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Monday
Apr092012

Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Deadlines of Diplomacy and Death

Al Jazeera English's report on the looming deadline in Syria

See also War on Terror Special: How Britain's Rendition Sent "Suspects" to Qaddafi's Libya
Bahrain Opinion: An Appeal for Abdulhadi Alkhawaja
Bahrain 1st-Hand: "She's Filth" --- Zainab Alkhawaja on Her Detention When She Called Out for Her Father
Turkey Live Coverage (9 April): Strong Language and Diplomacy Over Syria, Iran, and Kurdistan
Sunday's Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) Live Coverage: 127 Die on A Syrian Saturday


2049 GMT: According to the latest tally by Syrian activist network LCCS, 160 have been killed today nationwide, including:

"...at least 40 women and children, and 8 Free Syrian Army members. 52 in Homs, 45 in Aleppo, 36 in Hama, 16 in Idlib, 6 in Damascus Suburbs, 2 in Kilis Refugee Camp in Turkey, 1 in Deir Ezzor,1 in Hassakeh and 1 in Saidaa Daraa.

However, since this tally new reports of death have continued to come in to the LCCS. The latest report is that regime forces killed 5 police officers when they refused to fire on civilians in a small town between Damascus and the Golan Heights (map).

The deaths reported today show that the regime appears to be making concerted efforts to crackdown against protests near its borders with Turkey and Lebanon in advance of tomorrow's UN ceasefire deadline.

2040 GMT: The Danish ambassador to Bahrain has been denied access to Abdulhadi AlKhawaja, a Danish citizen and political prisoner who is enduring his 61st day of hunger strike.

According to the Bahraini government, this is a bureaucratic problem, and AlKhawaja is in "good health," but the incident is further fueling speculation that AlKhawaja has already died or is gravely ill.

2030 GMT: Bahraini activists have been reporting more clashes with police all day today. Now, the Bahraini government has told Reuters that a group of protesters also attacked police:

Seven Bahraini policemen were wounded, three of them seriously, when a home-made bomb exploded on Monday, an Interior Ministry spokesman said, during a protest near the capital calling for the release of an activist on a two-month hunger strike.

Protesters threw petrol bombs at riot police to lure officers into Eker, a Shi'ite village outside the capital Manama, before the explosion was set-off, the spokesman said.

This report matches what an EA correspondent reported earlier today, that the roads to Al Eker were closed off, and many people were injured in clashes between police and protesters. However, the area was quickly sealed by police, so it is hard to know exactly what happened.

1950 GMT: This post comes from EA's Turkey live-coverage by Ali Yenidunya:

Turkey's Today's Zaman says that the Adana agreement signed between Ankara and Damascus in 1998 gives the former to have the legal ground to intervene as the crackdown on the Syrian opposition can be classified as a threat to the “security and stability of Turkey.” Article 1 says:

Syria, on the basis of the principle of reciprocity, will not permit any activity that emanates from its territory aimed at jeopardizing the security and stability of Turkey.

The Adana agreement came into fruition thanks to Iranian and Egyptian diplomatic efforts while Ankara was suffering from the outlawed PKK camps based in Syria.

1555 GMT: In Beijing, agreements signed in the fields of media, publishing, investment and culture. More importantly, a letter of intent was signed between China's National Energy Administration and the Turkish energy ministry for further nuclear cooperation.

The mutual trade has soared from just $1 billion in 2000 to $19.5 billion in 2010.

1804 GMT: One day before the deadline to withdraw the military from cities and towns across Syria and abide by a ceasefire, activists are reporting that 153 have been killed nationwide:

"Among [the dead] are at least 35 women and children, and 4 Free Syrian Army members. 52 in Homs, 45 in Aleppo, 33 in Hama, 13 in Idlib, 6 in Damascus Suburbs, 2 in Kilis Refugee Camp in Turkey, 1 in Deir Ezzor, and 1 in Saidaa Daraa."

The Tall Rafaat chapter of the Local Coordinating Committees has posted many graphic scenes of carnage, as dozens of people were reportedly killed in the area today (see updates 1305 and 1248).

1609 GMT: According to The Guardian, a prominent member of the F1 racing teams says that the teams would like Formula 1 to cancel the upcoming race in Bahrain:

A leading member of the 12 team principals, who would not be named but who said his views were representative – said: "I feel very uncomfortable about going to Bahrain. If I'm brutally frank, the only way they can pull this race off without incident is to have a complete military lock-down there. And I think that would be unacceptable, both for Formula One and for Bahrain. But I don't see any other way they can do it..."

