Thursday night's protest rally in the Douma suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus
2200 GMT: We're closing yet another crazy Friday. Here's a summary.
In Bahrain, there were nine very large protests, most or all of which were attacked by police who used teargas to disperse the crowds. Though protests were planned, they were larger and more energetic today after the news that a man died last night from tear gas inhalation.
Some protesters destroyed closed-circuit TV cameras and threw rocks at police. Apparently, there was at least one occurrence of youth throwing Molotov cocktails.
This anger was sparked by what the activists consider widespread police brutality. Large parts of the island nation were covered in teargas again today, and riot vehicles reportedly chased down protesters in an attempt to run them over. There are also more unconfirmed reports of injured children, and another unconfirmed report that police sexually molested a young girl. Earlier in the week activists say that the police molested and tortured a 16-year-old boy, Ali.
At the end of the day, resolution to this conflict seems further away than it has ever been.
In Syria, the primary headline was arguably the use of helicopters to attack ground targets for the first time that we can confirm. There were several instances of this today and last night, all of them between Aleppo and the border with Turkey.
At nightfall, there are more reports of widespread fighting between FSA soldiers and the Assad military, specifically in Hama and to the east of Damascus.
The other noteworthy video was posted at 1544 GMT, showing an IED attack against Assad infantry in Hama.
However, once again the fact that will be lost to most headline writers is that there were large and widespread protests across the country, including in Damascus and Aleppo. Once again the Syrian opposition has used another Friday to prove that their resistance to the regime cannot be shot or shelled into submission.
"Clashes between free army and regime arm, 2 tanks and some soldiers arrived there along with warplanes in the sky over Harasta and Douma, news of more defections"
2126 GMT: The Coalition of Free Damascenes for Peaceful Change, an opposition network with deep contacts in Damascus, reports that there is heavy fighting between the Free Syrian Army and the Assad military in Kafer Batna and Saqba, just east of the capital (see the area on a map). They have posted this video, showing the crackle of gunfire in the night sky in Saqba:
There are still unconfirmed reports of fighting in Barzeh, north of here, but it is clear that there are now battles east of Damascus:
There are rumors of gunfire in Barzeh, and other districts, but they are still unconfirmed.
2043 GMT: Turning to yet another significant video, this one from Bahrain. The Bahraini Ministry of Interior posts this video which shows protesters erecting a roadblock and then throwing molotov cocktails at anti-riot vehicles:
فيديو يبين أعمال الشغب والتخريب التي قام بها مجموعة من المشاركين في مسيرات الوفاق youtube.com/watch?v=se5PSq…— Ministry of Interior (@moi_bahrain) March 23, 2012
2036 GMT: Several activists, including the LCCS, post this video showing a military assault of Haritan, Aleppo. There are a few important things to note. First, the helicopter at the start of the video appears to fire rockets. Today is the first time we've ever seen real solid evidence of Syrian helicopters attacking targets on the ground, and the other was also in Aleppo (see updates below).
The other remarkable thing: Haritan is literally just north of Aleppo (MAP):
1953 GMT: The Syrian activist, "Sami," a man whom EA has spoken to and a resident of Homs, sends this series of Tweet. While we're not currently in a position to verify all these claims, they match information we've heard from other sources. The part about the regime specifically targeting neighborhoods that bordered Alawite one also matches our general understanding of the patterns in Homs, though it is an oversimplification:
In the next (6) tweets I'll share the Assad regime's plan for displacing people of #Homs & changing sectarian structure of the city Syria:
1. Assad army protects Alawite neighborhoods in Homs . They're currently only neighborhoods with schools and offices open
2. The cities that Homs residents fled to have many people&groups working to help them, but Assad forces have not targeted them Syria
3. Offices were opened in Damascus for the people of Homs for passport services & recruitment.This encourages people to leave.
4. Most people released from prison in Homs were released only on condition that they'd leave the country.
5. When Homs was facing severe shelling & people couldn't leave homes, Assad regime only kept passport & immigration offices open.
6. The neighborhoods in Homs that went through the most brutal massacres were those bordering Alawite neighborhoods.
1936 GMT:We're so inundated with news from both Bahrain and Syria that we're finally getting around to posting more video from earlier today.
This video was reportedly taken in the Arbeen district in northern Hama city.
Impressive, but another Youtube channel has just released a series of videos dated yesterday from the same area, which in contrast fully illustrates the bravery of today's protests, and arguably the effectiveness of this crackdown:
1818 GMT: After darkness in Syria, there is news of a major confrontation between Free Syrian Army fighters and regime soldiers in Hama. Even more interesting, however, is the news of explosions, gunfire, and an "intensive security alert" in Banyas, on the coast. Though Banyas is not that far from other hotspots, the coastal region that runs between Tartous and Lattakia is more sensitive to the regime because Sunnis do not make up an overwhelming majority, and in some cities the Alawites are the majority. These cities are also extremely important ports. There are strong protest movements in some of these cities, but the regime still has some support.
But even that support has slipped in recent months, and even as early as the summer the regime bombarded Lattakia. However, there have not been major battles between the Free Syrian Army and the regime forces in the region - yet. We'll have to see if these reports develop into something noteworthy.
1803 GMT: According to the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria, 36 have been killed by security forces today, including 3 children:
12 martyrs in Homs, 9 martyrs in Daraa, 4 martyrs in Idlib, 3 martyrs in Aleppo, 3 martyrs in Raqqa including two defected soldiers, 2 martyrs in Hama, and a martyr in each of Lattakia, Douma in Damascus Suburbs, and Deir Ezzor.
This number may already be outdated, as there are reports of violence in many areas, including the Barzeh district of the capital, Damascus.
But on yet another Friday the real headlines should be about the amount of people out in the streets protesting, even in the Assad "strongholds" of Damascus and Aleppo. This video, for instance, was taken in the Ansari district of Aleppo:
This video, taken earlier, shows a large protest in Daael, Daraa:
1748 GMT: Activists report that this child was reportedly hospitalized last night after teargas was shot outside his home in Hamala and he could not breathe. At least one person reportedly died from teargas inhalation last night.
1740 GMT: More video from today's events in Bahrain. According to activists, these protesters are trying to reach "Lulu," the Pearl Roundabout, a symbol of the uprising:
This video reportedly shows the crowds in Aali village, once of 9 rallies across Bahrain today:
And this picture was reportedly take on the other side of the Island, in western Bahrain:
1646 GMT: In Bahrain, armoured vehicles move on Al Qareya village on Sitra island.
1644 GMT: A demonstration in Ibte'a in Daraa Province chanting against Syria's ruling Ba'ath party:
1554 GMT: EA correspondent Josh Shahryar finds this picture, reportedly taken today in Sitra, Bahrain, showing the riot vehicles we've been hearing about. According to Josh, these appear to be "Cobra" vehicles, made in Turkey:
"11 martyrs were reported in Homs; 9 in Daraa; 3 in Idlib; 1 in Aleppo; 1 in Raqqa; and 1 in Lattakia, 1 in Hama, 1 in Deir Ezzor."
Perhaps the more important news, however, is that once again there have been large protests across the country, including in Aleppo and in Damascus. This video was taken today inside the Zine al Abidine mosque in the Midan district of the capital:
We're not familiar with the exact location of this protest, but we believe that it is somewhere in the suburbs just to the west of Aleppo (we think near here):
And despite the nearly constant threat from security forces, this video was taken somewhere in the Houle region west of Homs:
1518 GMT: Update: A source in Bahrain says that this occurred in Duraz village.
The police in Bahrain, borrowing tactics learned from the UK, have been installing closed-circuit TV cameras around the country in order to identify criminals and, according to activists, political operatives. As a result, a crowd of protesters successfully topple this light pole that had cameras on top:
1511 GMT: An EA correspondent in Bahrain shares this picture, taken earlier, showing youth in Sitra responding to the police attack on the protesters by throwing rocks at the riot police. This, of course, will only make things worse.
1502 GMT: According to prominent activist Maryam alKhawaja, the protests in Sitra, Aali, Sanabis, Al Dair, and Tubli have all been dispersed by teargas, riot police, and police vehicles charging through the streets. We're not sure if there were protests there, but the village of Karzakan is also reportedly covered in teargas, and people are taking shelter indoors, covering their faces with milk in their homes to offset the effects of the gas.
We're not sure exactly where this picture was taken today, but a prominent Bahraini cartoonist shares this image, a shot taken from several floors up. That wall of gray is all teargas:
And this is Sanabis, where teargas and riot vehicles are also reported:
Riot police and armored vehicles are reported in many villages, and one source in Bahrain uses a simple understatement: "Lots and lots of teargas."
