See Also, Bahrain Live Coverage: Activist Zainab Alkhawaja Gets 1-Month Sentence br>
Wednesday's Egypt, Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: An Election in Cairo, Conflict Beyond Damascus br>
10 martyrs were reported in Idlib, 7 in Hama, 6 in Damascus Suburbs (Beit Jinn, Zabadani, Abadah and Douma), 12 in Homs (Rastan, Qosair and Deir Baalba), 1 in Daraa (Kalzour), 1 in Deir Ezzor, and 1 in Aleppo.
2025 GMT: Syria. Many suspect that the results of the parliamentary election were rigged. The process itself excluded many parties and candidates that would have been legitimate challenges to the status quo. Earlier today I wrote about the convenient symmetry of the results of the parliamentary election and today's leadership vote. Everything about the election smells fishy.
Today, parliament met for the first time and elected their leadership board. To no great surprise, a former the Baath party official won the position of speaker. The rest of the results (English) are published by Syrian state media's SANA here (Arabic).
So, the former Baath party makes up the majority of the parliament, and the leadership. If you're the Syrian opposition, this sounds rigged. But if you're the Twitter Account Hama Echo, then you KNOW it's rigged:
Very interesting, a page posts the parliament leadership results the day before today's voting. facebook.com/photo.php?fbid… What do you think?— Free Syrian (@HamaEcho) May 24, 2012
The link in that Tweet leads to an opposition Facebook page, posted yesterday (20 hours ago) that had the results of TODAY's parliamentary leadership vote. The results of today's vote were leaked before the vote even took place, and they match 100% the official results published today on SANA.
Speaking with Shakeeb al-Jabri, he says that he, too, had seen that list. According to Al-Jabri, it's possible that the results were guessed, as experts of Syrian politics could have determined the results based on the official parliament results. Either way, however, neither al-Jabri nor Hama Echo expressed much surprise that the vote could have been rigged and the results of today's votes leaked beforehand.
Even if the results could have been guessed, that still says a lot about the openness of the process. Even if today's results weren't rigged, the results were predetermined - and the Baath parties stranglehold on parliament solidified - long before today's swearing in of parliament.
1943 GMT: Syria. In my latest assessment of the West's response to the Syrian crisis, I argue that the US in particular is not doing enough to end the crisis. I also suggest that there are many options beyond military intervention, even options that do not resort to arming the insurgent fighters.
Well, according to unnamed officials speaking with the AP, the US government is seeking to facilitate the arming of the Free Syrian Army without actually arming the opposition themselves:
The effort, U.S. officials told The Associated Press, would vet members of the Free Syrian Army and other groups to determine whether they are suitable recipients of munitions to fight the Assad government and to ensure that weapons don’t wind up in the hands of al-Qaida-linked terrorists or other extremist groups such as Hezbollah that could target Israel.
The plan, which has not yet been finalized, reflects U.S. frustration that none of the previous efforts — including diplomatic rhetoric from the United Nations and the multinational Friends of Syria group, and special envoy Kofi Annan’s plan for a cease-fire — has even begun to nudge President Bashar al-Assad from power. The vetting would be the first tiny step the U.S. has made toward ensuring that the Syrian opposition uses the weapons to fight Assad and not to turn it into a full sectarian conflict.
“We were not up to the sacrifices of the Syrian people. We did not answer the needs of the revolution enough and quickly enough,” Ghalioun told AFP, adding that the bloc was split between Islamists and secular activists.
The Paris-based academic said he resigned because “he did not want to be the candidate of division” within the SNC and “to say that this path of divisions between Islamist and secular does not work.”
Ghalioun said the SNC’s slowness was down to the consensual way it was run.
“The current formula is a coalition formula of a few parties and political groups that monopolize decisions and don’t give any chance to members to really take part in decisions, that’s what caused a lot of inertia,” he said.
“We were slow, the revolution goes at 100 kilometers per hour and we move at 100 meters per hour perhaps because we were blocked by this consensus rule,” he said.
So far, however, the SNC doesn't seem any better organized since Ghalioun's departure.
1642 GMT: Yemen. 35 Al Qaeda militants have been killed after they attacked the city of Jaar, in western Wadi Bani province. According to officials, the army is making progress in its campaign against Al Qaeda linked militants in Jaar, though the jihadis are putting up "resistance." Fighting also continued in Zinjibar, where the military is engaged in heavy battles with militants.
10 martyrs were repoted in Idlib, 7 in Hama, 6 in the Damascus Suburbs (Beit Jin, Zabadani, Obada, Douma), 9 in Homs (Rastan, Qoseir, Deir Baalba), and 1 in Daraa.
According to the LCC, the Syrian regime launched machine gun attacks at several army checkpoints in Al Rastan, and the firing started right after the UN observers left.
Looking at the numbers, what's striking is how widespead the violence in Rif Dimashq is reported to be. Beit Jin is west of the capital, near the border with Lebanon (suspicious, as Lebanon is an important smuggling conduit for Syrian insurgents). Zabadani is northwest of Damascus. Douma is one of the capital's most important suburbs, just east of Damascus, and UN observers where there today. Obadah is south of the city.
Also, the regime is continuing to target towns in Hama and Idlib provinces, continuing efforts to disrupt the opposition there. However, curiously enough the number of killed so far in Daraa province is low, suggesting a possible halt to this week's heavy campaigning there.
The violence has been less patterned over the last few days - perhaps the presence of UN observers, who are moving all over the country, is disrupting the cycles of protesting and crackdown that we've become so accustomed to.
1507 GMT: Syria. Jonas Renz, who follows this conflict closely on Twitter, picks up s series of videos posted by another Twitter account showing claims of recent activity of the Free Syrian Army. The first video appears to show a truck, mounted with a heavy machine gun, near the hulk of a burning tank in Al Atareb, Aleppo, on Tuesday. What's interesting is that activists in Atareb, not directly affiliated with the FSA, had posted video of the destroyed tank on Tuesday, but did not show the FSA unit responsible for the attack.
This video, which we cannot verify as we have not previously seen many videos from this Youtube account, reportedly shows a gun battle in Ma'arrat al Nouman, in Idlib province, yesterday. We can verify that there has been fighting in and around that area for several days. The feature of the video, however, is the large anti-aircraft gun, mounted to the back of a truck, in the hands of the FSA.
Another video, which we cannot verify, reportedly shows an IED attack against an Assad patrol (very likely killing at least one of the soldiers) somewhere in the Jabal al Zawiyah region of Idlib on May 18th (may be disturbing, explosion happens after 1:40):
This video, which comes via a different source, reportedly shows the formation of a new FSA battalion in rural Damascus. Note that not only do soldiers have RPGs and AK-47s, standard fare for fighters on both sides, but that the men in the front appear to have more sophisticated rifles than most FSA fighters:
It's anecdotal, but these are all signs that, whether through capturing weapons from the regular army or though smuggling, the insurgent fighters in Syria are becoming better equipped than we've seen to date.
1410 GMT: Syria. Today was the first meeting of the newly-elected Syrian parliament, marking the first time that non-Baath party members have been able to run for parliament. A new day for Syria.
Or not. Despite the claims that this election marks a major reform, Mohamed Jihad Al Lahham, head of the Damascus branch of lawyers’s syndicate, a "former" Baath party member, has been elected as the new speaker of parliament. Lakham won the vote by receiving 225 out of 250 votes.
The symmetry of the vote is interesting - apparently, exactly 90% of the parliament supports the Baath party's ideology. Other interesting symmetrical numbers emerged from the election results. The Popular Front for Change and Liberation, an opposition group, only won 5 seats. There are also precisely 30 women in parliament now.
1346 GMT: Syria. A UN panel said today that both the opposition and the government are committing crimes against prisoners, and the civilian population. The statements stressed, however, that the government was still to blame for the vast majority of these crimes.
"Fighters in anti-government armed groups were killed after being captured or wounded," the report said. "In some particularly grave instances, entire families were executed in their homes — usually the family members of those opposing the government."
