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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: A "Pretty Devastated" Section of Homs

Turkey Live Coverage (7 March): Erdogan Wants A Solution to Syria
Wednesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Assad "We Will Crush Foreign-Backed Terrorism"

2009 GMT: The UN/Arab League special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, has said that a political process, not a military one, is the only way to end the crisis in the country:

"I hope that no one is thinking very seriously of using force in this situation. I believe any further militarization will make this situation worse. We have to be careful that we don't introduce a medicine that's worse than the disease, and we don't have to go very far in the region to find an example of what I'm talking about," said Annan.

Compare these statements to those made by a high-ranking commander in the Free Syrian Army, Colonel Riad al-Asaad, made earlier today:

"The Syrian people will not accept any form of dialogue with this criminal regime. The Syrian people want to bring this regime down and will never give it another chance."

1916 GMT: The shelling today in Al Rastan, Homs, might have been more intense than the initial reports suggested. Activists post this video, showing heavy damage in a single neighborhood:

The LCCS also reports that the central clock tower has been destroyed, and many residents have decided to take the chance and flee before the security forces arrive.

1910 GMT: While we were away, some dramatic events have unfolded in Homs. A peaceful protest in the Khalidiya district of Homs was fired upon by security forces. Several people were reportedly killed, and the LCCS has posted this video of the event.

The LCCS also posts a disturbing video of a man be intubated in a field hospital as the opposition doctors try to save his life.

1651 GMT: Videos emerging from al Rastan, north of Homs, are very rare. This one, from a credible source, purports to show some of the damage done by artillery shelling today (also see update 1540 GMT):

1641 GMT: We've been tracking reports of heavy gunfire in Hama. A leading activist network now picks up the reports.

Heavy gunfire is taking place, from security checkpoints established at the Al-Aalaf Roundabout, the medical co-op, the eastern bridges, and all checkpoints in the Hamidiyeh area. This has led to the imposition of a previously unannounced curfew.

These reports are new, and details are not fully know, but elsewhere the LCCS says 62 people have been killed today, "including entire families, 52 in Homs, including 44 executed, 3 in Deir Ezzor, 2 in each of Idlib and Daraya in Damascus Suburbs, and a martyr in each of Daraa, Aleppo and Hama."

1605 GMT: Turning to Egypt, the Supreme Military Council of Armed Forces, a holdover from the Mubarak administration which is still largely in charge of the Egyptian government, is preparing charges against some of the most visible activists from the revolution:

Egypt's official news agency says the nation's chief military prosecutor is investigating allegations against 12 top activists, media personalities, lawmakers and a best-selling novelist.

The agency said the allegations, which include inciting hatred against the military, were filed by more than 700 members of the public.

In a Thursday report, it quoted chief military prosecutor Maj. Gen. Adel al-Mursi as saying the allegations were being looked into by his office.

The 12 include novelist Alaa al-Aswany, popular TV talk show hosts Youssri Foudah and Reem Maged, former Google executive and activist Wael Ghoneim and a lawmaker who publicly described military leader Hussein Tantawi as a donkey.

1540 GMT: Violence is also reported north of Homs, in the towns of Talbiseh and Al Rastan (MAP). In Talbiseh, the LCCS says that soldiers opened fire at a checkpoint, killing 2. In Al Rastan, one of the heaviest hit areas of this conflict, the activist network reports that at least one person has been killed by renewed heavy shelling.

Al Rastan has a very small population, but a disproportionately large amount of protests, and, in the past, a heavy presence of Free Syrian Army fighters. We do not know if the FSA is still there, but some activists are extremely concerned about the town, including "Sami" who spoke to us about the situation there last week. The worry is that it is small enough, and isolated enough from other areas, that the regime can continue to shell it without needing to send soldiers in, and the world is less likely to pay attention.

As a result of the isolation in Al Rastan, however, it is much harder to find out exactly what is going on there. However, there have been repeated calls for humanitarian supplies, and several videos, including this graphic footage reportedly taken yesterday, show field hospitals struggling to treat the injured, the result of frequent shelling.

1522 GMT: So far, EA has seen reports of a heavy shelling campaign in Homs, in the Bab Tadmor, Jab al Jundali, Hamidiya and Bab Sbaa districts. It appears that the Assad military is shelling all of the central districts of Homs. Yesterday, there were reports that these are all areas that are still reportedly occupied by the Free Syrian Army (see a map of Homs below, or go here for a full-sized picture).

This video was reportedly taken in Jab al Jundali today:

1511 GMT: Time Magazine has printed a photo-essay by William Daniels, detailing his time in Homs during and after the explosion that captured the world's attention:

On the first morning, the shelling began very close to us. One boom, then a second. On the third the Syrians with us shouted “You have to get out!” Then the fourth rocket hit. We lost Marie Colvin, the American reporter, and my friend Rémi Ochlik, a photographer. The correspondent for Le Figaro, Edith Bouvier, was badly injured, as was Paul Conroy, a British photojournalist.

The Syrian Army targeted Bab Amr everywhere, anywhere. There was no way to get out. We visited one night where families were staying underground. It was a big room where 150 people were, a basement, with only small lights. They had some rice and a bit of water. Everybody had someone in their family who had been killed. We felt very bad saying, “please help us get out of here, we have lost our friends.” We couldn’t say that, because they had lost everything.

A Syrian activist shares these pictures.