"We have a lot of people. Our first and foremost priority has to be our employees. And their families. That's what concerns us most, even though we've not said anything about it. It seems to me that while there has been some political progress in Bahrain they're not quite ready. The best thing would be for the race to be postponed until later in the year, or even cancelled.

1549 GMT: This comes from a long-time reader, Catmari, in the comments section. More information on the death of a Lebanese journalist near the border with Syria:

The officials say Ali Shaaban, who works as a cameraman for Al Jadeed TV station, was shot Monday as he was filming in the northern Wadi Khaled area on the Lebanese side of the border. The gunfire apparently came from the Syrian side of the frontier.

Syrian activist Edward Dark catches the irony:

1543 GMT: The LCCS reports that the deathtoll in Syria is now 104, "including 52 martyrs in Homs, 31 martyrs in Hama, Also in Idlib, there were 12 martyrs,6 martyrs in Aleppo and 2 in the Kals refugees camp in Turkey and a martyr in Sayda in Daraa."

These numbers, while high, may rise even further, because they do not match the earlier report that 28-30 were killed in Tal Rafaat, Aleppo (see updates 1305 and 1248).

1531 GMT: A Syrian activist shares this information, that the opposition in Hama is now reporting that 29 have been killed in the building collapse in Latamna.

1526 GMT: The Bahraini activist who was tweeting earlier appears to be safe:

1503 GMT: Earlier, we posted an open letter, written by EA's John Horne. Now, an open letter to King Hamad of Bahrain is currently collecting signatures. It will be delivered to the Bahrain Embassy in London by the close of business on Tuesday. The letter can be read and signed via an entry in the Comment is Free section of The Guardian. Several high-profile British MPs, academics, and rights groups (including EA's Scott Lucas) have already signed the letter.

1445 GMT: The LCCS, a network of Syrian activists inside the country, report that 79 people have been killed already today, "31 in each of Hama suburbs and Idlib suburbs. Also in Idlib, there were 11 martyrs, 4 in the Kals refugees camp in Turkey and one martyr in each of Homs and Daraa."

This number does not seem to include the number killed north of Aleppo. We're not sure why there is a discrepancy between the two reports.

LCCS has posted a video showing residents of Latamna, near Hama, pulling bodies out of rubble after a shell hit a building. They have also shared this video for Ariha, in Idlib province, where a cameraman filming an anti-aircraft gun while gunfire rumbles in the distance. According to the LCCS there is, "intense shooting from all the checkpoints due to a demonstration."

1436 GMT: The Bahraini police have confronted the protesters in Sanabis, and are entering homes and making arrests. This Twitter account, trusted by activist Elaine Masons, made these reports, and posted this picture reportedly showing teargas in Sanabis, before the house he was in was raided by police. It appears that he has now gone offline:

1338 GMT: The CFDPC shares this report of a significant, and defiant, protest in the Babbila district of Damascus:

Funeral procession for the soldier Munaf al-Haj Kasem took place this morning in the Babeela area of Damascus with the presence of vehicles of regime forces to prevent an anti government demonstration after the funeral. The soldier Munaf al-Haj Kasem was killed after he refused to shoot at civilians in Homs.

CFDPC also reports widespread arrests, and a massive security presence across the capital city today, as the regime appears to be increasing its pressure on activists inside Damascus.

1332 GMT: A Lebanese cameraman has been killed on the border with Syria, according to the head of his news organization:

Ali Shaaban was killed when the channel's film crew came under fire in the border area of Wadi Khaled, Mariam Bassam told AFP, without elaborating on the source of fire.

Wadi Khaled is near Homs. See a map of the area.

1325 GMT: Elaine Masons shares this photo - another day of protests in Bahrain:

1317 GMT: Al Jazeera English posts a dire report on Bahrain:

The lawyer of jailed Bahraini activist Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja told the AFP news agency there were fears his client may have died, after authorities turned down repeated requests to contact him.

"Authorities have been refusing since yesterday [Sunday] all requests, made by myself and by his family, to visit or contact al-Khawaja," Mohammed al-Jeshi, his lawyer, told AFP.

"We fear that he might have passed away as there is no excuse for them to prevent us from visiting or contacting him," he said, adding that no information was available on Khawaja's health.

Jeshi said the last time he contacted Khawaja was on Saturday, a day after he was moved from the interior ministry hospital into a military hospital in Manama. [AFP]

EA Correspondent John Horne adds that there is a possibility that this report is a tactic by AlKhawaja's lawyer to increase the pressure on the regime. Of course, there is also to possibility that Jeshi, and Abdulhadi's daughter Zainab AlKhawaja, have been denied access to Abdulhadi because he is already passed.

