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Thursday
Apr122012

Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Deadline for a Cease-Fire

Analysts on Al Jazeera English's Inside Story discuss whether a peace plan can succeed in Syria

See also Bahrain Document: Activists Appeal to BBC and Sky Not to Broadcast Grand Prix
Turkey Live Coverage (12 April): Erdogan "If the UN Does Not Follow on Syria, What Will It Follow Through?"
Wednesday's Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Deadline? What Deadline?
Turkey Live Coverage (11 April): Erdogan Taking the Lead on Syria?


2005 GMT: A significant update from Bahraini photojournalist Mazen Mahdi:

The family of Ahmad Ismail Hassan, the citizen journalist killed two weeks ago as he filmed protests on Salmabad --- allegedly by a regime operative firing from a Land Cruiser --- had refused to accept the body from the hospital because "shooting" was not put as cause of death on the certificate.

Now that the family has taken Ismail Hassan for burial, the march promises to be one of the largest in recent months on the island.

1945 GMT: The Local Co-ordination Committees of Syria have issued a clarification about today's claimed death toll of 37:

The Local Coordination Committees would like to note that the martyrs of Deir Baalba's Massacre [in a section of Homs] that was discovered today have actually fallen on the 8th of April, 2012; and it was until today that their bodies were discovered.

This happened because of the heavy presence of the army and the lack of communications in the city during the last week. Therefore, the number of martyrs who were killed today...is 22 martyrs, distributed as follows: 9 martyrs in Homs, 6 in Idlib, 5 in Damascus Suburbs and 2 martyrs in Aleppo.

An evening demonstration in Hama:

1905 GMT: Claimed footage of security forces threatening and detaining students in Aleppo today:

A show of resilience in Old Homs today, after the area was shelled for weeks by regime forces:

1635 GMT: An all-is-well alert from Bahrain, courtesy of the BBC's Frank Gardner:

1620 GMT: United Nations envoy Kofi Annan has a mixed message over today's developments in Syria. Publicly, he is declaring, "I am encouraged by reports that the situation in Syria is relatively quiet and that the cessation of hostilities appears to be holding."

However, council diplomats have said that Annan told the UN Security Council that Syria must withdraw its troops. The envoy said Damascus had not fully complied with the terms of his peace plan and urged the 15-nation body to demand the withdrawal of the troops and heavy weapons from towns. He also called for the swift deployment of a first wave of unarmed observers to monitor implementation of the six-point peace plan, to be followed by a second wave of observers later.

1450 GMT: Human Rights has posted an intervention over the detained Bahraini activist and hunger striker, "Why Abdulhadi al-Khawaja Should Be Free":

He is dying in hunger because he refuses to eat to protest the government’s unjust detention of him and other peaceful activists who dared to challenge the Al Khalifa family’s monopoly of political and economic power in Bahrain.

He is dying alone because powerful actors like the United States and the EU do not share his courage and conviction when it comes to speaking out publicly against Bahrain’s serious human rights violations.

1445 GMT: In Egypt, 25 human rights organizations have "declare[d] their utter rejection of the new draft law on non-governmental organizations (NGOs)". They assert, "Under this law civil society would be considered an institution of the government, and NGO staff would be regarded as civil servants. Furthermore, the new law would impose several new arbitrary restrictions aiming to terrorize civil society activists."

The draft law follows a crack-down by the Egyptian regime on NGOs, including raids on 10 organisations in December and the arrest of 43 staff.

1440 GMT: Abu Ayahim, speaking from the village of Sour Elzait village in the Barada valley of Syria, has told The Guardian:

I could not leave my house yesterday but today I'm able to take few steps in my neighbourhood –-- still not far away because I'm worried to leave the family alone at home.

I have a grocery shop next door to my house but it is shut and can't open it again – I have no goods to sell, also I don't feel safe enough to be in my shop. I'm worried I might be taken by the soldiers.

Today the situation is better than yesterday. Most of the checkpoints were pulled out from the centre to the outskirts of the town.

A few shops are open and a few people are shopping. I must say that the village is disconnected from other towns because of so many checkpoints.

