A video illustrating that, despite reports of juveniles tried in military courts (see 0847 GMT), all Egyptian children love the ruling armed forces
2040 GMT: According to the Locall Co-ordinating Committees of Syria, the Assad military has begun an assault on the town of Saraqeb in Idlib Province:
Idlib:Saraqeb: The regime's army continues to encircle the city amid a widespread deployment of tanks in the southern part, where continuous gunfire and explosions were reported. The regime's army has also surrounded hospitals to deny entry to the wounded; this led residents to treat the wounded in field hospitals along the city's perimeter. Electricity is still cut off for the fourth consecutive day.
The regime's arrest campaigns are still ongoing as well, and the number of detainees is now in the hundreds. Moreover, residents cannot bury the martyrs who fell during the days-long regime siege on Saraqeb because of the continuous shelling and bombardment. The random shelling has also damaged the Information Office, which therefore cannot post any videos that document the harsh reality in the area
Saraqeb is strategically important, and has been an epicentre of clashes between the FSA and regime forces for qsome time.
We earlier today reported how we had come across news suggesting that the FIA was expected to cancel Bahrain’s 2012 Grand Prix in the run up to the Chinese Grand Prix. This speculation considered that the FIA may have already told teams that the race was to be cancelled but it now seems that the FIA have no such plans and have not released statements to any teams or other individuals.
Norman Howell director of the communications for the FIA has now contacted us to confirm that ‘there is no truth whatsover to the rumours indicating the FIA will be issuing a statement regarding F1 not going there [Bahrain]‘.
While the FIA or the Bahraini government could still cancel the race, scheduled for 22nd of April it now seems unlikely that the race will be cancelled unless renewed protests threaten the stability of the country.
The FIA is preparing a statement to announce the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix, sources in the paddock reveal to F1Today.net. It is expected that the statement will be published on the Thursday in China, one week before the scheduled race at Sakhir.
The situation in Bahrain still isn't safe enough to host a Formula 1 race, according to the FIA. The Bahrain Grand Prix was dropped from the calendar last year after violent clashes between the police and protesters against the regime.
1916 GMT: While we're on the topic of video clips that highlight the insanity of the status quo...
This video comes from us via an activist who says it was taken today in Madaya. The cameraman is filming soldiers walking, and they quickly turn and open fire on him. They even continue to fire as he runs:
1908 GMT: This video has been circulated by activists today. It shows a group of women, and a child, complaining to the police outside a coffee shop (the infamous Costa Coffee, the scene of several similar incidents in the last year). The police, for whatever reason, appear to throw a flash grenade at close range at the women, very close to the child, and then walk away.
Bahraini police have developed a reputation of using "less lethal" force, like teargas and flash grenades, as a punishment, instead of to subdue potentially dangerous criminals.
President Ahmadinejad, meeting a Syrian envoy in Tehran, has praised the Assad regime: "I am very happy that Syrian officials are managing the situation well....I hope the situation in Syria improves day after day."
Ahmadinejad said there was no limit to expanding ties with Syria, and Iran would do "all in its power to support this country".
The President also castigated the US, "By chanting false slogans of defending people's freedom, the Americans want to take control of Syria, Lebanon, Iran and other countries and we should be aware and stand firm against their plots."
1801 GMT: Bahraini activists are reporting that Ali Singace, a 16 year old who says he was sexually abused and tortured by police during his 5th arrest, has once again been arrested. According to Elaine Masons, Ali called from a police station to confirm that he was there.
In a Reuters report by Andrew Hammond (a report that uses the word "Shi'ite" 6 times, including once in the title and once in the lede), Hammond reports that the government denies the allegations made by Singace, and the police were not investigating the charges further. Apparently, however, the Bahraini police are now investigating Ali for allegedly making false accusations against the regime.
1731 GMT: Yesterday we covered an LCCS report that 2 Algerian journalists with British citizenship, Naseem Intriri and Waleed Balidi, were killed while crossing the border into Syria. The journalists were reportedly documentary filmmakers. Apparently, The Guardian missed that report, but today they found a statement from the Syrian Revolution General Council that adds details to the report:
Three Algerian journalists were part of a group of 50 trying to enter Syria when the house they were staying was attacked by army and shabiya yesterday at 7.30am. The group ran away, but the journalists tried to return and were fired upon from an armored army vehicle. Two were killed. A third was wounded and brought to Antakya for treatment.
The Guardian also spoke to the British foreign office, which was looking into the claims, and they carry a report from a freelance journalism organization that confirms more details about the incident:
Sarah Giaziri from the Rory Peck Trust, which supports freelance newsgatherers, said a Syrian fixer told her the two men were in fact British nationals, although this can not be confirmed at present. There was another man with them, also reportedly a British national of Algerian origin who is reportedly in hospital in Antakya.
1724 GMT: Back from a lunch/research break to find that today's death toll in Syria has risen. The LCCS is now reporting that 57 were killed by security forces and Assad loyalists today:
In Idlib province alone, there were 31 martyrs (23 of them were executed in the field in Saraqeb), 12 in Homs, 8 in Hama, 5 in Damascus suburbs and one martyr in Daraa.
"There are disturbances, and youths, who need to be handled in a proper and right way," Sheikh Abdullah bin Isa Al Khalifa told PA Sport.
"There are no guarantees. You could be anywhere, even Silverstone."
The High Criminal Court yesterday ruled the Public Prosecution had failed to investigate the allegations or follow proper procedures.
"The Public Prosecution relied on investigations earlier done by the Interior Ministry's Legal Affairs and did not investigate the case itself before sending it to court, which is void," said the court.
1502 GMT: Earlier, The Guardian posted a video of Bashar al Assad walking near a bombed out mosque in Baba Amr, Homs.Of course, he blames this on terrorists. However, the Human Rights Watch recognized the mosque, and found this famous video of shells, presumably fired by the only military in town, the Assad military, hitting the mosque.
1439 GMT: Another gem, found by NPR's Ahmed al Omran. The video is dated yesterday, and while we have not heard specific reports that could be verified by the video, Human Rights Watch has accused the regime of using human shields in Idlib province:
1434 GMT: A sharp spike in today's death toll - the LCCS now reports that 53 people have been killed today by Assad-loyal forces, "including 23 martyrs who were executed in Saraqeb. 30 martyrs were reported in Idlib, 11 in Homs, 7 in Hama, and 5 in the Damascus Suburbs."
1425 GMT: A ceasefire in Syria? It doesn't look like that will be happening today. Multiple sources report that the regime has launched attacks against several districts in Homs, including the Old Homs, Hamidiya, and Khalidiya districts (see a map of Homs). This video reportedly shows at attack by "shilkas," self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicles, in the Hamidiya district:
NPR's Ahmed al Omran shares this video:
Little girl crying, refusing to change bandage on her wounded leg. Sounds of bombing outside, reportedly in Khaldiyeh youtube.com/watch?v=TLuoh5…— Ahmed Al Omran (@ahmed) March 27, 2012
There are also reports that the regime has renewed attacks in Idlib province, in Deir Ez Zor, and in Al Qusair, south of Homs.
Mr Annan views this as an important initial step that could bring an end to the violence and the bloodshed, provide aid to the suffering, and create an environment conducive to a political dialogue that would fulfil the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.
Mr Annan has stressed that implementation will be key, not only for the Syrian people, who are caught in the middle of this tragedy, but also for the region and the international community as a whole. As the Syrian government acts on its commitments, Mr Annan will move urgently to work with all parties to secure implementation of the plan at all levels.
1410 GMT: I Skyped with Syrian activist Zilal, who is associated with the CFDPC, an organization of activists with contacts in and around Damascus. We talked about the situation in Madaya today. She said that 5 tanks defected to the opposition after they were ordered to shell the city. According to the CFDPC,
After the defection of 5 tanks at the checkpoint set up next to the al-Bark mosque in the Madaya suburb of Damascus, random shelling began on the mosque and on civilian houses (there were injuries in the house of the Yusef family); a shell fell in the main square.
1400 GMT: Yesterday I interviewed prominent Syrian activist Shakeeb al-Jabri. We spoke about the troubles in the Syrian National Council, the situation in Aleppo, and the state of the revolution. While the interview will be posted later today or tomorrow, I spoke with him today about the news that Bashar al Assad has agreed to a peace plan and has visited Baba Amr. About the visit to Homs, Shakeeb had this insight:
"The visit is an attempt to show he's back in control and of course part of the propaganda effort to show that 'the people love him.'
"It should be noted though that the visit was done in secret, it was not even broadcast until much later which shows the regime is still terrified about its security."
