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Tuesday
Apr032012

Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) Live Coverage: 70+ Dead, 70+ Bodies Found as Homs Hospital "Liberated"

Claimed video of Syrian forces moving through the destruction in the Baba Amr section of Homs --- at the end of the clip, a soldier looks in on a family slain in their home

See also Saudi Arabia Feature: Assessing The Regime's Counter-Revolution
Bahrain Propaganda Special: Introducing the Regime's Best Friends in the US Congress
Syria Wired: The Latest from Social Media and EA's Readers
Monday's Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) Live Coverage: What Happens After the "Friends of Syria" Meeting?


2010 GMT: More problems for Egypt's Constituent Assembly drafting a Constitution, as liberals have refused a Muslim Brotherhood deal to remain on the body.

Around 30 members of the assembly have so far withdrawn, including top Islamic authority Al-Azhar; the Coptic Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical churches; and a Constitutional Court representative. Now a group of liberal parties who hold around a dozen seats in the 100-member Assembly Constitutional Assembly have turned down an offer by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) to take over 10 positions vacated by FJP members.

"It isn't enough, there must be rules set for the selection criteria based on proficiency and the non-religious stream's representation should be higher," said Basel Adel, an MP from the Free Egyptians Party.

2001 GMT: A march towards Bahrain's Ministry of Interior tonight:

1851 GMT: In the Bahraini capital Manama, prominent activist Nabeel Rajab has been protesting at the roundabout by the Ministry of Interior, holding a photo of political prisoner and hunger striker Abdulhadi Alkhawaja.

Nearby, protesters chanted "Free free Khawaja" before they were attacked by police --- one woman kept shouting, "Free Khawaja", as they ran away:

Mary Lawlor of the Irish activist group Front Line Defenders sends the message:

1833 GMT: An Egyptian military court has sentenced an officer who took part in protests to six years in jail.

Major Ahmed Shuman was convicted of "behavior violating discipline and military regulations" and failing to turn up for duty because he was taking part in the protests.

Shuman had been jailed for joining the demonstrations against the Mubarak regime, but he was pardoned by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the ruling Supreme Council oft the Armed Forces. He was re-arrested for taking part in protests in November 2011 demanding that the military to hand over power to a civilian government.

1818 GMT: A Syrian regime official has told the Associated Press, “Forces began withdrawing to outside calm cities and are returning to their bases, while in tense areas, they are pulling out to the outskirts."

President Assad agreed this weekend to begin a pull-out on 10 April, in accordance with the peace plan of United Nations envoy Kofi Annan.

However, Khaled al-Omar, an activist in the Damascus suburb of Saqba, denied that any withdrawal was under way in his area: “This is impossible. I can see a checkpoint from my window."

Meanwhile, claimed footage of the shelling of the Qusour area of Homs today:

A clip has also been posted of a family slain in the attack.

And a funeral today in Maarat al-Numan in Idlib Province:

1812 GMT: Late Friday night, Bahraini citizen journalist Ahmed Ismail Hassan was shot and killed by an as yet unknown gunman.

An EA correspondent recently visited Ahmed's family and was told of the harassment they have received by the Ministry of Interior. Our correspondent described the treatment of the family by officers of the CID at the hospital as "sick":

They [CID] refused to allow the family to see him. After he died they came out from the room holding a camera, filming the family while they were mourning him. One of the CIDs even told his uncle that [Ahmed's death was] "the results of vandalism!"

Subsequently, the Ministry of Interior has allegedly been harassing the family to sign a death certicate which only lists the cause of death as a deep cut. The family are refusing to sign the death certificate until it clearly states that Ahmed died from a gunshot wound which ruptured his femoral artery. As a consequence, the Ministry of Interior is refusing to release the body for Ahmed's burial.

Our correspondent was also able to dispel rumours, which had been circulating on social media, that Ahmed's sister was fired from her job after giving an interview to Al-Alam television.

1602 GMT: And now political tension with a twist in Bahrain....

Minister of Culture Sheika Mai bin Mohammad Al Khalifa is facing demands for her dismissal after a rebuke to MPs who opposed an annual arts festival in the capital Manana.

Some legislators said the event should be canceled in solidarity with the uprising against the Syrian regime, but Al Khalifa said they were "not real men", accusing them of sending children and others to disrupt the festival.

1558 GMT: Footage has surfaced claiming to be of Syrian soldiers with executed men in Baba Amr in Homs.

1453 GMT: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has pledged that Syria will do its utmost to ensure the success of a Red Cross mission.

Muallem met Jakob Kellenberger, the visiting head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has been calling a daily two-hour humanitarian truce.

The minister's office said, "Mr Muallem reviewed the details of the ICRC mission and needs within the scope of its humanitarian work in Syria. He reiterated Syria's willingness to provide the ICRC with all that is needed to ensure the success of its humanitarian mission."