1438 GMT: With the news of the mass killing in Homs, the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria, a network of activists inside the country, have stated that 56 have been killed by security forces today, "including entire families, 47 in Homs, including 44 summarily executed, 3 in the Deir Ezzor, 2 in each of Idlib and Daraya in Damascus Suburbs, and a martyr in each of Daraa and Hama."

Many areas of central Homs are reportedly being shelled. Also, there appears to be a renewed military campaign in the area of Houle, northwest of Homs. The LCCS reports that farms between two towns are being shelled (map) indiscriminately.

1422 GMT: Catching up on today's news, it appears that there has been another mass killing in the city of Homs, Syria, this time in the Jobar district, south of Baba Amr:

A new massacre committed by security forces and thugs (Shabeha) in Jobar neighborhood that is adjacent to Baba Amr neighborhood where 44 martyrs have fallen. In the massacre, entire families were slaughtered including 16 members of the Tahhan family, 20 of the Rifaei family, other from Koweian family and many that we still have not indentified yet. Activists said that the reason for those retributive executions because there are revolutionary activists from those families. Or because the victims refused to show up on the Syrian State Satellite channels and to give false testimonials regarding armed gangsters. Some of the documented martyrs so far are: Ziyad Bozan and his family, Khalid Wazeer and his family, Waleed Al-Waer and his family, Waheed Al-Waer and his family and also Rakan Al-Waer and his family.

That is in addition to the huge number of martyrs who were murdered by security forces yesterday in Baba Amr neighborhood form the Zo'obi family and here are some of the names that we have received: Shamseh Al-Zo'obi, Abdul Baset Al-Zo'obi, Mustafa Al-Zo'obi and his family (5 members), and two children of Omar Al-Zo'obi sons

James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thank you, Scott Lucas, for getting us started this morning.

0925 GMT: In Egypt, political activist Asmaa Mahfouz has been given a one-year prison sentence for allegedly assaulting Abdel-Aziz Fahmy.

A former April 6 Youth Movement member, Mahfouz denies having ever met Fahmy and says the case designed to ruin her reputation as an activist.She notes that Fahmy is the same man who filed cases against political activists Alaa Abdel-Fattah,detained for two months last autumn, and Ahmed Abou-Doma, arrested in December and still imprisoned.

Mahfouz said yesterday, "After the prosecutor-general found me innocent in the foreign funding case, the SCAF [ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] is currently accusing me of beating up a citizen I have never seen in my whole life."

In October, a group of military officers filed a complaint in military court against Mahfouz and Nour Ayman Nour, accusing the duo of insulting them and the ruliung SCAF. Last summer, Mahfouz came close to standing military trial after facing similar accusations by Egypt's military rulers, before the army dropped the charges.

On Wednesday, it was revealed that 712 complaints --- against 12 prominent figures in the uprising that deposed President Mubarak --- have been referred to the military prosecution. Among the allegations are inciting hate against SCAF and attempting to bring down the state.

Among those accused are Mahfouz, Presidential hopeful Bothaina Kamel, TV presenter Yosri Fouda, MP Ziad El-Eleimy, MP Abul-Ezz El-Hariri, activist and blogger Nawara Negm, prominent Revolutionary Socialist Sameh Naguib, founder of the "We Are All Khaled Said" Facebook page Wael Ghonim, National Council Secretary-General Mamdouh Hamza, Kefaya founder George Ishak, writer Alaa Al-Aswany, and TV presenter Reem Maged.

0735 GMT: The United Nations envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, has warned of a growing humanitarian crisis in the country, with 6.8 million people short of food.

Benomar said about 3 million people are in need of immediate assistance. He appealed to international donors, as the UN humanitarian appeal for $446m for Yemen is only 15% funded.

Briefing the UN Security Council, Benomar said Yemen has the second highest rate of chronic child malnutrition in the world and warned that 500,000 children are likely to die or suffer life-long consequences this year if adequate support is not provided.

0615 GMT: A video posted on YouTube claims to show the defection of Abdo Hussameldin, Syria's Deputy Minister of Oil.

He says, "I, Abdo Hussameldin, deputy oil and mineral wealth minister in Syria, announce my defection from the regime, resignation from my position and withdrawal from the Baath Party. I join the revolution of this dignified people."

If confirmed, Hussameldin would be the highest-ranking civilian official to quit the regime since the uprising began last March.

0610 GMT: A Syrian activist writes, "1 Syrian Pound is now exactly worth 1 cent [of the] US dollar."

If true, this indicates the Syrian Pound has lost 25% of its value in days. Amidst the economic squeeze o Damascus, it has fallen almost 80% vs the dollar in the past year.

0600 GMT: Today's award for understatement may go to Amanda Pitt, a spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as she described the visit of Baroness Valerie Amos, the head of the office, to the Baba Amr section of the Syrian city of Homs.

"She (Amos) said that security was obviously an issue, and they heard gunfire while they were there," Pitt said. "The parts of Baba Amr that they saw, she said they were pretty devastated."

Baba Amr was shelled throughout a 27-day siege before regime forces took over the area two weeks ago. Amos, who is in Syria until tomorrow, was allowed to see the neighbourhood after protracted negotiations with the Assad regime.     

Pitt implicitly confirmed opposition and Red Crescent reports that almost all residents had fled to other neighbourhoods: "It was like a closed-down city and there were very few people around.... [It] looked like it was devastated from the fighting and shelling. They saw a few people looking for their belongings."

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