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Wednesday
Mar212012

Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Assessing the Insurgency

The smoke over the Bab Sbaa section of Homs, amidst an attack by Syrian forces

See also Bahrain Feature: Challenging the Regime's Claims of "Reforms"
Syria Music Video: #SYRIA
Syria Snap Analysis: Deir Ez Zor & Human Rights Watch
Tuesday's Bahrain, Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Conditions for Dialogue


1931 GMT: Another video reportedly shows the shelling in Homs today. This was reportedly taken in the Hamidiya district, in the center of Homs:

1918 GMT: According to the LCCS, the death toll today has risen to 80, including 14 children:

In Homs city, there were 42 martyrs, 11 in Hama, 6 in Daraa, 9 in Idlib including one family from Kasanfra town),7 in Deir Ezzor and one martyr in each of Raqqa,Lattakia, Damascus Suburbs (Moudamieh) and a defected recruit from the Occupied Golan who was martyred in Hama.

1822 GMT: Syrian activist Rami al Jarrah posts this video of a protest in the Midan district of Damascus that EA has been hearing about since mid-afternoon:

1802 GMT: Back from a lunch/research break.

There are reports that the city of Homs is still under attack at this late hour. The LCCS posts this video showing fires burning at sundown (about 2 hours ago):

Also, according to the report, shells have fallen in the Qusour district within the hour. (see a map of Homs)

1646 GMT: This video was reportedly take in Al Rastan, north of Homs, earlier today. We're not sure what the tank is towing, and we're not sure if the Free Syrian Army is to blame like the video says, but whatever it is sure looks broken to us:

1629 GMT: According to a leading activist network, at least 70 people, including 14 children, have been killed by regime forces so far today in Syria:

In Homs city, there were 40 martyrs, 10 in Hama, 6 in Daraa, 7 in Idlib (who belong to the same family from Kasanfra town), 2 in Deir Ezzor and one martyr in each of Raqqa, Damascus Suburbs (Moudamieh) and a defected recruit [from] the Occupied Golan who was martyred in Hama.

1625 GMT: A hypnotic video of the violence in Syria. This was reportedly taken today in the Khalidiya district of Homs, where a regime shell seems to have hit some sort of gas pipeline:

1621 GMT: EA Correspondent John Horne reports:

The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on a Kuwait appellate court to "overturn" a ruling last week which sentenced Abdul Hussein Al-Sultan to a six-month prison term and suspended his newspaper Al-Dar for three months.

Al-Dar was accused of "undermining national unity" and "creating sectarian strife" following the publication of three articles in January. The articles, according to Al-Sultan, were written in response to local newspaper reports which described Shiites in Kuwait as "Iranian Spies" and "disbelievers".

Mohamed Abdel Dayem of the Committee to Protect Journalists said:

It's an egregious miscarriage of justice to find an editor and newspaper guilty of undermining national unity for articles defending a minority group that was under attack. We call on the judicial system to reverse this unjust ruling on appeal, and authorities to halt their harassment of Al-Dar immediately."

The March 12th ruling has also been criticised by Reporters Without Borders, who said that "in the wake of two other recent suspension orders, [this] demonstrates a pattern of official harassment".

1612 GMT: While tracking the reports of violence in Syria is important, especially with today's dramatic developments in Homs, Hama, and Damascus, they sometimes obscure the most important story - the people of Syria, in huge quantities, want regime change.

Today is the Nowruz celebration, the celebration of the new year according to a calendar that is followed in Iran and much of Kurdistan. As such, there are very large crowds of Kurdish people in the streets in northern Syria. However, many of these crowds have united to chant anti-regime protest slogans during the festival.

This video was reportedly taken in Hasakah, a large Kurdish town and the capital of Hasakah governorate. The crowd is estimated to easily be in the tens of thousands, perhaps more:

http://maps.google.com/maps?q=%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AD%D9%8A%D8%A9,+Hasakah,+Siria&hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=36.516259,40.764771&spn=1.542926,2.90863&sll=36.341678,40.638428&sspn=6.184041,11.634521&hnear=%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AD%D9%8A%D8%A9%D8%8C+Al+Hasakah,+Al-Hasakah+District,+Al+Hasakah+Governorate,+Syria&t=m&z=9&iwloc=A

1604 GMT: This video reportedly shows many tanks deploying in the streets of Hama today, some firing at civilians who shout "Allahu Akbar (God is Great)."

1554 GMT: About an hour ago the LCCS released their latest death toll for today's violence across Syria. Two things to keep in mind: the reports of heavy casualties, especially in Homs, continue to pour in, so this number is obsolete; also, there are rumors of an overnight massacre in Homs, though these remain unconfirmed.

That said, the LCCS says that at least 52 people have been killed across Syria, "including 10 children and 4 women. In Homs city, there were 32 martyrs, 8 in Hama, 4 in Daraa, 4 in Idlib (who belong to the same family from Kasanfra town), 2 in Deir Ezzor and a defected recruit form Golan who was martyred in Hama."

1547 GMT: There is heavy fighting between the Syrian military and the Free Syrian Army reported in the Khalidiya district of northern Homs. According to activists, the district has been shelled, but the Free Syrian Army has managed to strike some damage of its own, destroying at least one armored vehicle:

1540 GMT: Turning back to Syria, earlier we reported that there were unconfirmed reports of a car bomb that exploded inside a taxi in the Barzeh district of Damascus. That was either a translation mistake, or the details were unknown. According to activists, "regime forces," some say an armored vehicle, destroyed the vehicle. Here is a video posted by an activist network:

1511 GMT: EA correspondent John Horne reports:

Bahrain's Minister of Justice Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa said on Tuesday that the regime will persist with the prosecution of 20 medics who treated wounded protesters during last year's uprising.

Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority said last week, citing the public prosecutor, that authorities would pursue criminal charges against only five medics, while transferring the other cases to a professional tribunal. However, the accused were not formally informed of the public prosecutor's announcement, and the trial has continued with the judge declining to explain why no charges were dropped.

Fifteen of the accused would be punished by a professional tribunal once condemned, the Minister said, while the other five would be sentenced by the court.

The 20 doctors, nurses, and other medical staff were given sentences of 5 to 15 years in September by a military court.

1501 GMT: The news in Bahrain today is revolving around a 16 year old boy, Ali, who was reportedly sexually assaulted today by police. The streets of Sanabis were filled with protests when the news broke, and those protests have since been disrupted by teargas and riot vehicles.

But several activists are reporting that this is the 5th similar incident to occur to Ali. Below is an excerpt from an interview of Elaine Masons which appeared on A Safe World for Women last month:

On Thursday evening I met with Ali, a 16 year-old who had been kidnapped that day – his 3rd time to be kidnapped and cut with a knife all over his upper body, sexually assaulted, and dumped back on the street.

The men who did this then tweeted what they had done to him – and named him.

I told him if he reported it to Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) with Nabeel Rajab (President of BCHR), I would do something for him, and all the other children, so he did.

1449 GMT: Prominent Bahraini human rights activist Said Yousid Almuhafda has posted a series of disturbing photos of the 16 year old boy, "Ali," who was reportedly found by activists after being handcuffed, knocked unconscious, and apparently sexually abused, reportedly by security forces today. In perhaps the most disturbing picture (we link to it for archiving purposes here), the boy appears to have cuts up and down his legs and inner-thighs.

Elaine Masons, an activist who met Ali in Bahrain following a similar incident, reports that this is the 5th time that Ali has been detained or abused. We are looking for the details of the other events.

1442 GMT: According to multiple activists, the village of Sanabis, Bahrain, is completely covered in teargas. Maryam AlKhawaja posts this picture of the narrow residential streets blanketed with the gas:

Said Yousif Almuhafda posts this picture of a different street in the village, posted just moments ago. According to his reports, the teargas is being fired from an armored personnel carrier, which he also posts a picture of:

1422 GMT: It's also been a dramatic day in Bahrain. An EA Correspondent in Bahrain helps us sort this news.

Activists report that a 16 year old boy was reportedly sexually harassed and beaten by security forces in Sanabis:

Said Yousif AlMuhafda, human rights defender, who met the victim says: "When I met him, he was unconscious and handcuffed, left in one of the garages in Sanabis without his underwear and bleeding"

‘Ali’ said he was attacked with a knife and punched several times, report Said Yousif AlMuhafda.

Said Yousif Al-Muhafda says the young boy was arrested before and stabbed by security forces as he refused to work undercover for them.

While this incident is still unconfirmed, upon hearing word of the attack there were large protests in Sanabis, and many of the participants were children.

However, security forces appear to have disrupted those protests. There are many reports of teargas and clashes with police, and a leading activist posts this picture:

1411 GMT: Things have not cooled in Damascus, either. The CFDPC, an organization with many contacts in Syria's capital, posts this video, reportedly showing damage from where a shell hit in Harasta:

CFDPC also reports that there was fighting overnight in Irbeen (see a map of the area), and they have posted a video where the gunfire is clearly audible.

In even more dramatic news, an activist Facebook page posts claims that a car bomb inside a taxi has been detonated in the Barzeh district of Damascus. No word on injuries.

Widespread arrests and heavy security are reported by all of EA's sources in and around the capital.

1355 GMT: For whatever reason, the world's focus on Homs has subsided after the military captured Baba Amr, a district really made famous when two Western journalists were killed there. And while Baba Amr was uniquely vulnerable because it is a geographically set apart from the other districts in Homs, many other areas in central and northern Homs have paid a very high price in the last week.

We anchored today's coverage with a picture of smoke covering the Bab Sbaa district, and we have received the video belwo, also reportedly taken earlier today, showing large portions of the neighborhood on smoldering as the gunfire and shelling continue.:

Beyond this, the LCCS posts a video of smoke pouring from an apartment building, reportedly in the Khalidiya district of Homs (see a map of the city). The LCCS, just minutes ago, reports that the damage is colossal:

Reports on the fall of 25 martyrs, including 4 children and 2 women, and more than 150 injured as a result of the ongoing shelling at Khaldieh neighborhood by the regime's forces.

However, multiple source are claiming that pro-Assad forces conducted an even more horrific massacre in the city. There are rumors that in the Rifai district, many bodies, perhaps as many as 42, were found, apparently executed by pro-regime elements inside the city.

1344 GMT: NPR's Ahmed al Omran shares two noteworthy videos this morning. The first, a dramatic video reportedly taken in Hama. The second, taken in Qa'alat al Madiq, an ancient walled city 25 miles northwest of Hama (Map). The town is under bombardment for its 9th straight day, and many citizens have reportedly fled.

1336 GMT: A significant development on the international front:

More details when we have them.

1332 GMT: The total amount of numbers killed thus far in the Syrian conflict is in dispute. In fact, the verification process is so complicated that the UN stopped keeping an official tally months ago. While groups like the LCCS keep a daily tally, and have a confirmation process for each death, each local committee keeps the majority of those records, and most of the time we only see the raw numbers.

However, an organization called Syria Tracker has an interactive database of casualty figures. According to their latest count there have been "11,147 individuals killed in Syria, March 18, 2011 thru March 16, 2012," with 42% of those deaths happening in Homs.

James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started before his trip to Dublin, and thanks to our readers for being patient.

1035 GMT: Amidst reports of the withdrawal of insurgents from Deir Ez Zor in northeastern Syria, a defiant video of the formation of an insurgent brigade in the area:

0855 GMT: Al Jazeera English's Zeina Khodr reports that United Nations envoy Kofi Annan sent advisors to Damascus on Monday to discuss the mechanism to allow international monitors into Syria.

0725 GMT: Amidst Bahraini King Hamad's high-profile claims of "significant and broad" reforms on Tuesday, this story from the regime-linked Gulf Daily News:

A man who died in custody allegedly attacked two National Security Agency (NSA) agents with a toilet seat in the hours before his death, it has emerged.

A police witness said he saw the defendants and the victim fighting in a detention centre in April last year.

"When I was on duty I heard people shouting, so I hurried to see what's happening and saw the officers and the victim beating each other up near a toilet," said the 27-year-old police lieutenant, according to court documents.

"I saw blood on the floor and asked what happened?

"They told me the victim attacked them with a toilet seat and they had to fight back to get him under control."

Two NSA agents deny causing the death of anti-government protester Abdulkarim Fakhrawi.

The detainee was taken to hospital after the brawl, but it is understood he died later that day.

0715 GMT: Medical staff have said that detained Palestinian hunger striker Hana Shalabi, who has fasted for 35 days, is in grave danger of dying.

A doctor for Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, who examined Shalabi on Tuesday, said she had lost 14 kilograms (31 pounds) and was in excruciating pain.

Activists have reported that Shalabi was transferred to hospital this morning.

The 30-year-old woman is one of more than 300 Palestinians held indefinitely without charge in "administrative detention". Another administrative detainee, Khader Adnan, was released last month after a 66-day hunger strike.

Prison authorities say another 20 detainees have launched hunger strikes in support of Shalabi in the past two weeks.

0705 GMT: On Tuesday, an Egyptian court gave suspended one-year sentences to 11 police officers accused of killing 22 protesters and wounding 44 others during the uprising against the Mubarak regime.

Judge Sabri Hamed said the defendants had a legitimate right to self-defense when a mob pelted their station with rocks and firebombs, but used excessive force in dealing with the threat, since some of those killed were in homes away from the fighting.

Hamed acquitted three other police officers.

0620 GMT: Activists reports that regime forces are shelling the Damascus suburbs of Harasta and Irbeen this morning, with helicopters flying over the area.

There were reports last night of battles on the ground in the two areas, reclaimed by the regime in January, between the Assad military and the Free Syrian Army.

0600 GMT: We open Wednesday with a return to James Miller's analyses assessing a "Phase Two Insurgency" and developments such as the withdrawal of opposition fighters from Deir Ez Zor and allegations of human rights abuses by opposition forces.

Miller's critique puts those developments into perspective: the pull-back from Deir Ez Zor, a centre of protest against the regime since the start of the uprising a year ago, is tactical rather than a sign of the crushed resistance. And the abuses by the opposition, while serious, are not systematic; they are individual cases arising out of the war with the Assad military.

In short, this is neither a "mission accomplished" for the regime or a sectarian civil war. However, as Miller concludes, "Only the most desperate pieces of the opposition have turned to sectarian violence. Even then, cases are fairly limited. However, what happens if the opposition across the entire country becomes as desperate as Homs?"

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