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Bahrain, Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Conditions for Dialogue

See also Syria Special: Welcome to Phase Two Insurgency
Syria Snap Analysis: Deir Ez Zor & Human Rights Watch
Turkey Live Coverage (19 March): New Year Celebrations, Clashes, and the Syria Crisis
Monday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Heavy Fighting in Damascus?

2020 GMT: At this late hour, there are new reports of battles between the Free Syrian Army and regime troops in Harasta, in eastern Damascus. The CFDPC also reports battles in Irbeen.

It's going to be another long night in Syria's capital.

1922 GMT: An interesting video, reportedly from Douma, posted by the CFDPC. It appears that the FSA soldiers are trying to scope out regime positions while remaining hidden. In other words, the FSA soldiers want to be able to shoot at the Syrian soldiers if needed, but they are trying to hide so that the regime does not have an excuse to fire.

1817 GMT: Earlier, we posted video of yesterday's shelling in Qa'alat al Madiq, in Hama province. Now, the LCCS posts this video, a survey of the damage to the citadel, filmed while sporadic gunfire rings out in the distance.

1806 GMT: The UN Human Rights commissioner has criticised the Bahraini government for what it calls "the use of excessive force" to quell demonstrations in the streets.:

“The use of tear gas in particular has reportedly resulted in a number of deaths of protestors and bystanders – and that number has reportedly risen in recent months,” Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told reporters in Geneva.

“Reliable sources indicate that the civilians who died from tear gas suffered complications from gas inhalation, and that security forces have been firing metal tear gas canisters from grenade launchers into crowds,” he added.

The “worrying” reports received by OHCHR of the disproportionate use of force by Bahraini security forces, include the use of teargas, birdshot pellets and rubber bullets.

This development is encouraging, as it is the first step towards the international community taking a hard look at what's going on in Bahrain. EA Correspondent John Horne notes that the UN commissioner did not mention allegations that police are attacking entire neighborhoods, not just protests on the street. However, with most NGOs banned from Bahrain, these reports are more controversial, so this is the first step towards international recognition that the Bahraini government is guilty of abuses, even after the BICI report.

1641 GMT: Students protest today in the center of Midan, Damascus, a bold daytime protest in one of the oldest areas of the city:

1631 GMT: For the 8th day in a row there are reports of heavy shelling of the Hama town of Qa'alat al Madiq. The videos below seem to confirm the rumors that we heard yesterday, that helicopters are circling overhead (you can hear them) directing artillery and tank fire. In one video, smoke rises over the citadel, while homes burn in the countryside below:

There are more reports of shelling there today.

1552 GMT: The Local Coordinating Committees of Syria have sent a "Nowruz" message, praising the struggles of the Kurdish people and pledging to support the Kurds in a post-Assad Syria:

Every year in March, the Kurdish people face the spiteful authority of the Baath Party, which has always used conspiracy, jingoism, and racism to undermine the rich diversity of our national fabric. The regime attacks the legitimacy of Kurdish history, and limits Kurds’ eligibility for equal, democratic, national rights. These are rights that must be in line with the co‐existence of all components of Syrian society, and in accordance with the values of justice and equality, so that our national cultural mosaic may continue to contribute to our rich civilization. We also pay special tribute to the great sacrifices of the Kurdish people and the invaluable contributions of their dear sons and daughters in protecting and defending this nation, and in maintaining its independence. We bow with respect and honor in memory of the Kurdish martyrs who gave their lives to secure their rightful and legal citizenship rights in Syria. In particular, we salute the martyrs of the March 12, 2004 Uprising, who confronted the regime with bare chests, just as their brothers and sisters are doing today in the Syrian Revolution against the Mafia regime's machine of repression and murder . The Kurdish people are legendary in their epic civil resistance and civil disobedience movement. The entire Syrian nation has looked up to them in admiration, and it is a historic moment for the Syrian people to rise together against the oppression and injustice that have long plagued the Kurdish people as a result of the regime’s policy of continually denying them their national rights and questioning the legitimacy of their role in Syria .

1459 GMT: Videos like the one below (which is disturbing) remind us that this conflict is not just about numbers. The people who are dying have faces, and names, and many are children:

The Khailidiya district, in north-central Homs (see a map of the city) is one of many areas that are still largely controlled by the Free Syrian Army, and have been heavily shelled for many days on end.

1442 GMT: An activist network with a focus on Damascus shares this picture, originally declassified by the US government, showing armored vehicles outside a hospital in Rankous, a heavily besieged town north of Damascus (13 March):

The CFDPC also post this video, reportedly showing armored vehicles at a military checkpoint outside the hospital. Activists claim that the military is denying entry to anyone harmed by the government shelling, and monitoring patient IDs to see if any are suspected members of the opposition:

1424 GMT: According to the Local Coordinating Committees, a network of activists based in Syria, 34 people have been killed today by security forces, "including two children and two women, fourteen martyrs in Homs, eight martyrs in Idlib, five martyrs in Hama, three martyrs in Damascus Suburbs, and a martyr in each of Damascus, Aleppo, Deir Ezzor and Lattakia." Perhaps the most inflamatory claim made by the LCCS is that the Syrian regime raided a field hospital in Idlib, killing 3 members of the medical staff.