Footage of the military moving through the Damascus suburb of Madamiyah:

In another operation despite --- or perhaps anticipating --- the cease-fire, a wall separating the devastated areas of Baba Amr and Inshaat in Homs:

1420 GMT: Medicins Sans Frontieres has expressed concern that, in Bahrain, "a significant number of patients – from all political and religious backgrounds --- continue to avoid seeking medical care in public hospitals due to perceived discrimination, harassment, and ill treatment".

The statement contiunes, "A sizable number of people injured during political demonstrations and suffering from mild to severe orthopedic injuries, skin lacerations and respiratory distress—resort to private healthcare because of fear of arrest in public hospitals." It notes that MSF personnel were refused entry into Bahrain in March.

1410 GMT: Syrian State news agency SANA claims that a blast in Aleppo has killed an army officer and wounded 24 troops and civilians: "The blast took place at 8:00am as an armed terrorist group targeted a military bus with an explosive device at the Southern Bypass area, near al-Nirab Airport Bridge in Aleppo. The bus was carrying a number of officers and non-commissioned officers while on way to their workplace."

SANA reported earlier that the Ministry of Interior was declaring an amnesty: "Armed Persons whose Hands Weren't Tainted to Be Set Free Once They Hand Themselves and Weapons In". The site said 160 people in Lattakia and the Damascus countryside had "handed themselves in to the authorities along with their weapons to return to their normal life....Those who turned themselves in vowed not to take up arms again or return to the sabotage acts or do anything that could harm the security and safety of the homeland."

1400 GMT: Activist Sami Ibrahim has told the BBC that 12 people have died in violence in Syria despite the supposed cease-fire.

The Local Co-ordination Committees of Syria has named some of the victims: Shalah Abed Jawad Yaseen and Mohammed Jumaa Haj Qassem from Janoudieh in Idlib Province, killed when regime forces attacked a demonstration, and Ghenwa Ahmad Jomrok and Ameen Habdoud of the Qusayr section of Homs.

Omar Hamza has claimed from Saqba, outside Damascus:

I can't get out because there are two tanks stationed near my house. I don't feel safe enough to go out because there is a big deployment by the army.

Soldiers are checking the IDSs of people – looking for those who are wanted. Only few shops for food are open today....Oold people and women are out to shop.

All cars are checked before they can travel round the district. Some of the kids went to school but I could not send mine because I do not feel safe enough. I'm worried to let them go to school. We are trying to organise a demo but because of the heavy army deployment, we can't do that today.

Claimed footage of plainclothes militia firing at mourners at a funeral for 15-year-old Alaa al-Ahmed in Aleppo today:

1340 GMT: Kuwait’s Parliament has provisionally passed amendments to the penal code mandating the death penalty for those who curse God, Islam’s Prophet, or his wives.

Forty-six MPs, including Cabinet ministers, voted for the amendments, with four legislators objecting and three abstaining or refusing to vote. The measures will come into effect after another round of voting and Government approval.

Shiite MPs have demanded that the new amendments also enforce the death penalty for anyone who curses their sect’s 12 revered Imams, but the Sunni-dominated Parliament rejected their requests.

Last month authorities arrested a Shiite man for allegedly using Twitter to curse the Prophet Mohammed, his wife, and his companions.

1320 GMT: Back from a break to find that the violence in Syria seems to have been checked by the cease fire, although regime forces have not withdrawn and there are sporadic reports of firing --- claimed video of tanks firing at Qarabees near Homs:

A tank in the Damascus suburb of Saqba:

A mass rally in Saraqeb in Idlib Province:

A student march in Jdidat Artouz near Damascus:

A children's demonstration in Tafs in Daraa Province:

0945 GMT: Turkish authorities say two soldiers were killed and three others injured in clashes with members of the insurgent Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the southeastern province of Şırnak today.

0815 GMT: After the deadline for a cease-fire, the situation in Syria is still quiet. However, activists indicate that regime forces are not withdrawing. They report that tanks are still present in villages around Hama Province, on the outskirts of Zabadani, and in the centre of Homs, Deir Ezzor, and the Damascus suburb of Saqba.

