Thursday's demonstration at Aleppo University
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9 martyrs in Homs, 7 martyr in Idlib, 3 martyrs in Hama, 2 martyrs in Daraa. 3 martyrs in Damascus Suburbs "Douma- Beit Taima- Hamoria", 2 martyrs in Aleppo, and a martyr in Damascus.
At this hour there are even more reports of violence. There is heavy gunfire reported in Deir Ez Zor and al Bukamal, there are reports of heavy gunfire in Azaz (north of Aleppo), and there are reports of heavy fighting between the FSA and the Syrian army in northwest Idlib - this video shows gunfire in Sarmada, Idlib, near the border with Turkey:
Another video shows activists calling for help over a PA system in Sarmada.
1853 GMT: Syria. A live-stream from Aleppo shows protests in the streets tonight, but just as it started there were "shabiha," pro-regime thugs, that may have attacked the crowd. Gunshots (or teargas) can be heard.
1840 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordinating Committees of Syria claim to have documented 648 protests across the country today in 558 locations. They have also broken out those protests by region, with the most demonstrations being held in Idlib, Hama, Aleppo, Daraa, Deir Ez Zor, and the Damascus governorates, though according to the report there were protests in every region (or nearly every region) of the country.
While we can;t verify that number, we can say that protests were as widespread as they have been in recent weeks, as the peaceful component of the opposition continues to demonstrate a great deal of rejuvenation. Clearly, the opposition to the Assad regime has never been larger, or incorporated more geographical or ethnic diversity.
The Associated Press is calling yesterday and today's demonstrations in Aleppo the largest in that city's history, with more than 15,000 students turning out yesterday and more than 10,000 people on the streets today. It's hard to estimate numbers based on the scattered pictures and videos, but those numbers are certainly reasonable, and match many eyewitness reports.
That's appropriate. The theme of today's protests, decided upon days before hand, was "The Heroes of Aleppo University."
And this video was taken earlier in Sukkariyye, north of Daraa:
A very impressive demonstration from Armanaz, in Idlib, near Kafer Takharim and the Syrian border with Turkey:
We'd note that there is about another hour before the sun goes down in Aleppo.
Intense gunfire and reports of defections in the Airforce Defense brigade located in Ashaari region.
This is an interesting report. Earlier, we posted video of a protest there, and many sources have reported that there were very large demonstrations in the area(see update at 1155 GMT). The Free Syrian Army has repeatedly said that it would not conduct attacks near protesters, especially not on Fridays as they tend to greatly curtail street demonstrations. It is possible that the FSA may have fought with security forces while trying to defend the crowds, but we have no evidence that the FSA has considerable forces currently stationed in Barzeh. All in all, a confusing report, but we'll keep digging for details.
1456 GMT: Syria. A reader shares this video which reportedly shows a protest in Al Rastan, despite the shelling. We're still trying to sort the rumors of the violence in Al Rastan today, but this video comes from Ugarit News Network, which is usually reliable.
1440 GMT: Syria. Every Friday has protests, and every Friday protest has a theme. Several days ago, members of the Syrian opposition decided that today's protests would be labeled "The Champions of Aleppo University," out of respect for the last several weeks of heavy protests, and the violent crackdown against students that ensued. This was all decided before yesterday's massive protests, which are quickly becoming iconic. Mostly fact, partially myth, the students of Aleppo University are quickly becoming the face of the Syrian revolution:
1429 GMT: Syria. There are rumors that the Syrian military has once again tried to retake the city of Al Rastan, north of Homs, and once again failed to capture any additional territory. The rumors are coming from a few dozen sources who we are not familiar with on Twitter, so there is no way to verify the reports right now. However, there are even more rumors that the city has been heavily shelled. This spectacular video shows heavy shelling, extremely close to the camera, but it also comes from a source that we are not familiar with:
We're posting the reports because, based on the volume of the reports, we believe that they could be real. We'd stress, however, that the reports are unverified.
