The demonstration in Kernaz in Hama Province in Syria today
See also Syria Wired: The Latest from Social Media and EA's Readers br>
Bahrain Feature: In Deaths, The Kingdom Handily Beats Yemen, Egypt and Tunisia br>
Thursday's Bahrain, Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Recognising Protest and Human Rights
1950 GMT: Al Jazeera finds this picture, reportedly taken in the town of Dael, Daraa, a small town that is no stranger to the ferocious crackdown of the Assad regime. The protesters hold signs, in English, and wave pre-Baath party Syrian flags, the symbols of the opposition. The message echoes that of many in Syria (click to see larger picture):
"The Free Syrian Army killed the Major General Mohamed Hameem, the Commander, 17th Division-Armored Vehicles."
1932 GMT: Bahraini air line Gulf Air has extended its travel ban to Iraq and Iran. According to a statement released by the airliner, "the ban followed a government advisory urging Bahrainis against visiting these destinations based on claims that Iran and Lebanon-based militant group Hizbollah were involved in Bahrain's unrest."
However, EA's John Horne thinks that it's interesting that the statement "doesn't mention the fact that this is an odd commercial decision, given company is in financial trouble, and maybe this is about the Crown Prince, who is closely linked to the company, trying to make nice with the Saudis and the US."
In fact, the airliner is severely struggling, and is set to receive a bailout from the Bahraini government. This, of course, is just another reason to play nice with the hardliners within the regime. After all, as FT wrote in January, the airliner's political associations have angered many within the regime:
Gulf Air, as part of holding company Mumtalakat, is often identified as part of the reformist wing close to the crown prince, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
Much to the chagrin of hardline loyalists, the airline was one of the first government bodies to announce that it would reinstate staff sacked for supporting the protests. The company says 147 staff have been reinstated, though some employees have complained about being marginalised since their return.
Since the crackdown, reformists have been edged out by hardliners, undermining the king’s apparent attempts to introduce conciliatory initiatives to save Bahrain’s international reputation as a welcoming business and tourism hub.
1858 GMT: While protests are as large, or larger, in many parts of Syria as they have always been, "Sami," in Homs, reports that the constant bombardment there has taken its toll:
1741 GMT: Back from a lunch/headache break...
The Local Coordinating Committees of Syria report that 45 people have been killed so far today in Syria, "9 martyrs were reported in Daraa, 15 in Qorieh in Deir Ezzor, 12 in Homs, 4 in Idlib, 3 in Aleppo, 2 in Damascus, and 1 in Hama."
Taking a detached look at the carnage for a minute, there are a few familiar patterns in the death toll. The regime appears to have continued its campaigns in rural Daraa, Homs (expecially the Khalidiya district) were heavily shelled, though the regime appears to have backed off, somewhat, from its campaigns in Idlib and near Damascus. The report from Al Quriyah, however, is another sign that there is a growing opposition movement, and growing presence of FSA soldiers, in the Deir Ezo Zor region, important for its proximity to Iraq. There are also reports of protests, arrests, and clashes in Al Bokamal and Deir Ez Zor city.
This video reportedly shows the funeral for those killed today in Al Quriya.
Worshippers scuffled with police as they were prevented from attending Friday prayers in the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, while in Qalandiya, near Ramallah, protesters threw rocks at police.
Earlier, Guardian reported that at least 80 Palestinians were injured.
1507 GMT: With Turkey and the US looking like they're getting cold feet on the Syria issue, today's meeting between Hillary Clinton and the Saudis about Syria should be interesting, especially in light of this new development, that Saudi Arabia wants to try to arm the opposition and is actively seeking a partner to do so:
Saudi Arabia has pressed Jordan to open its border with Syria to allow weapons to reach rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad's regime, officials from both countries say, a move that could buoy Syria's opposition and harden the conflict in the country and across the region.
In a March 12 meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah asked his Jordanian counterpart to permit weapons shipments into Syria in exchange for economic assistance to Jordan, these officials say. Jordan hasn't yet agreed, they said.
The "Friends of Syria" group meet tomorrow in Turkey, but the Saudis stormed out of the last meeting, citing a perceived lack of will to end the crisis among the majority of the group.