Claimed footage of regime forces setting up a checkpoint on the Arbaeen roundabout in Hama:

Video has also been posted of soldiers on guard, behind sandbags, in Inkhel in Daraa Province.

0810 GMT: The saga of Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab at Cairo's international airport has ended for now --- he tweeted early this morning:

Egyptian officials have been trying to block entry to Bahraini activists. Earlier this month, they held Maryam Alkhawaja, also of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, for several hours before relenting to pressure and letting her into the country.

0755 GMT: In a sharp column on recent violence in Bahrain, Marc Owen Jones compares the security forces' handling of a pro-regime crowd on Tuesday night, as it trashed a car and a supermarket, and the killing of citizen journalist Ahmed Ismail Hassan two weeks ago:

The difference between what happened at the Alba roundabout and what happened to Ahmed Ismail in al-Eker are a stark reminder of continued problems within the country’s police force. These problems are not just indicative of poor training, but active and ongoing discrimination in the police system. Despite the regime’s attempts to paint such misconduct as the work of a few rotten apples, it is more like a "rotten orchard"....To a large extent, deviant practices by the police are a systemic necessity, and are fundamental in ensuring the longevity of the existing order. In other words, without police deviance (such as brutality) --- the government in its current state would inevitably fall.

0745 GMT: Could this be a decisive moment in the fate of the Bahrain Grand Prix? The BBC's Dan Roan brings news of Formula One head Bernie Ecclestone, who earlier this week called a Bahraini activist to express his concerns:

0725 GMT: Amidst the controversy over the Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix, scheduled for 20-22 April, opposition graffiti artists --- using a cartoon by Carlos Latuff, make their feelings known:

Meanwhile, John Yates, the former Assistant Commissioner of London's police who was hired to "reform" Bahrain's security forces, is doing his part in regime efforts to ensure the Grand Prix is not cancelled.

Yates has sent a letter to International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Jean Todt that he was aware of "very real concerns" but feared those involved in the sport were being given a "distorted picture":

The almost nightly skirmishes that take place in certain villages are a potential block on progress and are putting those involved in their policing and innocent members of the public in significant danger. However, in spite of how these events may be portrayed through the medium of Youtube and other outlets, their significance should not be overplayed.

Along with my family, I feel completely safe. Indeed, safer than I have often felt in London.

0525 GMT: Last night the White House showed its growing concern over the situation in Bahrain, issuing a broad statement trying to cover all bases. It criticised both the violence against security forces and the excessive use of tear gas of police, which it noted had caused civilian deaths. It also called on the regime to take all steps to "resolve" the case of detained hunger striker Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, although it stopped short of using the word "release".

Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said Alkhawaja, who is on Day 64 of his hunger strike, was in "very critical" condition. And, in contrast to Washington, she was explicit in her call on the Bahraini regime: "Denmark demands that Danish-Bahraini citizen and human rights activist Khawaja be freed.

The Danish ambassador saw Alkhawaja last week, as Bahrain's monarchy rejected Copenhagen's request for his release to Denmark.

A spokesman for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Paris was "extremely concerned" about Alkhawaja and echoed the American call for "every avenue" for a resolution. He added: More generally, we renew our appeal to the Bahraini authorities to reconsider the sentences handed down before the National Security Court, in accordance with the appeasement measures recommended by the Bassiouni report."

0515 GMT: Today is the double-final deadline for a beginning to the end of violence in Syria.

The process under United Nations envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan was supposed to begin on Tuesday, launched by a pullback of regime forces from towns and cities. Instead, shelling in many areas grew more intense, and 260 people lost their lives over the next 48 hours.

Yesterday there were 100 deaths, according to the Local Co-ordination Committees of Syria, with 57 in Homs Province. Thirty people were reportedly slain in the deadliest episode in the Deir Baalba section of Homs.

In contrast, activists said that Thursday began with relative calm, with only isolated shelling in Zabadani, shots in the Damascus suburb of Khaddam, and an explosion in a car in another Damascus suburb, causing no injuries.

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