1305 GMT: And now the twist - the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that rebel forces killed 6 Assad soldiers in Salama, a village 15 kilometers north of Tal Rafaat, close to A'zaz and the Turkish border. According to the report, 8 insurgent fighters were wounded in the attacks.

We're not sure which incident happened first, which raises the interesting question. This Turkish incident, and the high death toll on both sides of the border, are gaining international attention on the eve of the proposed cease-fire. So did the opposition strike back at the regime after the Assad military shelled both Syrian residents and Syrian refugees, or did the FSA manage to provoke the Syrian military into making a potentially massive strategic mistake?

1248 GMT: Another escalation north of Aleppo, between the city of Aleppo and the Turkish border. The LCCS reports that 30 people have been killed in Tal Rafaat, "due to the indiscriminate shelling by the regime causing entire buildings to fall on the top of its residents."

Prominent activist Shakeeb al-Jabri told EA that the Aleppo News Network says 28 have been killed, and the activists have already collected the names of 16.

Tal Rafaat is between Aleppo and A'zaz, another embattled town, and is just south of the Turkish border, not far from where the cross-border violence took place earlier today (map of the region). While the cross-border shelling that has done so much damage in Turkey is the first time that people have been killed inside this refugee camp, it is not the first time that the Syrian military has killed Syrians on the other side of the border in this area, according to Al-Jabri. However, the violence north of Aleppo, and on the Turkish side of the border, still represents an escalation, the latest stage of an increasingly-violent crackdown between Syria's largest city and its border with Turkey.

James Miller takes over today's live coverage from Scott Lucas.

1125 GMT: A demonstration at Aleppo University in support of protesting towns in Syria's Aleppo Province:

1015 GMT: Syrian forces fired across the border today at protesters at a refugee camp near Kilis in southwestern Turkey, wounding a Turkish translator and at least two Syrian refugees.

It is the first such attack since Turkey began sheltering refugees last summer. More than 24,000 are now reportedly in camps.

Footage has been posted of clashes between regime forces and the Free Syrian Army on the Syrian side of the border.

A Turkish government official said Ankara immediately protested the incident to the Syrian charge d'affaires and asked that the fire be halted. Border crossings from Syria into the Kilis area were stopped after the attack, and Turkish security forces were reinforced in the well-marked border area.

Claimed footage of the aftermath of the attack (Warning: Graphic):

0900 GMT: Human Rights Watch has claimed that Syrian security forces summarily executed at least 100 civilians and wounded or captured opposition fighters during recent attacks on cities and towns.

HRW's 25-page report, “In Cold Blood: Summary Executions by Syrian Security Forces and Pro-Government Militias" documents more than a dozen incidents involving at least 101 victims since late 2011, with many of them in March 2012. At least 85 victims were Syrian residents who did not take part in the fighting, including women and children.

0845 GMT: Al Jazeera English interviews Jenan Al Orabi, the wife of prominent Bahraini blogger Ali Abdulemam --- he has been in hiding since March 2011 to avoid detention:

0735 GMT: The official Facebook page of Bahrain's Gulf Air was hacked overnight, with a photo of detained hunger striker Abdulhadi Alkhawaja replacing the company's description.

Gulf Air put out the statement, "We would like to bring to your attention that our official Facebook page has been hacked. Right now, the page is not under our control, so kindly ignore any messages, videos or pictures that may be posted."

0645 GMT: We continue to follow two major stories this morning.

In Syria, the Assad regime is approaching the Tuesday deadline, set by United Nations envoy Kofi Annan, to begin withdrawal of its troops from cities. 

There was no sign of an easing of violence on Sunday, as another 69 people died, including 28 in Idlib Province, 19 in Homs Province, and 12 in Hama Province. Far from meeting the Annan condition, the regime retreated from it, demanding written guarantees from insurgents to end attacks and a promise from foreign states not to fund them before starting any withdrawal. The opposition in turn said it would not make any commitment in advance of that withdrawal.

In Bahrain, the unspecified deadline is when human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, now on Day 61 of his hunger strike, dies. That event will bring a public display of mass opposition to the regime, further distancing the already-distant prospect of reconciliation. 

Far from trying to stave off that occurrence, Bahraini authorities appear to be escalating the tension. On Sunday, a judicial body rubber-stamped the regime decision to reject a Danish offer to take Alkhawaja, who is serving a life sentence for his dissent. Officials reportedly blocked Alkhawja's family from seeing him, having detained his daughter Zainab --- for the second time in 48 hours --- on Saturday. (See her account in a separate feature.)

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