On the subject of "peace," al-Jabri echoed the sentiment of most activists (and many journalists who have been following this conflict:
"As for the peace plan, I'm just wondering how long Assad has before Annan agrees his plan didn't work."
According to the LCCS, many people were injured and many homes destroyed when the regime resumed shelling of Madaya earlier. There is also a report that many of the soldiers executing the shelling defected and entered the city.
This video shows a large protest at a funeral in Zabadani. Another video is taken from the street level:
Twenty (20) martyrs in Syria today so far, including four women; seven martyrs (7) in Hama, five (5) martyrs in Damascus Suburbs, five (5) martyrs in Idlib, two (2) martyrs in Homs and one (1) martyr in Deir Ezzor.
1311 GMT: An international group of officials meeting at the Arab summit in Baghdad have agreed on a draft resolution that will call for a peaceful end to the crisis in Syria.
The draft resolution, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, urged the "Syrian government and all opposition factions to deal positively with the [UN-Arab League] envoy [Kofi Annan] by starting serious national dialogue."
Talks should be based on an Arab League plan "and the decision of the UN General Assembly," it said.
The draft resolution also calls on the Syrian opposition "to unify its ranks and prepare ... to enter into serious dialogue [with the regime] to achieve the democratic life which is demanded by the Syrian people."
"The Syrian government should immediately stop all actions of violence and killing, protect Syrian civilians and guarantee the freedom of peaceful demonstrations for achieving demands of the Syrian people," said the text.
1302 GMT: One of the first things to look for would be the actions of the Assad military forces to see if there is a de-escalation or withdrawal. While this news likely occurred before the formal announcement of a peace plan, Guardian posts a video of an Assad helicopter firing rockets at the ground in A'zaz, north of Aleppo. Also, they are reporting that Syrian troops have crossed into Lebanon:
Syrian troops have advanced into north Lebanon, destroying farm buildings and clashing with Syrian rebels who had taken refuge there, residents told Reuters.
Abu Ahmed, 63, from the rural mountain area of al-Qaa, said:
"More than 35 Syrian soldiers came across the border and started to destroy houses."
Another resident said that the soldiers, some travelling in armoured personnel vehicles, fired rocket-propelled grenades and exchanged heavy machinegun fire with rebels.
Lebanese officials have said that the fighting was in Syria, and that only bullets have crossed the border.
1248 GMT: And now we have our first glimpse at problem two - will the opposition take Assad seriously. The Associated Press has spoken to a member of the Syrian National Council who suggests that the formal opposition will accept the plan:
A Paris-based member of the opposition Syrian National Council said it welcomes the Syrian government's decision.
"We hope that we can move toward a peace process," Bassma Kodmani said by telephone.
But the AP has also spoken to Rami al Jarrah, a prominent opposition figure:
Rami Jarah, who was attending an opposition meeting Tuesday in Turkey, said President Bashar Assad is trying to stall for time.
"The Syrian government is going to depend on propaganda as it has over the past few months - propaganda of armed terrorists," he said. The government denies that there is a popular uprising in the country, saying the revolt is being driven by terrorists.
And upon news that Assad was in Baba Amr, we've already received Tweets like this one:
@JMiller_EA the place is haunted with the souls of those he killed. Like his thugs he's there to dance on the remains of victims.— اجاك الدور يا دكتور (@LeaveSyriaNow) March 27, 2012
So what happens if the protests continue? What happens if the armed opposition does not stop all attacks nationwide?
1236 GMT: Syrian President has timed the announcement of a peace plan with a visit to the most embattled area of Homs, Baba Amr, according to Syrian State TV. Here is the first video we've seen, Tweeted by an activist:
1225 GMT: The Guardian details 6 steps that Bashar al Assad and Kofi Annan have agreed to in the UN peace plan:
1) commit to work with the envoy [Annan] in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people;
2) commit to stop the fighting
3) ensure timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting
4) intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons
5) ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists and a non-discriminatory visa policy for them
6) respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed.
Basically, if all of these reforms were promptly implemented, and if elections were freely held as promised, this could possibly end this crisis.
There is just one problem - we've heard this all before. Assad agreed to an Arab League plan to withdraw troops from the cities of Syria, but on the same day his forces launched an intensified offensive and he claimed he was not battling the opposition but fighting terrorists. Before this, Assad lifted the emergency laws that had been in place for decades, but immediately fired on protesters who remained in the streets.