Children, including boys as young as 10, have said they are "tortured to admit that older male members of their family are Free Syrian Army soldiers or supporters," the report said. The Free Syrian Army is the rebel force trying to topple the government.
The report went on to acknowledge that there have been crimes committed by anti-government groups as well. According to the panel, soldiers and suspected informants have been executed or tortured, there have been abductions for the purposes of prisoner exchanges and ransoms, and roadside bombs are an increasingly popular weapon.
One thing that the report glosses over - while the panel was cautious to avoid equating the volume of crimes committed by government forces to those committed by anti-government groups, most discussions about such things ignore that the anti-government groups are not centrally governed, while the Syrian government is supposed to be. In other words, the bad actions of parts of the opposition are lumped together. The report is also unclear as to whether the massive car bombings and suicide attacks are included as crimes committed by anti-government groups. We do know that the FSA is using IEDs against Assad troops, but it is unclear if there have been civilian casualties as a result of these attacks.
Also, Human Rights Watch previously listed a similar report, but most of the crimes documented in the report were committed by a single FSA battalion in Homs, and a small group in Idlib province. It's hard to know whether this panel's findings are more or less comprehensive than that one.
Still, the panel's findings that these crimes are increasing, on both sides of the conflict, is ominous, and if the qualifications I listed above are considered, then the findings are also consistent with evidence we've encountered. No doubt about it - things in Syria are getting progressively worse.
James Miller takes over today's coverage from Scott Lucas.
0843 GMT: Bahrain. Protesters offer their version of street signs, repeatedly painting on the road, "Down With [King] Hamad".
0830 GMT: Syria. Google has announced that its mapping software, such as Google Earth, and other products like its Chrome web browser will be available in Syria after the US Government gave export approval.
Last year Google arranged with Washington to waive sanctions and make the same services available to people in Iran, while blocking access by Government computers.
0810 GMT: Yemen. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has claimed that American cyber-warriors hacking the websites of Yemeni insurgents, changing ads that bragged about killing Americans into ads that showed the death toll of attacks on the local population.
Huddled under Beirut's concrete bridges and around street corners are thousands of Syrian men who have left home and crossed the border in recent months in the hope of finding work as day laborers.
From 13-year-old schoolboys to limping elderly men, most of them represent impoverished families from Syria's rural regions who are suffering the brunt of a deepening economic crisis as a 14-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad drags on.
"We could barely buy a pack of bread. We're suffering from hunger, so I had to come here and do whatever I can," said Mohammed Mahou, 23, a father of three from an eastern farming town called al-Qamishli.
Syrians who once headed for day work in Aleppo and Damascus have found construction projects halted. Farmers like Mahou say they are unable to work their fields because prices of fertilizer have risen sharply and some areas are unsafe to farm.
Meanwhile, prices for basic food staples in Syria have nearly tripled, they say.
On Wednesday, Syria Minister of Oil Sufian Allaw blamed sanctions for shortages of cooking gas and other basic goods and for the loss of $4 billion from the economy.
The LCCS has also distanced the opposition from this week's kidnapping of 13 Lebanese Shia in Aleppo Province, blaming President Assad's forces:
The gang of a regime that currently rules Syria has recently reached the stage of spreading chaos through explosions that move from town to town in the country to terrorize Syrian citizens and prevent them from participating in the Revolution of Freedom and Dignity. The regime also employs this tactic to consolidate its mandate in the country, to protect itself for as long as possible. The regime and its supporters are working day and night to find justifications for the “disorder” its main representatives have long described, both in and out of the country.
Egypt is set to resume its first free presidential election after voting passed off calmly on the first day apart from a stone-throwing attack on candidate Ahmed Shafiq, who was premier for a few days before Hosni Mubarak fell.
The race broadly pits religious conservative candidates against secular ones like Shafiq and Amr Moussa, the former Arab League chief who previously served as Mubarak's foreign minister.
Long queues formed at polling stations early on Wednesday, and some were packed late into the evening. But turnout, so far, seemed lower than an earlier parliamentary vote when conservatives swept up most seats. The scorching sun deterred some.