1408 GMT: Syria. Corrected. A very interesting statement from the
head of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon head of the UN monitoring mission Robert Mood, about the attack on UN monitors in Idlib province this week:
In Khan Sheikhoun, we had an incident with four UN vehicles that came into the village. There was an explosion in front of or close to the first vehicle. Two of the vehicles were not able to drive. Six observers spent the night in the village and the day after, they found good coordination and cooperation both from local authorities and from the opposition inside the village. We sent a patrol and picked up both the two vehicles and the observers.
This is also a situation in which it is very easy to speculate. The fact we know is that I spoke with my observers by telephone in the evening, during the night, and in the morning. They told us: we feel safe, we want to stay overnight, we want to be picked up in the morning because as light was falling and there were still explosions and fighting in the area, they felt it more unsafe to try to organise a departure from the village.
This is what we know. We also know that we have bullet holes in one of the vehicles, and we know that the explosion damaged the first vehicle. That kind of violence is a kind of violence that we need no more because that is not only challenging, targeting the UNMOs on the ground, it is targeting the efforts of the international community.
So I would ask anyone that, out of whatever motives, would conduct something like that, to rethink, because we, the international community, we are there on the ground to facilitate a reduction in violence and terrible incidents for the Syrian people. We are only 300 observers, so we are not trying to solve all the problems of Syria. The other stakeholders need to be genuine in their commitment and demonstrate that by action.
Before I rip apart the inconsistencies, it's important to remember that Mood
Moon is concerned with the success of the mission and the safety of his monitors. The monitors, for their part, are struggling to refrain from taking sides while they are still trying to conduct their monitoring mission. After all, their continued access, and their safety, depends upon not making enemies of either side.
That said, there are glaring holes with this account. Initial reports, from the monitors themselves, suggested that the monitors witnessed the regime security forces opening fire on civilians. Also, the observers spent the night with the Free Syrian Army soldiers, not with the regime security forces, suggesting that they felt safer with the opposition fighters than the regime ones.
However, there is a possibility that higher-ranking members of Assad's military realized that they needed to ensure the safe departure of the UN monitors, as by morning it did appear that the UN may have received some support from regime fighters. Still, we likely won't know the full details of the event until after the observers report to the UN.
1342 GMT: Syria. The news on this Friday, and many Fridays, is split between the protesters in the streets and the reports of the violent crackdown against them.
A total of 20 people have been killed so far today, according to the LCCS:
9 martyrs were reported in Homs, 3 in Hama, 3 in Idlib, 2 in Daraa, 2 in Aleppo, and 1 in Douma in the Damascus Suburbs.
1316 GMT: Syria. The rest of the opposition in Syria, inspired by the "Champions of Aleppo University," have echoed the defiance displayed in Syria's largest city this week by holding their own Aleppo-themed protests. This video was reportedly taken just outside Daraa, in Ghariya:
A small town with a big message (in English): "Tough times never last, but we the Syrians do; UN has finally to decide which way to go through - Occupied Kafranbel"
In Qamishli, a largely Kurdish crowd protests in solidarity with Aleppo University:
Despite daily shelling, the people of Khalidiya, Homs, protest today. The protest is much smaller than it once was, the result of the constant violence. Many have also left the neighborhood:
This is just a small sample of the protests videos we've seen so far today, and the day is young.
1302 GMT: Syria. There isn't a lot going right for the people of Kafranbel, in Idlib province. The town has suffered from regime raids, to firefights, to shelling, to food and fuel shortages, to bad weather... it's a tough place to live right now.
But despite all that, there are two consistent characteristics of the residents of the small town, two dependable facts in a life of constant uncertainty - humor, and defiance.
Today's episode of tragic-yet-comedic relief features a picture of Bashar al Assad with two devils (instead of a devil and an angel) on his shoulders. Russian President, "Devil Putin," stands on Bashar's right and whispers, "Kill...," and Hezbollah head Hasan Nasrallah on his left shoulder whispering "kill more..."
