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Syria, Egypt (and Beyond) Live Coverage: "War Crimes" in Idlib, Deaths in Cairo

Human Rights Watch's report on "war crimes" in Idlib Province in Syria

See also Syria Analysis: Sorting Out The Truth Beyond Car Bombs and Ceasefires
Bahrain Live Coverage: Zainab Alkhawaja Appears in Court
Turkey Live Coverage (2 May): After May Day Celebrations, Back to Politics
Tuesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Idlib Explosions Raise the Stakes

1946 GMT: Yemen. An airstrike has killed another 15 Al-Qaeda linked militants today, another major strike in an escalating campaign against Islamic radicals in the country:

The officials said the air attack targeted the militants' camp north of the town of Jaar in the southern province of Abyan. It coincided with a Yemeni government offensive against the militants.

On Monday, 17 al-Qaida militants were killed in a two-pronged attack by military units and civilians who took up arms against al-Qaida south of the town of Lawder. Two civilians and a military officer were also killed in the fighting.

1928 GMT: Egypt. A potentially historic announcement from Egypt's ruling military. Al Jazeera reports:

Egypt's military council said the army may transfer power to an elected president on May 24, much sooner than expected.

• The announcement came after 11 people were killed in clashes during an anti-military protest.

• Meanwhile, thousands of people are still gathering in central Cairo.

1858 GMT: Syria. A tragic video. According to the activists who took uploaded the video, this man is Abdullah Mansour Al Masood, from the El Waer district of Homs. NPR's Ahmed al Omran provides context:

Another sad story from Syria's hardest-hit city.

1840 GMT: Syria. It's hard to quantify the number of soldiers who are defecting from the Syrian military, however anecdotal reports from activists suggest that there has been a sudden surge in the number of soldiers leaving the army and joining the opposition. Today alone there are reports of troops defecting in Jassem (Daraa Province), Kanaker (Damascus suburbs), Morek (Hama), Idlib, Baba Amr (Homs), Daraa, Al Rastan (Homs)...

Activists have created video collections, each video claiming to show the formation of a new battalion of Free Syrian Army fighters. While each individual report cannot easily be verified, if half of the reports are accurate it could mean that hundreds, or even several thousand, soldiers have left the Assad regime in just the last week alone.

We're not sure why we're seeing such a strong uptick in reports of defections this week, but it is certainly a trend we will follow closely.

1808 GMT: Egypt. In Egypt, large crowds of protesters are once again on the move. Al Jazeera shares this picture, the crowds moving from outside the Al-Fath Mosque towards Abbassiya Square.

As we noted earlier today, protesters have been increasingly frustrated at the Egyptian election commission's banning of Salafist Hazem Abu Ismail and several other candidates from taking part in the Presidential election. Approximately 11 people were killed earlier in clashes between police and the crowds at the sit-in.

1728 GMT: Syria. Several sources, including the CFDPC, have reported that Syrian soldiers opened fire on protesters in the Tadamoun district of Damascus. This video reportedly shows the scene.

Earlier, the CFDPC had also posted a video claiming to show a general strike in the Tadamoun district. Often, neighborhoods on general strike will host afternoon protests, and some activists have reported that strikes are becoming signals for security forces that protests should be expected.

1715 GMT: Syria. Foreign Policy's David Kenner has an interesting little article about how Syrian President Bashar al Assad has been playing host to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the head of the World Chess Federation. While Ilyumzhinov is a colorful character, the key piece of analysis might come in Kenner's conclusion:

"Now we know, at least, that international diplomatic efforts aren't so intensive that Assad can't deal personally with such concerns."

However, this seems like it matches Assad's primary strategy for personally denying how grave the situation in Syria has become - distraction is the key.

1602 GMT: Syria. 16 have been killed today across Syria, according to the activist network the LCCS:

4 martyrs were reported in Homs, 4 in the Damascus Suburbs (Daraya-Kesweh), 2 in Deir Ezzor, 2 in Hama, 1 in Daraa, and 1 in Qamishly.

Once again we see a familiar pattern. The deaths are not in a single location, but are spread across multiple regions, indicating that though the number is relatively low, the violence continues to be widespread.

Particularly interesting - the death in Qamishly (Qamishli, for spelling consistency). As we've often reported, Qamishli is a highly-diverse city near the border with Turkey. It has been the scene of a growing opposition movement, but violence there was relatively unknown until earlier this year. Since then, the regime appears to be increasingly concerned about the growing protests there, moving more security forces to the city whom are more eager to crackdown on dissent the moment it shows its head.

James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for taking us through the day.

1352 GMT: Syria. Earlier today (see 1105 GMT) we noted video of a demonstration at Aleppo University. Now footage is posted of chaos as demonstrators disperse, reportedly because of the use of tear gas by security forces:

1236 GMT: Egypt. Egyptian officials now say at least 11 protesters were killed this morning by armed attackers near the Ministry of Defence.

The army has also issued a statement on its intervention after the deaths, "Eight armoured personnel carriers from the military central zone entered the Abassiya area to disperse the fighting between protesters, and not to disperse the peaceful demonstrators. However, protesters attacked the armed forces. The armed forces have orders to hold their ground."