1432 GMT: We've received, literally, hundreds of videos of large protests across Syria today. NPR's Ahmed al Omran shares one from the mid-sized town of Binnish, a key battleground on the road between Idlib and Aleppo. Despite recent raids in Binnish, Ma'arrat al Nouman, and other key towns and cities in Idlib province, there have been large protests there today:
And this video is important opposition hotspot, the Zain al-Abiden mosque in Midan:
Nine martyrs in Daraa, Eight martyrs in Quriya in Deir Ezzor,Five martyrs in Homs, three martyrs in each of ,Aleppo and Idlib, 2 martyrs in Damascus and a martyr in Hama.
Each Friday has a theme, and today's theme is particularly interesting as it is a call to action for the rest of the Middle East. The Syrian Revolution 2011 Information Center provides context, and a video of a protest that certainly is one of the smallest, but still illustrates the themes scene elsewhere:
Arabs and Muslims have failed us, reflecting the widespread sense that, despite all the words and promises of assistance, Syrians have been left alone to face a murderous regime that continues to be armed by Russia and assisted by Iran. The video shows today's protest in Kafar Nabil, famous for their witty signs, many are written in English.
This video was taken of a protest in Daraa province, in an area where the dominant ethnicity is Druze:
And this was taken in Qamishli, a largely Kurdish city where the protest movement is quickly growing. Protesters held up signs that read "Friday of the Rights of Kurdish People."
This very large protest happened in Irbeen, east of Damascus. Nearby, there were large protests in Douma, Harasta, and other eastern suburbs, and there is a large amount of gunfire being reported from these areas in the last hour:
The Iranian Engineers. Yet another false alert that kidnapped Iranian engineers in Syria had been released....
Iranian State media circulated a story yesterday, from an unnamed source, that five engineers, seized in December, were free and in Turkey. A similar story had circulated last month,with the men let go and in Iran, but had soon collapsed.
This time it appears that the five released Iranians were among pilgrims who had been abducted while travelling in Syria.
Two men who went to Syria to enquire about the kidnapped engineers were themselves seized in December. Their whereabouts are unknown.
. Eight martyrs in Quriya in Deir Ezzor, three martyrs in each of Homs, Aleppo and Idlib, 2 martyrs in Damascus and a martyr in Hama.
1324 GMT: Bahrain's problems, often in the shadows of the larger revolutions, appear to be gaining more traction with even the largest non-government organizations. Today, Amnesty International called for the immediate release of political prisoner Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a rights activist who is on his 50th day of hunger strike in a Bahraini prison.
1313 GMT: While there are plenty of political complaints that the opposition in Bahrain makes against its government, those problems have been overshadowed by a far deadlier problem - accusations (well founded ones) of overwhelming abuses of power on the part of Bahraini police and security forces. Those complaints range from excessive teargas use which has led to the deaths of more than 30 people (an astronomically high number for such a small country, as EA's Josh Shahryar points out), to the use of molotovs BY POLICE.
While the government has pledged to investigate these allegations, last night Bahrain was filled with teargas once again. And then there is this video, circulated by activists, with last night's date:
1258 GMT: Everyone should know that there were protests, and crackdowns, in Egypt and Tunisia, Yemen and Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Algeria... but political arrests are under-reported in some places in the Middle East - places like the United Arab Emirates.
The Gulf Center for Human Rights reports that two leading human rights activists, Mr. Ahmed Ghaith Al-Suwaidi and Dr. Ahmed Yousef Al-Zaabi, were arrested this week, part of a campaign of "arbitrary" arrests designed, the GCHR says, to silence dissenting voices.
Dr. Al-Zaabie, who is a former judge and a university professor, was arrested, as he was driving his colleague, Ahmed Ghaith Al-Suwaidi, on his arrival back from Dubai. Dr. Al-Zaabie requested the Security Forces to present an arrest warrant that authorizes the arrest and detention of Mr. Suwaidi, which they did not have.
Dr. Al-Zaabie was charged with obstruction of the law for asking the security forces to follow the law of the land. After two and a half hours, during which the two human rights defenders refused to comply with the arrest without seeing a judicial warrant, both were arrested and taken into police custody.
Last year, the authorities in UAE issued a decree revoking the nationality of seven human rights defenders, Sheikh Mohammad Abdul Razak Al-Sediq, Dr. Ali Hussain Al-Hammadi, Dr. Shahin Abdullah Al-Haosni, Mr. Hussein Munif Al-Jabri, Mr. Hassan Munif Al-Jabri, Mr. Ibrahim Hassan Al-Marzouqi, and also Mr. Ahmed Ghaith Al-Suwaidi.