The office claimed agreement on a "co-operation mechanism" between the ICRC, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and the Foreign Ministry to overcome any obstacles.

1450 GMT: In Rastan in Homs Province in Syria, men move through buildings damaged by shelling, looking for abandoned and injured. In one of the houses, they find a child:

1430 GMT: The Guardian notes that Jonathan Fryer --- British freelance journalist, member of the Liberal Democrats' International Relations Committee, and board member of the Council for Arab-British Understanding --- has been turned away from Bahrain. Fryer writes:

This morning I flew in, hoping for a couple of days of winding down before doing some work elsewhere in the Gulf only to find that nowadays even those of us with European passports don't just hand over five dinars and get a visa in 30 seconds. A significant number of people coming in on my flight (and those following) were taken aside while their documents were consulted against the Immigration Department's records.

My passport was held for almost four hours before a senior officer came out, bearing documents from my file, including printouts of tweets I published last year expressing dismay at the crackdown on demonstrations at Manama's Pearl Roundabout and the security forces' intervention in a major hospital where some of the wounded were being treated.

Politely but firmly the officer said I would not be allowed into the country, adding that "no-one has been killed in Bahrain" and that "the doctors who were taken away were revolutionaries who were trying to overthrow the King." Doubtless one day objective history will set the record straight; at least I hope so.

Anyway, I had some hasty rearranging to do and moved on to Doha in Qatar. Apparently I have now joined (Lord) Eric Avebury and others who have campaigned on human rights issues relating to Bahrain in becoming persona non grata there. It's a shame, because I still consider myself to be a true friend of Bahrain and of the Bahraini people.

1400 GMT: Bahraini activists are reporting that roads around the US Embassy in Manama have been closed in expectation of a protest demanding the release of political prisoner Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, now on Day 55 of a hunger strike.

Two protesters, Masooma Alsayid and Ameera AlOraibi, have reportedly been detained.

1225 GMT: In Bahrain, the opposition society Al Wefaq has commented on the adjournment of court hearings of political prisoners: "The authorities continue ignoring [the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry's] report and proceeding with violations...This may have severe consequences for international peace and security in the region if it continues."

On Monday, an appeals court postponed the session for 14 activists, all sentenced to long prison terms, to 23 April. The case of Mahdi Abudeeb, the head of the Bahrain Teachers Union, was adjourned to 2 May amid claims that he had been tortured in detention.

Al Wefaq also noted that, three days after the shooting death of citizen journalist Ahmed Ismael Hassan, "authorities are still elusive in the recognition and acknowledgment of the real reason of death, and looking for exits to save its civil militias that carried out the assassination".

1205 GMT: The staging of the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Bahrain this month may be beset by protest and criticism, but the regime's Information Affairs Authority presses on:

"Today is the first day of the IAA/BIC F1 Social Media Contest. First category is "Best #Bahrain Grand Prix Drawing."

Analyst Marc Owen Jones points to this possible entry but does not believe it will win:

1150 GMT: Ahmad Fawzi, a spokesman for United Nations envoy, has said, "A DPKO (UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations) planning mission should be arriving in Damascus within 48 hours" to discuss deployment of observers to monitor a ceasefire.

As part of Annan's six-point peace plan, the UN is planning a mission of 200 to 250 unarmed observers.

1115 GMT: According to military and medical officials, Yemeni forces killed 43 insurgents as they regained control of a strategic gateway in the south today, following three days of shelling of hideouts in the area of al-Rahha in Lahj Province.

The offensive followed two surprise attacks by insurgents on Yemeni army bases and the claiming of territory in the Aden and Abyan areas by the opposition fighters.

1015 GMT: Activists claim clashes across Syria today, from Idlib Province in the northwest to Daraa Province in the south to the outskirts of Damascus.

In Dael in Daraa Province, activist Sayyed Mahmud said:

They burned down 14 houses yesterday. They are arresting people and have sent in troop reinforcements. As part of the regime's campaign to starve the people, troops are raiding homes, destroying food stocks and equipment. For example, if they see a sowing machine, they destroy it. They go into bakeries and destroy the dough. There are 15-hour power cuts a day.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that two civilians and one soldier were killed amid heavy machinegun fire and shelling outside Taftanaz in Idlib Province: "Four civilians have been wounded and several homes torched. Rebels managed to disable a troop carrier and have killed or wounded a number of government troops."

In Damascus province, clashes were reported in the towns of Douma and in Zabadani, where the army was carrying out arrests and raiding homes. The Observatory said dozens of troop carriers had arrived in Zabadani in early morning.

