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Wednesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Conflict Renewed
1910 GMT: Syria. Away from Aleppo, the news was as ugly as ever in some places. Activists report that several shells fell on Douma, an important suburb of Damascus. According to the LCCS, at least one man was killed by sniper fire, and at least 5 people were killed when shells fell on several homes. A graphic and disturbing video claims to show an entire family dead or dying, being evacuated on a truck after a shell reportedly fell on their home.
1905 GMT: Syria. An amazing picture, from a day to remember, at Aleppo University:
1854 GMT: Syria. It's going to be another long night in Al Rastan. Sources suggest that the town, north of Homs, is being shelled again today, days after Syrian army forward bases in the area fell to fighters from the Free Syrian Army:
1813 GMT: Syria. A somewhat chaotic video shows the moment that security disrupted the protest in front of the gates of Aleppo University. The incident is hard to make out, but you can clearly hear the shift in the tone as police arrive, and then the crowd begins to run:
Eyewitnesses say that police used teargas and batons to disrupt the crowds. An unknown amount of arrests were made. Injuries are also reported, and a video posted by the LCCS claims to show two of the injured protesters.
Another interesting video shows protesters flinging paint onto a mural of Bashar al Assad's father and predecessor, Hafez:
1756 GMT: Syria. More images today from Aleppo University, where an iconic mural, often used in regime propaganda, has been destroyed during the truly massive protests there:
The people are standing on the cars of the UN observers.
1548 GMT: Syria. The UN observers arrived at Aleppo University, and the campus (and large parts of the city's populous) poured into the streets. This was the scene earlier at Aleppo University, as protests began as sit-ins inside the buildings, and then protesters flocked to the main squares:
1439 GMT: Syria. The Damascus suburb of Daraya has been attacked by security forces nearly every night this week. By day, large presence of soldiers are reported on the streets, and arrest campaigns are also reported. Many in the city of more than 75,000 have had enough.
Today, a general strike is reported, and the LCCS posts this video, showing abandoned streets and blocked-off roads.
Sanctions have inflicted a heavy economic toll, and Assad's crackdown can;t be cheap. What is the economic cost of a general strike in one of the largest suburbs of Syria's capital?
1412 GMT: Syria. We're watching the live-steam of the protests today at Aleppo University (update 1338 GMT). The crowds are massive, and extremely jubilant. The protests, we believe, have spread from the campus and have encompassed many streets around the university. Easily thousands, likely tens of thousands, have joined the crowd. It's perhaps the most impressive crowd we've seen in Syria since last June, and it doesn't look like the UN observers will be able to leave even when they want to.
The reactions of activists, however, is ranging from celebratory to nervous, and there is good reason for both feelings:
RT @HalaGorani Today's apparently huge protest at Aleppo University happening bc of presence of UN monitors. What'll happen when they leave?— Mahir Zeynalov (@MahirZeynalov) May 17, 2012
1403 GMT: Syria. As we promised earlier, we've posted an analysis of the news that the head of the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, has resigned. First, we look at today's statement against the SNC made by the Local Coordinating Committees. Then, we look to whether or not Ghalioun is really resigning or not (it's somewhat unclear). Lastly, and perhaps most controversially, we ask whether the idea of establishing a strong transitional leadership is possible, or even necessary.
1356 GMT: Syria. Thousands, maybe more, are pouring out into the streets in Aleppo to greet the UN observers. Their vehicles are literally buried in ecstatic students. The live stream we posted several entries below is still going, and one activist transcribes an interaction between a somewhat-apologetic student and the UN:
1347 GMT: Syria. This video, which we have not been able to verify, reportedly shows more successful Free Syrian Army attacks yesterday, this one in Ariha, a town with a key strategic position in Idlib province (map):
1338 GMT: Syria. After weeks of intense protests and arrest campaigns, UN observers have arrived at the campus of Aleppo University. This live stream, posted by The Guardian, shows the a huge crowd greeting the observers:
1246 GMT: Syria. Major news in the leadership of the Syrian opposition - Burhan Ghalioun, President of the Syrian National Council, has resigned:
"I declare my resignation as soon as a replacement is found through elections or consensus," Ghalioun told Reuters.
"I have not chosen this post for personal gain, but I have been accepting it to preserve cohesion. I am not ready to be a cause for division. The revolution is above personalities," he added.
The splintered Syrian National Council re-elected the secular liberal Ghalioun as president on Tuesday, but several senior members said his continued re-election would not help the council promote a democratic alternative to President Bashar al-Assad.
Snap analysis forthcoming - but it's safe to say that it's not likely a coincidence that on the day that the Local Coordinating Committees have threatened to leave the SNC, the SNC President, embattled and somewhat unpopular anyway, has resigned.
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started today.
1135 GMT: Libya. At least seven people have been killed in clashes between armed men and residents of the Libyan town of Ghadames, on the border with Algeria. More than 20 were wounded in the fighting in the southern oasis town, 600 kilometres (about 370 miles) from the capital Tripoli.
A local medical official said six raiders were killed along with a resident of Ghadames.
Tension has been building for days between locals and Tuareg tribesmen, nomads who roam the desert across the borders of Libya and neighbouring countries.
The Libyan military reportedly entered the town to restore peace.
Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the son of the former Libyan leader, has refused to appoint a lawyer to defend him against accusations of murder and torture, the country's Deputy UN Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi has told the Security Council.
Libya's National Transitional Council has insisted on trying Qaddafi inside the country rather than handing him to the International Criminal Court.
Libya said earlier this month that it would complete within weeks its investigation into Saif al-Islam and asked the International Criminal Court to once again to hold off ordering his surrender.
0949 GMT: Syria. The activists of the Local Co-ordination Committees in Syria have issued a statement which "deplores the situation of the (opposition) Syrian National Council", with its "furthering from the spirit and demands of the Syrian Revolution" and "distance from directions towards a civil state, democracy, transparency and the transfer of power desired in a New Syria".
Complaining that "the Council continues to marginalize a majority of the representatives of the revolutionary movement", the LCCS explains that it has "refrained from engaging in Council work in the past two months" and says it is considering a freeze in all activity and, as a final step, "withdrawal from the Council".
The LCCS conludes, "We emphasize that the Revolution will go on...despite the Syrian opposition’s incompetency for the blood and sacrifices of our people."
Clashes were sparked on Saturday by the arrest of a backer of the Syrian opposition, Shadi Mawlawi, accused of belonging to a "terrorist organization", as supporters and opponents of the Assad regime fought. Several people were killed, and the Lebanese Army was forced to intervene.
Three rocket-propelled grenades were reportedly fired this morning.
0935 GMT: Syria. A morning demonstration in Latamneh in Hama Province:
0755 GMT: Yemen. US and Yemeni officials have said that a contingent of US troops is providing targeting data for Yemeni airstrikes as government forces battle insurgents in the south of the country.
Operating from a Yemeni base, at least 20 U.S. special operations troops have used satellite imagery, drone video, eavesdropping systems and other technical means to help pinpoint targets for an offensive that intensified this week, the officials said.
The U.S. forces also advised Yemeni military commanders on where and when to deploy their troops, according to two senior Obama Administration officials said.
A senior military official added that the U.S. contingent is expected to grow.
0525 GMT: Yemen. Today the military will begin supervising the removal of the tents pitched last year in the capital Sana'a by the supporters of former President Saleh in reaction to the popular uprising against the regime.
0510 GMT: Syria. We begin by noting President Assad's televised interview on Wednesday, denouncing foreign backing of opposition "criminals", including members of Al Qa'eda.
"For the leaders of these countries, it's becoming clear that this is not 'Spring' but chaos, and as I have said, if you sow chaos in Syria you may be infected by it yourself, and they understand this perfectly well," Assad said.
The President said of the insurgent Free Syrian Army (FSA), "It is not an army and it is not free. They get money and weapons from abroad from various countries. It is a group of criminals who have for years broken the law and received convictions."
Assad also asserted that his forces had captured "foreign mercenaries" and added, "We are preparing to show them to the world."
On the political front, Assad insisted that the opposition Syrian National Council, does not have "any kind of weight or significance within Syria" and that a majority of the people support the government. May 7's Parliamentary elections had shown public support of reform: "The polling stations show the opinion of the people. It is a serious message for everyone both inside the country and also beyond its borders."