Bahraini youth challenge an armoured vehicles in Jidhafs on Sunday, setting it on fire
See also Bahrain Special: Human Rights Violations Since the BICI Report br>
Egypt Snapshot: Why Did US Restore Military Aid? Jobs. br>
Palestine 1st-Hand: A Gazan's Visit to Jerusalem br>
Syria Wired: The Latest from Social Media and EA's Readers br>
Turkey Live Coverage (26 March): Has Assad Solved Erdogan's Kurdish Problem? br>
Sunday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: 45 Dead amid Regime Attacks on Homs and Idlib
2002 GMT: A late-afternoon surprise from the State Department. While we could have guessed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be traveling to Turkey for the "Friends of Syria" meeting, we were not aware that she would be traveling to Saudi Arabia to discuss Syria first:
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from March 30-31, 2012. While in Riyadh, she will meet King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. She will also attend the First Ministerial Meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council-U.S. Strategic Cooperation Forum. In her conversations, she will discuss the full range of bilateral and regional issues, including ongoing security cooperation in the region, as well as the international community’s continuing efforts to stop the bloodshed in Syria.
Secretary Clinton will then travel to Istanbul, Turkey from March 31-April 1 to attend the second meeting of the “Friends of the Syrian People.” This meeting will build upon steps that our friends, allies, and the Syrian opposition continue to take in an attempt to halt the slaughter of the Syrian people and pursue a transition to democracy in Syria. While in Istanbul, Secretary Clinton will also conduct bilateral meetings with Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu and other foreign leaders.
What does this mean? We could read a lot into a short statement, but it certainly means that Clinton is seeking regional unity on Syria. Remember that Saudi Arabia walked out of the last "Friends of Syria" meeting because of a lack of perceived progress in ending the crisis. Whatever the FoS decides, they will look weak and illegitimate without the backing of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and the other major regional players.
1957 GMT: The Syrian government has banned all male citizens under the age of 42 from traveling internationally:
"Syrians between the ages of 18 and 42 are banned from travel if they don't have prior authorisation from the (army's) recruitment office," Aliqtisadi business magazine said on its Internet site.
The travel ban until now had only applied to men who had not completed their two-year compulsory military service.
Two independent journalists, Naseem Intriri and Waleed Balidi, from Algerian origin with British nationalities, are reported to be killed by the regime's forces at Aazmarin area while crossing the borders. The two journalists were working on a documentary about the Syrian Revolution.
1917 GMT: According to the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria, 8 people have been killed in Zabadani, a mountain town 20 miles northwest of the capital that was held by the Free Syrian Army for several weeks earlier in the year.
1910 GMT: Turkey has once again voiced its concerns about the increasing instability in Turkey, and has hinted that a refugee crisis could drive it to set up humanitarian "safe zones" inside the Syrian border:
The Turkish official referred to the possibility of "a huge influx like we faced in the first Gulf War" or suggested that demand for a buffer zone could be triggered by a sharp upswing in atrocities in Syria, such as "massacres by hundreds a day."
"Nobody knows what would happen in such an eventuality," the official said.
1905 GMT: Activist "Sami," a resident of Homs, shares this video:
1610 GMT: There has been a lot of discussion about the movement of Assad's forces today. In Idlib, there is an LCCS report that Assad tanks and soldiers have left Saraqeb and moved north and northwest towards Taftanaz and Binnish, effectively raiding the largest towns to the east of Idlib city (map of area). Further to the south, the shelling of Qa'alat al Madiq continued, and there was this video showing tanks in Kafer Zeita, Hama governorate (map):
Add to these reports the news of raids in Zabadani, northwest of Damascus; renewal of bombardment of al Rastan, north of Homs; a massive offensive on the central and northern districts of Homs; and many reports of troop movement and raids in the areas surround Deir Ez Zor.
In other words, the regime is making new maneuvers to counter the victories won by the FSA last week. It's one big game of cat-and-mouse in Syria. The Assad regime is moving it's forces to constantly "churn" the oppositions strongholds, not allowing the FSA to get a foothold anywhere. This has two main consequences, beyond the obvious - this kind of movement is very expensive for the regime, and it leads to more deaths, in more places.
1600 GMT: While this activist in Old Homs, in the center of the city, was trying to show the damage to this Christian church, massive shells hit nearby and smoke rises from a nearby mosque. Apparently, the shells in Homs are not sectarian in nature
Clashes between the regime's army and the Free Syrian Army in the city when tanks and the regime's army's heavy machinery tried re-erecting their checkpoints in Zabadany. The Free Syrian Army attacked, leading to clashes. The regime's army opened random gunfire towards the houses.
They also share this video, which shows the unmistakable view over the Zabadani landscape:
1430 GMT: We have live video from Homs below and the gunfire and explosions are very close to the camera (the videographer is now whispering). We have reports that nearly every neighborhood in northern Homs is under attack. There are reports of shelling and gunfire in the Khalidiya, Bayada, Hamidiya, Bab al Dreib, Bab Sbaa, an Der Ba'albah districts. It appears that the Syrian military is launching a massive offensive against northern Homs. Apparently, children have already paid the price.
Ahmed al Omran shares another series of videos, all of them graphic, all of them disturbing. The first shows dead children in the Bayada district, one apparently with mutilated genitals. The next clip shows a field hospital in Bayada - one child has his foot ripped open, and many more children can be heard screaming. Apparently, the shelling there came quickly and caught everyone off guard.
See a map of the city here.
This matches other reports that we've heard, and it looks like Homs, but we cannot verify the video:
1510 GMT 1410 GMT: NPR's Ahmed al Omran shares this video:
The city shown is Qa'alat al Madiq, an ancient and heavily fortified city on an important road running between Hama and Western Idlib province. Both areas have a very strong opposition presence, the the FSA is known to have used that road to move around the country. That road also leads to the coastal cities where the regime has more control, areas where the opposition is strong but more contained.
As a result, the location is extremely strategic, and the Syrian military has been shelling it like this for many weeks.
Posts on the page surrounding the conflict in Syria have provided our readers with what is believed to be false news on attacks in Syria and deceptive information on Saudi government orders.
The posts included news about clashes between the Free Syria Army and the Syrian regime security forces, which Al Arabiya cannot verify.
The news is being falsely attributed to Al Arabiya sources.
We're not sure of the current status of their Facebook page, as their wall appears to be down entirely right now.
1438 GMT: This is the Inshaat neighborhood of Homs, according to Al Jazeera. Inshaat is one of the most affluent districts in Homs, Syria's third largest city, a city larger than Boston (before all of this happened, more than 800,000 lived in Homs).
1324 GMT: The party in control of the Tunisian government elected in October has said that it will resist calls from conservative Islamic parties to ground the Tunisian constitution in sharia law. Though the moderate Islamist Ennahda party has not finalized its decision, this is the strongest statement yet that it will stand up to the Islamists.
"Ennahda has decided to retain the first clause of the previous constitution without change," Ameur Larayed told Radio Mosaique. "We want the unity of our people and we do not want divisions."
The party has not formally announced its final position.
1305 GMT: The Syrian government has reportedly arrested an activist working with the rights group Avaaz who was instrumental in the rescue of western journalists from Homs:
Avaaz says Jassim Khaled Diab, 35, was ambushed on Saturday outside the village of Nazariya bordering Lebanon near the city of Qusair in Homs.
It describes Diab as "instrumental in securing the delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid to besieged cities and towns across Syria". He is also credited by the group with saving the lives of a number of people by evacuating the injured across the border into Lebanon so that they could receive appropriate medical care. Avaaz says he was trying to help one such person across the border when he was arrested. His companions managed to escape and transfer the injured person to a safe area.
James Miller takes over today's coverage from the tireless Scott Lucas, with thanks for getting us through the morning and the weekend.
Abu Ghazi said,"They arrested militants and doctors and burned down their houses."
The Assad military is also reportedly shelling of the town of Qalaat al-Madiq.
A rally in Maarshoren in Idlib Province:
The gathering comes ahead of Sunday's "Friends of Syria" conference of international delegations and amidst reports of divisons within the resistance to the Assad regime.in an effort to form a unified". voice ahead of the next week's "Friends of Syria" conference.
The goal of Monday's conference is "for all forces and parties of the opposition not to be a union, but at least to have a united purpose," said Amar Qurabi, leader of the National Change Current opposition group.
The Syrian National Council was the only opposition body represented at the first "Friends of Syria" conference, held last month in Tunisia.
Bassam Imadi, a former Syrian ambassador to Sweden and a member of the Syrian National Council, said Monday's meeting "is probably going to enlarge and restructure the SNC". He predicted four opposition groups that had previously refused to join the SNC would change their position by the end of this week.
The White House said John Brennan, President Obama's assistant for homeland security and counter-terrorism, called Hadi at the end of a week when ministers loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh walked out of a Cabinet meeting.