1438 GMT: Within the hour we reported that an EA correspondent in Bahrain witnessed the police surround and teargas a crowd of protesters who refused to disperse. Now, our correspondent reports that a police vehicle charged the crowd:
"Just escaped from suv that almost ran over us."
Also, activist Said Yousif Almuhafda posts these pictures, first of the rally in Sitra, then of the police lining up against the crowd:
Or this video, from Marea, Aleppo, very close to where the helicopter videos were posted earlier, but people took the risk to protest anyway:
But then there is the other Syria, the Syria that most often makes the news, the Syria that the regime is once again shelling. This video was reportedly taken today in Homs:
If the last 12 months have taught us anything, however, it's that the first Syria, the one where there are large protests, often becomes the second Syria, a place shelled by its own government that is tired of hearing the voices of dissent.
1401 GMT: Beyond the violence in Bahrain (which we think is a pretty important story) the rest of the story that is lost is the sheer size of today's protests across the small island nation. For instance, this picture below shows just one of the marches, and there are at least 9 marches, according to our contacts in the country:
1354 GMT: It's chaos in Bahrain. There has been a lot of upheaval there in the last year, but today might be the most hectic in recent months.
We're sorting the latest reports, but this picture Tweeted earlier perhaps says it all:
1346 GMT: Things may once again turn deadly in Bahrain.
An EA correspondent reports from the ground, where about 45 minutes ago a large crowd began to gather in Sitra. In the last 20 minutes the crowd has been surrounded by security forces, and those forces have just opened fire, possibly with teargas:
Besides the march in Sitra there are 9 other marches that started at the same time in other areas.
Sitra is surrounded with with big number of mercenaries...seems they are planning to attack...now [the leaders of the activists] announced on the speakers that the march will continue but [they are] asking women and kids to be careful.
However, in the last 3 minutes the police have fired on the crowd.
They started shooting.
Ppl didn't move police stopped shooting we are standing peacefuly face to face now with them.
1327 GMT: According to the LCCS, a network of activists inside Syria, today's civilian death toll has already reached 20, " 9 martyrs were reported in Homs; 4 in Daraa; 3 in Idlib; 1 in Aleppo; 1 in Raqqa; and 1 in Lattakia, 1 in Deir Ezzor."
These numbers do not count any FSA fighters who may have been killed overnight in the fighting in A'zaz, nor does it count any regime forces killed by the rebels. According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 16 regime soldiers and 9 defectors were killed in clashes yesterday, but that number makes no mention of A'zaz or Aleppo.
1321 GMT: More on the "helicopter" videos (see below). NPR's Ahmed al Omran let's us know that Al Jazeera Arabic has received reports that a helicopter has been shot down in A'zaz.
@JMiller_EA AJA reporter says FSA managed to gun down a helicopter. Maybe that explains the fire tracer in the other direction.— Ahmed Al Omran (@ahmed) March 23, 2012
We are both trying to confirm that report, though the Al Jazeera video (Arabic) is here.
Ahmed also shares this video, reportedly showing gunfire, explosions, and some of the damage to buildings from the overnight shelling:
1305 GMT: Scott Lucas started today's live coverage with a report that three soldiers had been killed near the city of A'zaz (Map), in Aleppo province near the Turkish border, in clashes with the Free Syrian Army, and many helicopters were seen circling overhead. Multiple activists, including the Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre, which has been consistently reliable, are now pushing this video reportedly showing a helicopter firing at positions on the ground. The video we posted is clear - the helicopter is firing tracer rounds at the ground. What's interesting, however, is that in the very last second of the video, a tracer round appears to be flying up at the helicopter. Another video, taken from a different angle and posted by a different Youtube page, is less clear:
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thank you, Scott Lucas, for getting us through the morning.
1010 GMT: An interesting comment from analyst Kristian Ulrichsen --- "Bassiouni" is Cherif Bassiouni, the head of the Bahrain Indpendent Commission of Inquiry, which found no evidence of Iranian involvement in Bahrain in its report last November:
At a meeting on #Bahrain with senior govt reps yesterday, I was shocked by how hardline and in denial they are, blaming everything on Iran.— Kristian Ulrichsen(@Dr_Ulrichsen) March 23, 2012
There seems to be no hope for reconciliation or dialogue because there is virtually no middle ground or common/agreed narrative to build on.— Kristian Ulrichsen(@Dr_Ulrichsen) March 23, 2012
@forumeditor Said Bassiouni was wrong & maintain they have evidence of Iranian involvement but can't show it to anyone as too sensitive.— Kristian Ulrichsen(@Dr_Ulrichsen) March 23, 2012
0834 GMT: A Saudi activist, Waleed Abu Alkhair, claims that authorities blocked him from travelling to the US where he was to attend a forum organised by the State Department: “Public prosecutors have issued an order banning me from travel for security reasons, two days before I must head to Washington."
