. Heavy clashes between security forces and unarmed students are reported:
A protest in the Aleppo countryside:
An extremely large protest surrounding the funeral for a man killed by the regime in Inkel, Daraa province:
A morning protest in the small Idlib town of Habeet:
1330 GMT: Today's headlines in Syria are obvious - the first is the reported massacre in Karm al Zaytoun. The second, less obvious, could be the moves by the Obama administration to describe the challenge of military intervention in Syria. Some Obama officials have stated (see our update at 0555 GMT) that the Syrian regime is strong, and nowhere close to collapse.
But there is a third story, beyond the violence, beyond the international front, that remains the most important factor to consider when discussing Syria - the people of Syria.
The numbers tell the story. While the opposition is hardly unanimous or united, and this conflict is not one that is clearly along sectarian lines, the popular opposition to Assad is overwhelming. 74% of the populous is Sunni Muslim, with all other sects of Islam, including the ruling Alawite sect, making up about 16% of the populous. Among Sunnis, Assad has very few supporters, and while it's off course fair to say that the majority of Alawites still support Assad, many Christian leaders support Assad, and some Kurdish have been hesitant to join the revolution, the amount of minorities joining the opposition is growing day by day.
As Anita McNaught reported this morning (update 0800) cities like Idlib are nearly unanimous in their opposition. From what we've seen, then entire Idlib province, and the countrysides surrounding Aleppo, Daraa, Homs, and Hama, are all nearly unanimous in their support of the opposition. Inside the cities, there are pockets of support for Assad, but they are increasingly passive and less committed to Assad in the face of overwhelming popular opposition. Damascus is a mixed plurality, with many regime supporters and at least as many in the opposition, but the suburbs of Damascus are opposition hotspots. Even Aleppo has seen growing protests in increasingly impressive numbers.
Assad's regime may be strong, but the opposition is far from weak in all aspects except their military abilities. The United States and it's allies are hardly weak either. We heard similarly scary statements before both wars with Iraq, and Saddam's military folded in short order. And Saddam was not facing a large-scale popular revolt or the makings of a resistance army building inside his cities.
My snap assessment - The Obama administration is making excuses. For a multitude of reasons, they seem to have made up their minds that foreign intervention in Syria is not a good idea. But let's not kid ourselves, none of those reasons have anything to do with the strength of Bashar al Assad's military.
1258 GMT: The world is still learning the details and the full extent of the human damage there. Mulham Al-Jundi, a prolific activist and member of the Syrian National Council, forwards his latest understanding of the situation in Karm el Zaytoun, in the center of Homs.
"Quick summary of what happened in Karm Al Zyton, Homs, last night:
"There are approximately 3000 families that are accounted for. In Al-Adawiya neighborhood, there are houses that continue to burn while people are still inside of them.
"Only 20% of the residents of Karam al-Zaytoun are still there, and we know nothing of what their situation is like.
"Karam al-Zaytoun and the neighboring al-Rifai neighborhood used to be the places people fled to Many women were raped there yesterday, and many women are missing until now.
"There are houses on Al-Adawi Mosque Road whose residents were shot dead Civilians are being executed. Their houses were burned while they were still inside of them and after they were doused in gasoline and fuel.
"Around 45 martyrs have been accounted for so far - and don.t forget to take a look at the children who were slaughtered by Assad regime."
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us through the morning.
1213 GMT: Claimed footage of Bahraini police beating a young man in Aldair --- the incident occurred after clashes last night, including tear gas and Molotov cocktails (see video in Sunday Live Coverage):
A march in Mehaza last night calls for the immediate release of detained hunger striker and activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja:
Twenty-one Gazans have died since Israel began the aerial assault on Friday. The Israeli military said it carried out nine air attacks against rocket-launching sites and a weapons storage facility early Monday.
A Gazan medical official said two dozen people, including several children, were wounded in a predawn strike in Gaza City. An Israeli general said the raid targeted munitions that were stored in a residential building.
0800 GMT: A report on Sunday from Al Jazeera English about the situation in Idlib in northwest Syria --- Anita McNaught, who was in the city, warns that the regime offensive may be more violent than that in Homs, "The reality is gruesome":
0700 GMT: One of the images of the claimed massacre of 45 people, most of them women and children, in the Karm Al-Zaitoun area of Homs in Syria --- almost all are too graphic to be reproduced here:
0655 GMT: The mother of 12-year-old Ayoub Asalya bids farewell to her son in a morgue in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on Sunday. Asalya was one of at least 17 Gazans killed in Israeli airstrikes since Friday (Photo: Mahmud Hams, AFP):
0605 GMT: The Egyptian Minister of Interior, Mohamed Ibrahim, announced on Sunday that police officers accused of defying superiors will no longer be referred to military courts, but will be considered by a "disciplinary council".
Ibrahim's statement came after months of demonstrations by police throughout the country.
The Minister said nothing about the trials of civilians by the military courts.
0555 GMT: A section of the Obama Administration appears to be making a major push to keep the US out of any intervention in Syria. Over the weekend, three "senior intelligence officals" put out the line that the regime's hold on power was secure. And this morning, The New York Times is featuring the spin from the Department of Defense:
Despite growing calls for the United States to help stop the bloodshed in Syria, senior Pentagon officials are stepping up their warnings that military intervention would be a daunting and protracted operation, requiring at least weeks of exclusively American airstrikes, with the potential for killing vast numbers of civilians and plunging the country closer to civil war.
The officials say that Syria presents a far larger problem than did Libya, which required a seven-month NATO air campaign last year in which hundreds of aircraft dropped and fired 7,700 bombs and missiles.
Although the United States has the military capability to launch sustained airstrikes in Syria — “We can do anything,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, told the Senate last week — defense officials say they are concerned about four tough challenges: the risks in attacking Syria’s plentiful and sophisticated Russian-made air defenses, which are located close to major population centers; arming a deeply splintered Syrian opposition; the potential for starting a proxy war with Iran or Russia, two crucial allies of Syria; and the lack, at least so far, of an international coalition willing to take action against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
One senior defense official said over the weekend that even creating “safe havens,” or protected areas inside Syria for civilians, would be such a complex operation that military planners were “looking at a serious contingent of U.S. ground troops” to help establish and maintain them, should the United States take such a course of action.
The planning is in response to a request by President Obama for preliminary military options from the Pentagon, even though the administration still believes that diplomatic and economic pressure is the best way to stop the violent repression of Mr. Assad’s government. The options under review include humanitarian airlifts, naval monitoring of Syria and the establishment of a no-fly zone, among other possibilities.
Included in the toll was a claimed massacre of 45 people in Karm Al-Zaitoun. Graphic footage of bodies, many of them women and children, was posted last night on the Bambuser service.
The casualties also included 25 people in Idlib Province in the northwest, where regime forces have reportedly been carrying out a heavy assault on cities and towns. The area has been a stronghold of resistance since the uprising began last March.
Abu Hani, a resident of Idlib city, said, "After shelling the city, security forces began a house-to-house search for activists and protesters. "And soldiers have been granted complete freedom to loot everything from homes and shops."