The activists also post this video, reportedly showing a regime attack on Hamidia section of Hama:

And this video reportedly shows tanks moving into Douma, east of Damascus:

1345 GMT: James Miller takes over today's live coverage from Scott Lucas, who has done a fantastic job of getting us through the morning.

I'll start with a comment on the analysis I wrote last night, Syria Special: Welcome to Phase Two Insurgency.

Basically, today's developments in Deir Ez Zor prove that the FSA is evolving, and the statement from Human Rights Watch has not really told us anything we don't know - and I still maintain that sectarian violence is a very small part of the picture in Syria, though there are dangers that as things get worse it could spread.

My full analysis can be found here: Syria Snap Analysis: Deir Ez Zor & Human Rights Watch

1305 GMT: Claimed footage of security forces firing on a funeral procession for 15 victims of violence in Douma near the Syrian capital Damascus:

1300 GMT: More on the Bahraini regime's presentation of its claimed reforms....

The Bahrain News Agency posts the transcript of the statement by the head of the National Commission today --- what is distinctive is what is not said. As an activist notes, there is no mention of accountability for a single individual involved in last year's crackdown and reported abuses.

Reuters, in its summary of the event, chooses this take-away line from King Hamad: "The doors of dialogue have and continue to be open, We want our people to feel and see the differences these changes have on their lives. The challenge of the coming months will be to translate these into tangible, cultural changes."

1100 GMT: The Bahraini regime has held its showpiece ceremony for a report by the National Commission proclaiming the implementation of reforms, following November's recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry.

King Hamad hailed the "significant and broad" progress, while an official of the Information Affairs Authority, Abdelaziz bin Mubarak al-Khalifa put out the message, “I would say about 90 per cent of the recommendations have been implemented, It’s been hard. We’ve had to swallow a lot of pride.”

A dedicated website has been set up to hail reforms such as oversight and accountability of the security forces.

1055 GMT: Insurgents have withdrawn from Deir Ez Zor in northeast Syria in the face of the regime assault.

"Tanks entered residential neighbourhoods, especially in southeastern areas of Deir al-Zor. The Free Syrian Army pulled out to avoid a civilian massacre," a statement by the Deir al-Zor Revolution Committees Union said.

Activists also reported regime shelling of residential areas in cities of Hama and Homs and the nearby town of Rastan, killing at least 10 people.

1015 GMT: Human Rights Watch has written an open letter to the Syrian opposition to "express...concern about increasing evidence...of kidnappings, the use of torture, and executions by armed Syrian opposition members" and to "strongly urge" co-operation so "all opposition members refrain from engaging in these unlawful practices".

Evidence in the letter includes testimonies and video of kidnappings and executions of regime forces and their supporters.

0955 GMT: Raw footage from Reuters of today's bombings in Iraq --- at least 39 people are now reported dead and at least 188 wounded:

0805 GMT: At least 29 people have been killed and 119 wounded in a series of car and roadside bombings across Iraq today.

Twin explosions in the holy city of Karbala in the south killed 13 people and wounded 48. In the northern city of Kirkuk, a car bomb exploded near a police headquarters, killing seven people and wounding 30, while a suicide car bomber killed three and wounded 21 in central Baghdad.

Blasts also occurred in Baiji, Samarra, Tuz Khurmato, Daquq, and Dhuluiya, all north of Baghdad, and Hilla and Latifiya in the south. Police in the northeastern city of Baquba said they had also found and defused eight bombs.

0705 GMT: Striking Yemeni airmen have succeeded in pressuring President Hadi to remove the commander of the air force, according to a statement by the group.

The low-ranking airmen have protested for more than two months for the dismissal of Maj. Gen. Mohammed Saleh, the half brother of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down last month.

The air force commander has been in his post for more than 20 years.

The mutiny spread to four different provinces and a number of bases. Airmen also camped out for weeks near the president's home in the capital.

A military committee comprised of 14 opposition and loyalist generals has been reviewing reforms for Yemen's security forces.

0700 GMT: With fighting reaching Damascus on Monday, and after the deadly siege of parts of Homs last month, Russia has backed the Red Cross call for a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire in Syria.

Moscow's demands for an agreement "without delay" by the regime "and all armed groups who oppose it" followed talks between Red Cross President Jakob Kellenberger and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday.

Russia also called for Red Cross access to "those detained in Syria for their participation in protests".

0630 GMT: We begin by highlighting Monday's statement by five leading opposition societies in Bahrain "welcoming any dialogue offering leading to a political resolution guaranteeing justice and equality and protecting interests of people from all walks of life in the country".

The declaration follows weeks of tentative discussions between Al Wefaq, one of the five societies, and members of the regime. The addition of the other four groups --- Waad, the National Democratic Action Society, the Nationalist Democratic Assembly Society, the Alekha National Society, and the National Democratic Assemblage --- indicates at least a possibility of a wider negotiation.

At the same time, the societies put firm conditions on any talks. Political prisoners would have to be freed, unfairly dismissed employees would have to be reinstated, justice would have to be ensured, and State media would have to cease "all kinds of political and sectarian agitation". 

The discussions would have to include all parties and their members, including those currently detained, and would have to a clear agenda including all significant issues.

Now we wait for the regime's response....

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