A loud Sunday night rally in Tal Rafaat in Aleppo Province in Syria
2159 GMT: Syria. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has released an internal report that suggests the US government does not believe the Syrian government is abiding by the UN brokered ceasefire. In fact, USAID reports that the Syrian military even killed aid workers. Foreign Policy reports:
"U.N.-Arab League Special Envoy to Syria Kofi Annan expressed concerns regarding reports of SARG reprisal attacks in areas where Syrian civilians met with U.N. observers, including in Hamah and Damascus governorates," the report stated. "The observers report that SARG forces have not withdrawn heavy weapons from urban centers -- a condition of the U.N. and Arab League supported ceasefire and peace plan that went into effect on April 12."
2100 GMT: Syria. Earlier we received reports, and the impressive video below reportedly taken in Douma, of security forces flocking into the Damascus suburbs. Syrian security was also spotted moving in Hama and several other areas. Our reaction? The new FSA offensive may have hit a nerve, as the regime had pulled some of those forces out of these areas in order to appear as though they were complying with the UN ceasefire.
Tonight, many suburbs of Damascus are reporting heavy gunfire. This video, posted by the LCCS, reportedly shows regime forces opening fire on a demonstration in Aqarba:
And this video was reportedly taken in Kafer Batna, closer to the capital.
While the videos are all described as showing regime forces firing on demonstrations (which is certainly possible, as an unusually high amount of demonstrations are reported in the Damascus area tonight) there is a distinct possibility that what we are hearing is really a gun battle between regime forces and positions that they believe are occupied by Free Syrian Army. We may also be hearing returning gunfire, though that is simply speculation.
To use the famous idiom, where there is smoke there is fire. It is unusual to hear this level of gunfire, this late at night and that close to Damascus, unless Free Syrian Army fighters are present or believed to be present.
Either that, or the regime forces really are nervous.
1919 GMT: Syria. With the FSA attack in Al Rastan, and the knowledge that this appears to be part of a larger insurgent offensive that was launched late last week, heightened attention should be paid to news from Homs and its surrounding towns and villages. Today there are also reports that the Bayada and Khalidiya districts in the center of Homs have been heavily shelled (see a map of Homs). Whether this is retaliation for the offensive in general, or whether this is a specific action targeting FSA forces inside Homs, is unknown.
This video reportedly shows a house burning in Bayada:
1904 GMT: Syria. An activist Youtube network has posted a series of videos, reportedly taken in Al Rastan, north of Homs. The first shows smoke billowing above the city earlier today as shells fell. The second and third appear to show homes on fire and heavy gunfire, as the Syrian military appears to be attacking the town that the lost to insurgents earlier today:
1849 GMT: Syria. UN observers have arrived in Deir Ez Zor, as the video below shows, and have been greeted by very large crowds of protesters. However, LCC reports that there has been heavy gunfire in the city, perhaps even in the presence of the UN monitors:
40 houses have been destroyed and there were at least 4 martyrs in the heavy shelling and many injuries, including a number of injured children.
This city of 60,000 has given at least 375 martyrs to the revolution.
1527 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordinating Committees of Syria post this video which reports to show a protest on Khalid Bin Al-Waleed Street, a central thoroughfare that runs north and south through the heart of Damascus (MAP).
The protesters use fire to block traffic. Sources have told us that activists block traffic to slow the police response to the protest, as well as to disrupt the regular pattern of events in the busy capital - a form of protest in its own right:
1502 GMT: Syria. The protests today in Aleppo would have been significant news in their own right. The peaceful protest movement there, led by the students, has been steadily growing. Recently, it had grown intense enough to see regular protests by lawyers inside the Palace of Justice, and a security shutdown of Aleppo University's campus.
Several videos, including this one, showed fairly impressive crowds demonstrating today. However, videos like the one below have likely stolen the headlines, as police do not appear to be permitting any protests at all, either on the campus or elsewhere in Syria's largest city:
1450 GMT: Syria. We're not entirely sure what the narrative in Al Rastan is. It appears that the Free Syrian Army attacked and captured several forward operating bases that the Syrian military was using to raid and shell the town. The FSA then defeated several regime attempts to recapture the city.
The FSA's victories in al Rastan did not come cheap, however. The city, which has been heavily shelled for months, has whole sections that have largely been flattened. According to fighters reporting from the city, today's bombardment was the worst yet. This video, posted by Ugarit News, reportedly shows the damage from the shelling. We'd note, though, that it is impossible to know how much of this damage is old and how much is new:
1438 GMT: Syria. Many appear to have died in today's fighting in Al Rastan. According to activists, the city has fallen to insurgent fighters, but the Syrian military has been bombarding the city with artillery and attacking with tanks in several attempts to retake the town. However, thus far those attempts have failed.