1126 GMT: Libya. A United Nations news agency reports on thousands of Libyans still afraid to return to their homes after the conflict that toppled Muammar Qaddafi.

Records from the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, show that an estimated 14,500 internally displaced persons (IDPs) were living in Tripoli as of March. Across Libya, the total number of those still displaced is estimated at 70,000.

Apart from the Mshashiya, others included the Qawalish, also from the Nefusa Mountains, the Tawergha, a group of Touareg families from the west, and those perceived as being loyal to the previous regime from al-Zawiya, Bani Walid and Sirte.

A sizeable group of the displaced living in Tripoli and Benghazi cities were Tawergha. They were accused of participating in Gaddafi’s assault on Misrata, murdering and raping thousands of people. Reprisal attacks ensued, forcing their entire town of more than 30,000 to flee their homes. Today, the Tawergha-Misrata case remains a particularly sensitive one in post-Gaddafi Libya.

1116 GMT: Iraq. The Iraq-based Journalism Freedoms Observatory has expressed concern over arbitrary arrests, restrictions on movement, and reporting and attacks on media workers: "JFO has documented a noticeable increase in the rate of violence against journalists or media workers and restrictions imposed on their work. Multiple bills are being introduced by the government, which threaten to severely limit freedom of the press, general freedom of expression and Internet use."

JFO added that Iraq's security deals "with a journalist holding a camera in the same way the way it deals with those they find possessing car bombs or unlicensed weapons." It said three journalists were killed in attacks over the past year, while seven others survived assassination attempts. Thirty-one reporters were beaten by uniformed and plain-clothes security forces, and 65 were arrested.

1115 GMT: Palestine. The activist organisation Addameer has expressed "utmost concern" for Palestinian deatinees Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh on the 64th day of their hunger strike in protest at Israel's "administrative detention".

An independent doctor from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) concluded Monday that Diab is at immediate risk of death and that both he and Halahleh must be transferred immediately to a civilian hospital to receive adequate medical attention.

The visit was only the second by an independent doctor since the beginning of the hunger strikes, coming after a legal petition filed in an Israeli District Court.

Under administrative detention, prisoners may be held indefinitely without charge.

1105 GMT: Syria. LiveStream footage of a protest this morning at Aleppo University has been broadcast.

1035 GMT: Egypt. Erin Cunningham of Global Post updates on the political effects of today's violence in Cario, with leading Presidential candidates halting their campaigning and leading parties withdrawing from the regular consultation with the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

1030 GMT: Egypt. Al Jazeera English's Rawya Rageh reports that the police and army have arrived at the clashes near the Ministry of Defence. She posts this vivid message of an encounter with the security forces:

1000 GMT: Syria. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims 15 regime troops, including two colonels, were killed in an ambush by insurgents at dawn today near the village of Al-Rai in Aleppo Province.

The activists assert that six more regime troops died in an insurgent attack in Harasta, northeast of Damascus.

The Observatory said two insurgents were also slain in the Aleppo clash.

0950 GMT: Egypt. Sharif Kouddous reports ongoing clashes near the Ministry of Defence in Cairo:

0920 GMT: Egypt. Protesters are rallying after this morning's deaths of at least demonstrators near the Ministry of Defence in Cairo. Journalist Adam Makary and activist Sharif Kouddous send messages:

0810 GMT: Egypt. Reports are circulating that at least five Egyptian protesters have been killed and 50 wounded by unknown armed men near the Ministry of Defence building in Cairo. Assailants used rocks, clubs, and firebombs.

Many of the demonstrators have been staging a sit-in for more than a week after the Elections Commission's disqualification of the Salafist Hazem Abu Ismail from the Presidential campaign. The Commission claimed that Abu Ismail's mother had become an American citizen, so the candidate could not meet the requirement of two Egyptian parents.

The sit-in was attacked last week --- some reports said by angry local residents, others claimed by plainclothes enforcers of the regime --- injuring almost 100 people.

The Freedom and Justice Party, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, is reportedly protesting by refusing to attend today's regular meeting of political parties with the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

0805 GMT: Syria. Complementing today's analysis by EA's James Miller, Human Rights Watch has released a 38-page report, “‘They Burned My Heart’: War Crimes in Northern Idlib during Peace Plan Negotiations,” claiming that Syrian regime forces killed at least 95 civilians and burned or destroyed hundreds of houses during a two-week offensive in northern Idlib Province just before the declared ceasefire this month.

Based on a field investigation in the towns of Taftanaz, Saraqeb, Sarmeen, Kelly, and Hazano in late April, HRW claims "dozens of extrajudicial executions, killings of civilians, and destruction of civilian property that qualify as war crimes, as well as arbitrary detention and torture".

The organisartion asserts that, in nine separate incidents, Syrian troops executed 35 civilians in their custody. Most of the executions, including those of two juveniles, took place during an attack on Taftanaz, a town of about 15,000 inhabitants northeast of Idlib, on 3-4 April. Soon after the incident, foreign journalists witnessed a mass burial outside the town. 

In several other cases, according to HRW, regime forces opened fire and killed or injured civilians trying to flee the attacks: "The circumstances of these cases indicate that government forces failed to distinguish between civilians and combatants and to take necessary precautionary measures to protect civilians."

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