Alkhair has been accused by clerics of “heresy”, “defaming Islam”, and of “spreading destructive thoughts” which they say influenced Hamza Kashgari, a journalist imprisoned over Tweets deemed insulting to Prophet Muhammad.
Alkhair, who signed itwo petitions demanding political reform in the kingdom in February 2011, has created a Facebook group with more than 5,000 members.
0829 GMT: According to Nabeel Rajab of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, another resident --- 59-year-old Abdah Alhussain of A'ali --- has died from tear gas inhalation after security forces threw canisters at houses.
عبدة علي عبدالحسين صالح من إسكان عالي هي شهيدة جديدة تضاف الى قافلة الشهداء جراء استنشاق الغازات السامة التي اطلقها جنود الطاغية#Bahrain— Nabeel Rajab (@NABEELRAJAB) March 23, 2012
Clashes in Duraz last night:
And the scene in Ma'ameer:
0825 GMT: Drawing upon interviews with Syrian insurgents, Liz Sly of The Washington Post says that they are running short of weapons, ammunition, and food. She writes that this is not just because of regime attacks:
A few months ago, as the militarization of the revolt accelerated, it was possible to buy black market supplies from Jordan, Lebanon and, in small quantities, from Turkey,...rebel fighters said.
But those governments have since tightened border controls, including reinforcements of troops and police forces to guard possible smuggling routes, strangling the supply of weaponry. Along the Turkish border, new coils of concertina wire glisten in the sunlight, entwined with the rusting barbs of the old fence.
Iraq, where border restrictions are relatively lax, is now the only source of black market weapons, the Syrian fighters say. But most of the arms obtained there come from buried stockpiles left over from the Saddam Hussein era and are of poor quality. Bullets explode in the barrels of guns and rocket-propelled grenades fail to go off, making rebel units reluctant to buy from Iraq.
0815 GMT: A Lebanese official said last night that 8000 Syrian refugees have now crossed into Lebanon. George Ayda told LBC television that the refugees were offered free hospitalization and were “being treated just like Lebanese at the social affairs centres".
Meanwhile, an insurgent officer, offering a reassurance against instability spreading to Lebanon, said, “The Free Syrian Army is not present on Lebanese territories.” He thanked the Lebanese Red Cross and the “Lebanese who have helped the Syrian refugees...who fled to Lebanon”.
0650 GMT: As we reported last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will use a national security waiver to authorise $1.3 billion in military aid and more than $250 million in economic assistance to Egypt, bypassing Congressional restrictions amidst questions over the military rulers' treatment of dissent and non-government organisations.
The State Department notified Senator Patrick Leahy, the author of the restrictions, got a call from the State Department by phone. Leahy responded after the call:
I am disappointed by this decision. I know Secretary Clinton wants the democratic transition in Egypt to succeed, but by waiving the conditions we send a contradictory message. The Egyptian military should be defending fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, not harassing and arresting those who are working for democracy. They should end trials of civilians in military courts and fully repeal the Emergency Law, and our policy should not equivocate on these key reforms.
0630 GMT: An EA correspondent in Bahrain summarises Thursday's developments: "Most Bahrain villages were protesting and covered in clouds of tear gas. I drove around 14 villages, from Budaiya highway in the west to Sitra. I could rarely open the car window."
A march in Mehaza, protesting attacks by security forces on teenagers when they refuse to work as informants:
0620 GMT: We opened yesterday with some scepticism that the United Nations Security Council statement calling on the regime and opposition to arrange a daily two-hour pause for humanitarian aid and to engage in dialogue, while political prisoners were freed, was going to have any impact.
We open today by noting the activists' summary that 90 people died across the country on Thursday. Twelve children and four women were among the slain.
The city of Homs, which has dropped out of international headlines after last month's regime siege, took the brunt of the toll, with 35 dead. In Idlib, 25 perished, and fifteen died amidst intensified shelling of parts of Hama.
Three regime soldiers reportedly died in clashes near Aazaz in Aleppo Province near the Turkish border, with military helicopters flying over the town.