Brennan told Hadi, "it is essential that all Yemeni political actors, especially those from the previous government, play a constructive role in the transition process, and he expressed concern over recent reports that some former government officials are being disruptive."
The 34-member unity cabinet was appointed in December. Ali Abudllah Saleh stepped down in February after 33 years in power.
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman is in Yemen this week to meet senior government officials and activists.
1137 GMT: A Syrian court has released activists Bahraa Abdel Nabil Hijazi and Anas Abdel Salam after 53 days in detention for takig part in anti-regime demonstrations.
Hijazi, whose father is a prominent author and journalist, is a director of short films and documentaries, while Abdel Salam is a pro-democracy campaigner. They were accused of "forming a secret organisation" and "taking part in anti-regime protests".
The lawyer for the two men said their trial would be held at a later date.
1111 GMT: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said that the body of activist Khalaf Mohammed al-Shab was found Sunday night, hours after he was abducted near the northeastern town of Derbasiyeh. Al-Shab was a nephew of the late Kurdish leader Mashaal Tamo, who was assassinated in October.
Claimed footage of Al-Shab's funeral this morning:
A demonstration in al-Soura in Daraa Province calls for the death of President Assad:
1106 GMT: Egypt Independent considers this weekend's selections for the Constituent Assembly to write Egypt's Constitution. It notes the prevalence of Islamists and the low numbers of Christians, women, and members of revolutionary groups that challenged the Mubarak regime.
The Washington Post notes the call by some liberal and leftist groups for a boycott of the Assembly, with their members resigning their seats on the 100-member body.
Police detained the men last week in the city of Mafraq, about 60 kilometres (about 37 miles) north of the capital Amman.
A source said about 100 alleged defectors have been deported to Syria since the uprising began in March 2011.
1005 GMT: The New York Times reports that fighters from Zintan stormed into and shot up the luxury hotel that is the de facto base for members of Libya's ruling National Transitional Council over the weekend, days after members of the council acknowledged that a rival militia from Misurata had kidnapped and briefly detained two of its members.
Council members said that Salem Il Bahlil and Ali Tawfiq Alshtewi were seized because the officials were suspected of having ties to the Qaddafi regime. They were released after senior figures from Misurata intervened.
0830 GMT: As it manoeuvres with the US and other countries over next steps in Damascus, Turkey http://www.twitter.com/IvanCNN" target="_blank">has suspended activities at its embassy in Damascus, withdrawing its ambassador.
The Turkish consulate in Aleppo still operating.
0650 GMT: As Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces swapped criticisms this weekend, The Washington Post summarises the tensions between the two groups. Analyst Shadi Hamid ventures, "There’s been a major shift in Egyptian politics. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is entering its lame-duck stage. At this point, no one can stop the Brotherhood."
0645 GMT: Amid reports of tensions within the opposition Syrian National Council, Haitham al-Maleh --- one of five prominent members who have left the group --- said the SNC leadership of the council had failed to “treat the rest of the council democratically” and was out of touch with the broader needs of the opposition: “The group is not a council; it is run like the Baath Party."
Kamal al-Labwani, who also quit the Council, has said that the Muslim Brotherhood dominates the SNC to the detriment of other opposition groups.
0605 GMT: Amidst the rhetoric after Sunday's discussion between President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan about Syria, this soundbite from an American official does raise interest:
White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, speaking to reporters after the two leaders met on the eve of a nuclear security summit in Seoul, said Washington and Ankara were open to considering further "non-lethal" aid for the Syrian opposition at a "Friends of Syria" meeting in Turkey on April 1.
Compare that report to this claim from Tony Badran of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a "neo-conservative" pressure group, last Thursday:
In a previously unreported turn of events, it has now come to light that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in her meeting with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu last month, emphatically dismissed a number of forward leaning options on Syria that the Turkish top diplomat proposed to the Obama administration.
What this means is that Washington, which at one point subcontracted its Syria policy to Ankara, has now called the Turks off the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
According to well-informed Turkish and US sources, during his meeting with Secretary Clinton, Davutoğlu put forward a set of measures, including, among others, creating a buffer zone and/or a humanitarian corridor, as well as organizing and equipping the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The secretary of state responded in no uncertain terms that the Obama administration had no interest in pursuing any of these options. In fact, according to one account, Clinton told her Turkish counterpart no less than three times, “We are not there.”
So what is the real state of play for the Obama Administration? Has it reached a compromise agreement with the Turks over intervention/non-intervention? And if Turkey, as well as Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, insist on more forceful steps, will the US not only stand aside but also veto the assistance?