There comes problem number 2. Will the opposition (all of the opposition) accept this plan. So far there are indications that the Syrian National Council has agreed on principle to cooperate:
Syrian council member says opposition welcomes government's acceptance of UN peace plan - @AP— Breaking News (@BreakingNews) March 27, 2012
James Miller takes over the live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us through the morning.
1155 GMT: The funeral of the martyr Rabeha Al Joujou in Zabadani today --- eight people were reportedly slain in the town on Monday:
A morning demonstration in Jarjanaz in Idlib Province:
1125 GMT: Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has said that the situation in Bahrain is not on the agenda of this week's Arab League summit in Baghdad because the Bahraini regime did not put it forward.
Zebari said, "With Syria, the situation is different, because Syria is a more pressing issue. ....It has an international dimension, it has a regional (dimension), it has many many other differences."
Ahmad Fawzi continued, "Mr Annan views this as an important initial step that could bring an end to the violence and the bloodshed, provide aid to the suffering, and create an environment conducive to a political dialogue that would fulfil the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people."
Annan, in China to seek Beijing's support for the plan, has written to President Assad asking Damascus to "put its commitments into immediate effect".
Meanwhile, Syrian State news agency SANA is highlighting Assad's visit to the Baba Amr neighbourhood in Homs, besieged and re-claimed by regime forces last month.
The doctors and nurses were among 48 staff detained soon after the February 2011 protests began. The other 20 medics were given sentences of 5 to 15 years last autumn; those are still being reviewed after transfer from the military tribunal to a civilian court.
One woman was killed by a stray bullet in the Damascus suburb of Douma and two other women died in Maarat an-Naaman, in Idlib Province in the northwest. One civilian was killed by sniper fire in Dabalan, a neighborhood in Homs.
Four soldiers also died in the clashes with insurgents in Maarat an-Naaman, the Observatory said.
The British-based group claimed more than 70% of the population of Saraqeb in Idleb Province has fled since a regime assault began Saturday. It said at least 18 civilians have been killed and more than 63 homes torched in the town.
The organisation added that children prosecuted in military courts have not had access to lawyers, and often to their families, until after military authorities have investigated and sentenced them.Since it took power in February 2011, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has referred ,more than 12,000 civilians for prosecution by military courts.
Human Rights Watch called on SCAF to end all investigations and trials of children before military courts, releasing or transferring those already convicted to the juvenile justice system.
0647 GMT: A Bahraini activist has posted an updated list of 82 people who have died since the start of the protests in February 2011, including 35 who have allegedly perished from the effects of tear gas.
0627 GMT: A member of the United Nations human rights inquiry into Syria quit the three-person commission on Monday. Yakin Erturk said, "I decided not to continue, mainly because of my concern over not having access to Syria. This is a serious hindrance of the commission of inquiry."
Erturk is a former UN special human rights rapporteur on violence against women and is still a member of the Council of Europe's committee for the prevention of torture.
Meanwhile, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the United Nations special representative for children in armed conflict, has told reporters,"We are receiving allegations of children with the Free Syrian Army."
Coomaraswamy gave no details, saying "we haven't been able to verify or check" the allegations that the insurgency breached conventions banning the use of child soldiers aged under 16.
The clashes between former rebel fighters from Sabha, Libya's fourth largest city, and gunmen from the Tibu tribe started on Sunday after a Sabha man was killed in a dispute over a car.
Sabha fighter Oweidat al-Hifnawi said the fighting centered around the airport road and that at one point Tibu fighters controlled the entrance of the airport.
"The airport is now under our control but it is not functioning at the moment," Hifnawi said.
0620 GMT: On the diplomatic front, there were a series of flutters ahead of this weekend's "Friends of Syria" meeting of international delegations in Turkey. The Turks, who closed their Embassy in Damascus, and the Qataris tried to forge an opposition bloc with a meeting of Syrian factions, while the US announced that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would hold talks in Saudi Arabia before going to the Friends of Syria assembly.
The Turks, Arab States such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and the US are all manoeuvring for an agreed line before the weekend, but will that compromise lead to significant intervention? That is what we cannot establish at this point.
Meanwhile, activists said at least 65 people died on Monday across Syria, including 34 in Homs. Syria's third city is enduring sustained shelling by the regime.