0915 GMT: A follow-up on this weekend's decision by Gulf countries, alongside the international "Friends of Syria" conference in Turkey, to provide military aid to the Syrian insurgency:

Haitham Al Maleh, a veteran Syrian opposition leader, told reporters on the fringes of the meeting that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf states had agreed to set up a fund to support rebel troops fighting security forces in Syria.

"They have not created the fund yet, but they will in the near future, and they told us they would give around 200 million", Mr Al Maleh said, referring to US dollars. He said the sum was not enough.

"We asked for billions."

0905 GMT: There has been quite a flutter this week that Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, reversing a declaration that it would not put forth a candidate in the Presidential election, has now put forward businessman, engineer, and activist Khairat El Shater (see profile). Now the US Embassy in Cairo has put out this interesting "correction":

Contrary to recent press reports claiming to characterize meetings that U.S. Senator John McCain and U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson held with the Muslim Brotherhood during the Senator's recent visit to Cairo, there was no discussion of whether the Muslim Brotherhood would or should run a candidate in the upcoming presidential election in Egypt. Senator McCain and Ambassador Patterson were not asked for their support, nor did they offer their support, for such a proposal from the Muslim Brotherhood. The question of who will run for office in Egypt is an internal matter that is entirely up to the Egyptian people. The United States takes no position on this subject.

0859 GMT: Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr has called on all Syrian opposition groups to gather for a conference in Cairo, under the auspices of the Arab League, to unite in efforts to resolve the political crisis.

Amr said only the united opposition could be a viable alternative, or at least an equal partner in a future coalition government, to the Assad regime.

At the same time, the minister criticised the idea of weapons to the insurgents: "Arming the Syrian opposition, as Egypt sees it, will increase the rate of killings and will transform the situation in Syria as a whole to a full civil war."

0855 GMT: We took a break from Live Coverage to post a feature, "Bahrain Propaganda Special: Introducing the Regime's Best Friends in the US Congress".

0725 GMT: Diplomats say the US, Britain and France are working on a UN Security Council statement formally setting a 10 April deadline for Syria to withdraw troops and weapons from cities.

The statement would warn President Assad of possible "further measures" if he reneges on a promise to United Nations envoy Kofi Annan to start implementation of a six-point peace plan.

The three countries will send the draft Presidential statement --- which has a lower standing than a full Council resolution --- to all 15 members on Tuesday, according to a diplomat. Negotiations could be held on Wednesday and the statement agreed on Thursday if there are no objections.

Briefing the Security Council on Monday, Annan said the start of a withdrawal on 10 April would be accompanied by a call on the regime and opposition to start a cease-fire 48 hours later.

The Assad regime said yesterday that it would begin a pull-back on 10 April but expected the opposition to also halt violence.

Russia and China have vetoed two resolutions on Syria; however, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov offered an opening on Monday when he called on the Assad regime to begin a withdrawal, followed immediately by opposition steps.

0655 GMT: Signs of political turmoil in Egypt, with prominent opposition to the Constituent Assembly that is supposed to draft the new Constitution....

Sameh Ashour, the head of the Advisory Council created by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in November 2011, has resigned. He called for the SCAF to draft a new Constitutional declaration.

Critics of the Assembly, chosen last week by Parliament, claim it has been packed with a ;arge majority from Islamist parties.

The Advisory Council announced in March that they would suspend all meetings until they met with the SCAF to determine the Council's role in the upcoming Presidential elections. At an emergency session on Sunday, Ashour stressed that Article 60 of the Constitutional declaration --- which gave Parliament the authority to choose the members of the Constituent Assembly ---would have to be reformulated.

0645 GMT: The Christian Science Monitor notes this CNN video report of Iraqi Sunnis sending arms to the Syrian insurgency, commenting: "Iraq's Sunni Arabs remain fearful of the new Shiite-dominated order they now live under, and the fact that Assad's principal external backer is Shiite Iran, which also has far closer ties to Iraq's government since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, should be kept in mind....And oil-rich Saudi Arabia, a conservative Sunni monarchy hostile to both Iran and Assad, is becoming increasingly assertive in helping the Syrian opposition."

0555 GMT: We begin with disturbing and still unclear news from Syria.

Once again, activists report a bloody day with  75 slain across the country, including 45 in what appears to be heavy fighting in Homs.

In addition, the Local Co-ordination Committees of Syria claim that, amidst the fighting, 75 "unidentified bodies" were found in the National Hospital of Homs when it was "liberated" by the Free Syrian Army. We are still being cautious about the implications of the report --- after all, bodies are always found in hospital morgues --- but the assertion of activists is that the unknown are earlier victims of the violence.

The death toll and the lack of information from Homs obscured what appears to be a significant story. If insurgents can re-take one of Syria's largest hospitals, after weeks of siege and attack by regime forces, what did this say about the possibilities for President Assad's military to put down resistance once and for all?

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