1243 GMT: Violence in the heart of Syria's capital - the CFDPC, a network of activists that relays information out of Damascus and its surroundings, reports that security forces have opened fire on a crowd outside a mosque in Kafar Souseh, a district that contains many government buildings.
Northern and eastern Damascus have also had reports of explosions and gunfire (map of area):
An explosion has been heard in the #Arbeen area of #Damascus #Syria coming from the suburb of Zamalka; sounds of heavy gunfire right now.
Gunfire have been heard in the #Qaboun area of #Damascus #Syria coming from the Old Aleppo Highway.
James Miller takes today's live coverage from Scott Lucas.
1229 GMT: Al Jazeera English's report today from the clashes at Qalandiya checkpoint in Palestine's West Bank as Israeli forces push back Land Day protesters:
Reuters' photograph of Palestinian police keeping people in Gaza from reaching the border with Israel:
1225 GMT: A protest in Anadan in Aleppo Province in Syria:
1115 GMT: Actress Fadwa Suleiman, who has been a prominent figure in Syrian protests, has expressed concern that "the revolution is not going in the right direction, that it is becoming armed, that the opposition which wanted to resist peacefully is playing the game of the regime and that the country is heading for sectarian war".
Suleiman, who led demonstrations in Homs, fled last week to Paris: "I didn't want to leave Syria but I didn't have the choice. I was being threatened and I was becoming a threat for the activists who were helping me."
The actress had a distinctive place in the uprising as she belongs, like President Assad, to the Alawite religious minority. She explained her motive to protest: "Everyone was saying that salafist Sunnis were going to attack the Alawites. [So] I, an Alawite woman, got up on the stage and declared that we were all united against the regime."
1105 GMT: Saudi and Jordanian officials have said that Saudi Arabia has pressed Jordan to open its border with Syria to allow weapons to reach insurgents. In a 12 March meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah asked King Abdullah of Jordan to permit weapons shipments into Syria in exchange for economic assistance to Amman.
The officials said Jordan has not yet agreed.
Young woman with Palestinian flag just put it in front of skunk truck. They [Israeli forces then advanced skunking her [with foul "skunk water] and front of demo. Tear gas too.
The skunk is nasty, but at least it's only a smell. March might be regrouping now. "Going to Jerusalem, martyrs in the millions".
Several hundred people advancing again. the scream restarted. Tear gas. Retreat.
It's back and forth right now. Demo goes toward checkpoint, gets gassed. Falls back, tries again. Looks like they just tear gassed an ambulance.
An Al Jazeera English correspondent is also reporting the Israeli army's use of tear gas and water cannons at the Qalandiya checkpoint. He said there are close to 1,000 people gathered in Ramallah.
CNN's Matthew Chance says rubber bullets were used as protesters were forced back.
1042 GMT: As soon as he arrived in Ankara from Iran, where he spent two days talking to Tehran's leaders about the Syrian crisis, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan dropped his cautious position on the Assad regime.
Erdoğan said there is no reason to expect Damascus to implement a United Nations envoy Kofi Annan's "peace plan" in the face of ongoing violence, despite President Assad's public acceptance of the proposals:
[There is no need] now for me to say I am hoping or expecting something. Because [Assad] continues to kill. As we now see such a picture, I don't have any hope.
Meanwhile, Annan's spokesperson said, "We expect [Assad] to implement this plan immediately. Clearly we have not seen a cessation of hostilities on the ground. This is our great concern....[The] deadline is now." The spokesperson added:
It's imperative that the killings stop and the human rights abuses stop and the violence stops. I can't tell you what the next steps will be if they don't stop now.
Annan is due to brief the UN Security Council on Monday.
1025 GMT: An industry source says Iran is helping Syria defy Western sanctions by providing a vessel to ship Damascus' oil to a Chinese state-run company, potentially bringing in $80 million to the Assad regime.
The source said, "The Syrians planned to sell the oil directly to the Chinese but they could not find a vessel." He claimed the Chinese buyer was Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp, a state-run company hit by US sanctions in January.
A Zhuhai Zhenrong spokeswoman said: "I've never heard about this."
Clinton is scheduled to meet ministers of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman on Saturday before heading to Istanbul for the international "Friends of Syria" meeting.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two people were killed near Bsas village in Homs Province, when the car in which they were travelling was fired upon.
Fighting also reportedly broke out between the Syrian military and inusrgents in the towns of Harasta and Arbeen near Damascus, after insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades at a security post. Fierce fighting was also reported in Hama and Deir ez Zour Provinces.
0830 GMT: The Independent of London features the claim of Bahraini activists, a day after the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights won the Index for Censorship Free Expression award for Advocacy, that London is supporting the regime's repression.
Maryam Alkhawaja, head of the BCHR's international operations, said:
It is largely about arms sales. The West is guilty of double standards. The US, UK and France attack Russia for providing weapons to Syria, but that's exactly what they are doing for the Bahrain government; Russia is criticised for a naval base in Syria, but the US has one here.
How can it be that bodies like the UN intervene in Libya and openly talk about backing those wanting greater freedoms in Syria when the intervention here is on the behalf of those that continue to crack down on these demands?
In February 2011, just after the start of mass protests, the British Government said it would review arms exports to Bahrain, including crowd control measures such as "CS hand grenades, demolition charges, smoke canisters and thunderflashes".
However, according to research by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, several licences were granted for arms exports, including in February and March 2011. In April, an export licence for "training hand grenades" worth more than £70,000 was issued, and was followed later in the year by licences for the sale of "body armour", "gun silencers", and "weapons sights".
Britain's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills responded to the claims:
The Government takes its export responsibilities very seriously, and operates one of the most rigorous arms export control regimes in the world. We reacted quickly to events of the Arab Spring, reviewing all licences to Bahrain, and we have revoked licences where there was evidence that they were no longer in line with the consolidated criteria. Events of the Arab Spring have underlined the importance of ensuring that exports of UK defence equipment are carefully scrutinised.
The university said that it was under-represented in the assembly. A majority of the body's members are from Islamist parties who took most of the votes in Parliamentary elections during the winter.
Hague said the extra £500,000 will include funds for more training for activists and citizen journalists, possibly with secure phones to make the co-ordination of protest safer, and for assistance to civil society groups to gather evidence of atrocities for possible future trials.
0805 GMT: The Security Council voiced concern on Thursday at the "recent deterioration in cooperation among political actors in Yemen", calling on them “to remain committed to the political transition [and] constitutional order, to play a constructive role in the process, and to reject violence".
The Council pushed for a national dialogue conference, restructuring of the security forces, the tackling of unauthorized possession of weapons outside the State’s control, legislation on transitional justice, constitutional reform, electoral reform, and general elections in 2014.
The Council also voiced its strong concern about intensified attacks by insurgents and called on all parties "to facilitate full, safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian actors to reach people in need of assistance", amidst concern over a growing crisis in the country with 6.8 million people experiencing "food insecurity" and three million in need of immediate assistance.
The military said the closure was "in accordance with security assessments".
The Land Day march is an annual demonstration by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, commemorating the killing of six Israeli Arab protesters by Israeli police and troops during mass demonstrations in 1976 against plans to confiscate Arab land in Galilee.
Writing in Haaretz, Sam Bahour and Fida Jiryis explain, "Why Land Day is Important":
The Land Day victims were not Palestinians from the occupied territories, but citizens of the state, a group that now numbers over 1.6 million people, or 20.5 percent of the population. They are inferior citizens in a state that defines itself as Jewish and democratic, but in reality is neither.
And Ben White notes, in a post on Informed Comment, "It has just come out that the Israeli military has earmarked ten percent of the land in the Occupied West bank for Israeli settlements."
The sources said the plan called for a mission of 200 to 250 observers, taken from other UN missions deployed in the Middle East and Africa. The UN Peacekeeping Operations Department did not comment on the story.
Reuters said that a monitoring mission would require a UN Security Council resolution. This could be vetoed by Russia and China, who blocked UN action last month.
0515 GMT: Last night, as she reported on developments in Bahrain, an EA correspondent noted simply, "I have to survive with 3 to 4 hours' sleep."
While media headlines this morning focus on Thursday's latest chatter --- in this case, from the Arab League summit in Baghdad --- events in Syria and Bahrain were going late into the night. In Syria, mass demonstrations pressed demands against the Assad regime despite the continuing references to the "peace plan" purportedly accepted by Damascus. In Bahrain, clashes saw midnight and kept going, with protesters facing police tear gas as they blocked the Budaiya Highway.
At least 36 people died in Syria on Thursday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Fourteen of the slain were in Homs Province, including six regime troops.