A graphic video posted on Youtube claims to show men killed in the attack. Whether they were FSA fighters or civilians is unknown. The video description reads:
Documentary Evidence of Crimes Against Humanity Committed by Syria Dictator Bashar Assad as he has viciously attacked the Rastan District of Homs City with Tanks and Artillery and Machine gun fire for the past few days and There are numerous video clips uploaded from this Regime attack on Rastan that show some of the numerous wounded and dead local men, women and children who were targeted by the Assad Alawite Army in their Campaign of ongoing Ethnic Cleansing of Sunnis from Homs City and the Assad Regimes countless vile Crimes Against Humanity.
1424 GMT: Syria. The other headline we've been chasing is the claim, made by the UK based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that 23 soldiers had been killed (see update 1000 GMT) in Al Rastan, north of Homs. The Guardian shares this video, claiming to show the FSA fighters having retaken Al Rastan, as well as other reports from activists suggesting that the city has fallen to insurgent fighters who have repelled several counterattacks.
The area has been the subject of months of bombardment, but since Thursday of last week has reportedly been the target of a well-organized Free Syrian Army offensive to reclaim the area from the Syrian military. If the FSA has taken the town, this would be the most significant opposition military victory since January.
9 martyrs were reported in Homs, 3 in Deir Ezzor, 1 in Hama and 1 in Damascus Suburbs.
However, the main headlines may be that there are reports of violence in Aleppo. The LCC reports that police have disrupted a demonstration near a mosque in the Masaken Hananou neighborhood (which we believe is here). The Guardian reports that there have also been clashes on the campus of Aleppo University, reopened after a week of having been shut down. These videos reportedly show some of the clashes:
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us through the morning.
Witnesses said flames surged into the sky from the site of the explosion that took place around midnight, about 30 minutes after soldiers guarding the pipeline clashed with a group of gunmen.
Last week, US drone strikes killed at least one insurgent, Fahd al-Quso, and on Saturday, Yemeni forces launched an assault to retake the southern city of Zinjibar, held by the insurgents for a year.
1000 GMT: Syria. After the Free Syrian Army said nine people were killed by regime shelling of Rastan (see 0800 GMT), an unconfirmed report --- put out by the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights --- circulates that at least 23 regime troops were killed and dozens wounded in fighting with insurgents on the outskirts of the town.
The Observatory claimed three troop carriers were destroyed in the clashes that began at dawn.
"Shells and rockets have been hitting the town since three a.m. (midnight GMT) at a rate of one a minute. Rastan has been destroyed," an FSA member in the town said by satellite phone. Among those killed was Ahmad Ayoub, an FSA commander.
Rastan, 25 kilometres (15 miles) north of Homs, is near a main highway between Damascus and Aleppo and has been a major site for protesters and the Free Syrian Army. Sunni officers in President Assad's military began defecting after security forces shot dead dozens of demonstrators in the town and arrested many of its notables in late 2011.
0720 GMT: Syria. The Local Co-ordination Committees of Syria claim four people, including a child, have been killed today --- two in the Damascus suburbs, one in Homs Province, and one in Deir Ez Zor Province.
0520 GMT: Palestine. Issa Karaka, the head of the Palestinian Prison Authority, has said an agreement to end the hunger strike of up to 2500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails has been reached in Cairo.
Karaka continued, "We are now waiting for the hunger strikers’ committee to determine their position".
Karaka said the agreement end to solitary confinement of prisoners; allow families of detainees from Gaza to visit; and halt the renewal of "administrative detention", under which some prisoners to be held indefinitely without charge.
Two of the hunger strikers, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh are on Day 78 of their fasts. Most of the protester prisoners --- 1550 according to Israel; 2500 of the 4600 administrative detainees, according to activists --- began their strikes on 17 April to demand improved conditions.
Ahmed el-Sioufi, Al-Alam's office director, said the station has repeatedly applied for permits since it first began its operations in Cairo nearly nine years ago. He said Egyptian authorities always denied the request but allowed the station to broadcast.
In September, security forces raided the offices of Al-Jazeera Live Egypt for the same reason. The station later resumed broadcasting without a license.
0505 GMT: Syria. This weekend, we noted the "uneasy frontline" in parts of Syria, with insurgents and regime forces watching each other amid the possibility that a moment could bring a violent change.
So it proved on Sunday. A Friday demonstration in Tamaana al-Ghab in Hama Province drew an attack from the men of a pro-Assad village nearby, and regime forces followed up Sunday. After Tamaana was overrun, 11 of its residents were dead.
The slain were among 30 people who died across the country, according to the Local Co-ordination Committees of Syria.
The aftermath of the raid on Tamaana (Warning: Graphic Images):