1246 GMT: Syria. Scott Lucas started the day by asking me whether the protests at Aleppo University yesterday were made up of more than just students. That's a fair question, as most of the activity was contained to the campus and the immediate streets. With more than 61,000 undergraduate students, the university could start its own army using only students. It's also a question that I don't have an answer for.
However, we do know that the recent crackdowns on students has sparked protests among lawyers, other professionals, and the general population in Aleppo. We also know that today's protests, off the campus of the university, though nearby, are also very large, and are absolutely made up of more than just students.
So, has Assad "lost" Aleppo? No. However, he doesn't need to. The economic impact of the growing protests, and the increasing violence, could deal a significant blow to the country's largest city, and the hub of its economy. Also, the Assad regime appears to have lost some of the intellectual support in the city, as far-flung violence has come home, and Aleppo's elite have begun to witness for themselves the resolve of the peaceful students against the brutality, albeit the comparatively muted brutality, of the Assad regime.
Below is another video of today's street protests in Aleppo.
In Homs, there were 9 martyrs, 3 in Hama, 2 in Daraa, 2 in Idlib, 1 in Aleppo, and 1 in Douma (Damascus Subrubs).
However, things have also been tense inside the city. There are reports of more protests in the Saleh al Deen district, south of the University where massive protests took place yesterday. Injuries are reported, and a video has surfaced showing at least one of the injured. The video below shows a 12 minute live-stream, recorded 2 hours ago:
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us up and running.
1211 GMT: Syria. Defying the regime shelling that took place early on Friday, residents of Rastan take to the streets in protest:
1206 GMT: Syria. As UN observers toured Naeemi in Daraa Province today, residents gathered for a protest:
1157 GMT: Syria. Students at Aleppo University shelter inside a car with UN observers on Thursday, as security forces beat some of their classmates:
A loud demonstration in the Damascus suburb of Barzeh:
1145 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage of gunfire scattering a demonstration near the al-Huda Mosque, injuring at least one protester, in Douma:
1120 GMT: Syria. Hashem Ahelbarra of Al Jazeera English reports on the sharp fall in Damascus's trade with Turkey:
Hariri, an engineer in his late 30s, was arrested on 16 April. The League claims he was "brutally tortured" and forced to make confessions.
Hariri was detained after an interview on Al-Jazeera television, in which he discussed the humanitarian and security situation in Daraa Province.
0910 GMT: Syria. Contrasting images this morning --- first, a demonstration in Qaddam in Damascus:
Security forces move through the Damascus suburb of Douma:
0550 GMT: Syria. Footage of regime shelling this morning, near the mosque in Rastan:
And in Jobar, near Homs:
0520 GMT: Syria. Despite the shorthand in the 15-month crisis that Aleppo, Syria's second city, is a bedrock for the Assad regime, there have been numerous demonstrations at its university. So, on that level, yesterday's protest was far from notable.
On others, however, it was. With UN observers visiting, thousands of students rallied, first in sit-ins in main buildings and then massed in the main squares. They chanted throughout the afternoon --- "jubilantly", as EA's James Miller wrote at the time --- and destroyed an iconic regime mural of President Assad' father Hafez.
Security forces, ringing the squares, eventually tried to disperse the gathering. Fears of a bloody crackdown did not materialise, however, and few injuries were reported.
My question to Miller, as he watched the LiveStream and other videos of the rallies, was, "How many non-students are there?" For all its vibrant defiance, the demonstration did not mean that the regime had "lost" Aleppo.
However, even if we had to watch carefully to see if the effects of yesterday's protest ripple in the second city, we can be certain they were felt elsewhere. News of the Aleppo rally buoyed the opposition throughout the country, as a new wave of protest challenges the recent narrative in some media that Assad had recovered his position of authority.
A demonstration in Zabadani last night, with a slogan in candles, calling for freedom and the toppling of the regime:
And in Douma, defying operation by the Assad military earlier in the day: