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Sunday's Bahrain, Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Gathering of the "Friends of Syria"
2040 GMT: A mass demonstration in the Douma suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus:
My dear & beloved family, from behind prison bars, I send to you my love & yearning. From a free man, to a free family. These prison walls don't separate me from you, they bring us closer together. Our connection & determination is stronger than ever. We take our strength, from beautiful memories. Remembering every trip, every meal we ate together, all the conversations, remembering every smile, all the jokes & the laughter. The distance between us disappears, thru our love & faith.
It's true: I am in here, & you are out there. But, you are in here with me, and I am out there with you. Our pain is made more bearable when we remember we chose this difficult path & took an oath to remain on it. We must not only remain patient thru our suffering, we must never allow the pain to conquer our souls. Let our hearts be filled with joy, and an acceptance of the responsibility we have been given for in the end, this life is about finding a path of truth towards God.
1630 GMT: United Nations envoy Kofi Annan has told the UN Security Council, behind closed doors, that President Assad has agreed to start implementing a peace plan by 10 April; however, there has been no progress yet in halting bloodshed.
Diplomats at the session, quoting Annan, said Damascus had agreed that there should be a “full cessation of hostilities” within 48 hours of the implementation. The regime would start by halting the movement of troops into cities, withdrawing heavy weapons from cities, and beginning the pull-back of forces..
Annan also said the Security Council had to start considering the deployment of an observer mission to monitor events in Syria.
In return, Baghdad accused the Kurdistan Regional Government of withholding billions of dollars in oil payments and smuggling crude oil and petroleum products out of the country for sale abroad.
There has been recurrent tension over unilateral Kurdish deals with oil companies, despite a tentative deal in 2011 by which the Kurds send the oil to Baghdad to seel, with each side getting 50% of the revenues.
1610 GMT: Back from a break to find another perspective on Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's statement on Syria today....
While Gulf News (see 1100 GMT) emphasised Lavrov's rejection of any demands from the "Friends of Syria" conference --- “Ultimatums and artificial deadlines rarely help" --- the Associated Press notes that the Foreign Minister made his own call to Damascus, "The Syrian government must take the first step and start the troop withdrawal in line with Kofi Annan’s plan."
Lavrov added, in line with Moscow's emphasis on mutual steps towards a political resolution, “Unless the beginning of such withdrawal is accompanied by a similar action by all those fighting the government of Syria, I don’t think we will achieve any result."
1330 GMT: A man in Homs in Syria speaks to camera today amidst gunfire and the claimed "liberation" of the National Hospital by the opposition Free Syrian Army:
Shoqqi Abdulnabi's daughter, Zainab, was born three months premature; she was healthy but frail when he brought her home in March of last year to this village, a cheerless warren of concrete buil\dings in an industrial area just outside of Sitra. Weeks later, she was blind.
The village, like so many others in Bahrain, has become a flashpoint for clashes between riot police and angry protesters, signs of which were evident on a visit earlier this month. Makeshift barricades - branches, large rocks, dumpsters - lined the roadside, ready to be pulled into place on short notice.
Residents had gathered more than twenty empty tear gas canisters near the entrance to the village. They were all from the previous night, one resident said, though his claim could not be independently verified. The sharp, sour smell of the gas lingered in the air.
Abdulnabi blames the almost nightly tear gas for blinding his daughter, now almost 18 months old, and for causing a range of other health problems, including asthma....
The minimal research that exists suggests tear gas could indeed be responsible for Zainab's blindness. Health departments in the United States warn that long-term exposure in a confined area - defined as more than one hour - can cause blindness. That's because tear gas can damage the optic nerve, which transmits information from the eye to the brain.
The reaction of John Timoney, the former Chief of Police in Miami, Florida, who was brought in by the regime to "reform" policing, "There's a complaint that there's excessive tear gas. What I've observed is a huge increase in the number of Molotov cocktails being thrown at police officers, night after night."
Al Jazeera English reports on the economic problems in the country:
1100 GMT: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking in Armenia, has given his reaction to Sunday's "Friends of Syria" meeting: "Ultimatums and artificial deadlines rarely help matters."
The Russian Foreign Ministry denounced the conference: "The promises and intentions to deliver direct military and logistical support to the armed...opposition that were voiced in Istanbul unquestionably contradict the goals of a peaceful settlement to the civil conflict in Syria.
The Foreign Ministry said "unfortunately, the meeting in Istanbul was as one-sided" as previous gatherings, because "its list of participants did not include either the Syrian government or many of the influential groups of the Syrian political opposition".
Moscow reaffirmed its support for the "peace plan" of United Nations envoy Kofi Annan and said it would continue "trying to achieve an immediate ceasefire and an end to violence from all sides".
1055 GMT: After a stand-off of several hours at Cairo airport (see 0630 GMT), Egyptian authorities have allowed Bahraini activist Maryam Alkhawaja into the country.
Guess who just got into Cairo? #Egypt— Maryam Alkhawaja (@MARYAMALKHAWAJA) April 2, 2012
The officials had told Alkhawaja she was on an entry ban list, without giving details, and held her passport.
0925 GMT: The Bahraini opposition society Al Wefaq has claimed that security forces carried out raids in Aldair on Sunday, arresting seven teenagers --- four are still in detention.
Al Wefaq also claimed that the Bahraini aluminium company Alba has recently suspended a total employees, amidst regime claims that those dismissed during the 2011 political projects have returned to their jobs.
Security forces fire tear gas at a march in Bilad Alqadeem (see 0645 GMT) on Sunday:
0855 GMT: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims regime forces have killed at least three civilians and wounding many, with attacks in Hass, Deir Subol, and Farkia in Idlib Province in the northwest.
The Observatory said a civilian was killed in an explosion in Aleppo, while heavy machine gun fire was heard in sections of Homs.
0845 GMT: Lebanon's Minister of Defense Fayez Ghosn has said that arms smuggling into Syria is on the rise, warning that Lebanon has yet to see the worst of "terrorism" in the country: “Smuggling persists and is in fact increasing. The Army is fighting it as much as it can but smuggling operations are on the rise because they bring large profits.”
0825 GMT: An investment holding firm controlled by Morocco's royal family has posted a 50% rise in its net profits, mainly from higher earnings from banking, mining, steel, and sugar affiliates in the domestic market.
National Investment Co. (SNI) made a net consolidated profit of 4.3 billion dirhams ($514 million) in 2011 versus 2.9 billion dirhams ($347 million) in 2010.
Through SNI, the Alaouite dynasty that has been ruled Morocco for almost 400 years, is the biggest private stakeholder in the local economy.
In 2011, Forbes put King Mohammed VI's net worth at $2.5 billion.
0645 GMT: A photo of Nabeel Rajab, the head of the Bahrain Centre of Human Rights, at a protest in Bilad Alqadeem on Sunday --- hours earlier, he was detained by Bahraini authorities for "illegal participation in a march":
0630 GMT: Egyptian authorities have denied entry to prominent Bahraini activist Maryam Alkhawaja, saying that she on an entry ban list providing no reasons but giving no further explanation.
Alkhawaja sent the message via Twitter 90 minutes ago:
I arrived in #Egypt at 2:45 am, it is now 7:09 and they still won't tell me why I've been stopped. Guy in charge kept repeating "u know why"— Maryam Alkhawaja (@MARYAMALKHAWAJA) April 2, 2012
Alkhawaja is still being held at the airport, waiting for her bags to be retrieved.
The Egyptian officials also denied entry to Palestinian journalist Majed Abusalama. Alkhawaja wrote:
On his way out @Majed_Abusalama said if he refused to leave nthn wld come of it, to most of world his travel document means he has no rights— Maryam Alkhawaja (@MARYAMALKHAWAJA) April 2, 2012
0610 GMT: So the delegations from more than 70 countries have met in Istanbul, Turkey. They have listened to high-profile speeches from the Turkish Prime Minister, Arab statesmen, and the head of the opposition Syrian Council. They have issued a 27-point summary of assessments and recommendations.
And now we wonder if this will change the situation inside Syria.
The headline in Al Jazeera English is that meeting pledged to send millions of dollars in aid and equipment to opposition groups while a multi-million dollar fund, financed by Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, is being established to pay members of the Free Syrian Army. That news should be linked to the declaration that the Syrian National Council will now be in charge of payments to the insurgents and that the Friends of Syria recognised the SNC as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
Put concisely, this is an effort to establish a cohesive political and military structure for the opposition, countering the claim that any challenge to the Assad regime will fail because of divisions among factions inside and outside Syria.
The initiative, however, leaves key questions hanging. There is the practical issue of how the millions of dollars will reach opposition members and fighters. And there is the big query --- unresolved in Istanbul --- "Will the international community back the arming of the Free Syrian Army?"
Al Jazeera English merely shrugs in uncertainty, "One [Istanbul participant] said the fund would involve several million dollars a month being earmarked for salaries, but it was not clear whether there would be any effort to prevent the diversion of money to weapons purchases."