Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square with a "crossed-out" poster of Presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi
See also Syria 1st-Hand: The Stories from Houla --- Playing Dead While Your Family is Killed br>
Bahrain Live Coverage: Activist Alkhawaja Ends His 110-Day Hunger Strike br>
Monday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: UN Condemns Houla "Massacre"...As Assad's Forces Shell Hama
2000 GMT: Syria. Back to our opening story, with a far-from-positive signal from the meeting between United Nations envoy Kofi Annan and President Assad.
Annan's spokesman confined himself to general rhetoric about the discussion, with the UN envoy conveying "the grave concern of the international community about the violence in Syria" and continuing:
The Syrian people do not want the future to be one of bloodshed and division. Yet the killings continue and the abuses are still with us today.
I appealed to him for bold steps now -- not tomorrow, now -- to create momentum for the implementation of the plan.
The real tip-off on the talks comes from Syrian State news agency SANA, in its headline "Success of Annan's Plan Depends on Stopping Terrorism and Weapon Smuggling" and text:
President al-Assad pointed out that the armed terrorist groups escalated their terrorist acts noticeably as of late in various areas across Syria, committing murder and abduction against Syrian citizens in addition to robberies and targeting public and private properties with arson and vandalism.
He stressed the need for the countries who are financing, arming and harboring the terrorist groups to commit to Annan's plan, and that these countries' political will to participate in stopping terrorism must be put to the test.
President al-Assad affirmed to Annan that the success of his plan depends on stopping weapon smuggling and curbing terrorism and those who support it.
Translation? Assad and the regime have told Annan that the insurgents, and any international supporters of them, have to make the initial concessions --- laying down arms and accepting Government authority throughout the country. That in turn means there will be no pull-back of regime forces or let-up of shelling when Assad's military feel they are being challenged.
I will be speaking with Monocle 24 about this at 2110 GMT.
1730 GMT: Syria. The Local Co-ordination Committees of Syria claim 55 people have died at the hands of security forces today, including two women, six children, and seven members of the Free Syrian Army.
The LCCS said 15 people had died in Deir Ez Zor Province, including 13 unidentified bodies that were discarded by security forces this morning, and 14 had perished in Homs Province.
Iranian State media is featuring he comment of a Syrian MP that Tunisian, Libyan, and Afghan mercenaries are responsible for the killing of more than 100 civilians in Houla.
Claiming his information came from eyewitnesses, Mohammad Zahir Qanoum said, "The armed anti-government people committed the crime, among whom hirelings from Tunisia, Libya and Afghanistan were also seen." He claimed regime forces fought the "terrorists" to save civilians.
1540 GMT: Syria. The opposition Syrian National Council has called for a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the “use of force” and has welcomed the expulsion of Syrian diplomats from several countries.
The SNC called for "a resolution under Chapter VII [of the UN Charter] allowing the use of necessary force in order to put a stop to the genocide and the murders committed by the regime's militias".
The SNC awelcomed the expulsion of “the regime's ambassador in Paris and its diplomats in Australia", adding that it “expects other countries to follow suit"
Britain, Spain, Germany, Canada, and Bulgaria also announced on Tuesday the expulsion of Syria's diplomatic representatives.
1525 GMT: Yemen. Military officials say 11 insurgents and five soldiers have been killed in the latest clashes in the south of the country, as the Yemeni army pressed an offensive to re-take towns which the opposition claimed more than a year ago.
Fighting around the town of Jaar left eight insurgents and two soldiers dead over the past 24 hours. Another three insurgents and three soldiers were killed after militants ambushed an army supply column northeast of Zinjibar.
The officials said the army continued its cautious advance toward the nearby town of Jaar supported by heavy airstrikes and artillery shelling. They say insurgents are entrenched in the town after most of the civilian population fled.
”Jaar is a ghost town without electricity, water and telephones, and not even one shop is open,” said a resident who left. He said people have to walk long distances to bring water from the wells.
The resident added that insurgents set up anti-aircraft guns and dug trenches in the streets and pulled their heavy weapons into the center of the town from the outskirts for fear of airstrikes.
1325 GMT: Syria. Hama, Syria's 5th largest city, was heavily shelled on Saturday, killing around two dozen civilians. Since that time, the city has been on strike. Activists report empty streets and closed shops:
11 martyrs were reported in Homs, 6 martyrs in Damascus Suburbs (Erbeen, Qatana, Kafar Batna and Ain Terma), 5 martyrs in Aleppo (Atareb), 3 martyrs in Hama, 3 martyrs in Daraa (Yadouda and Om Walad), 2 martyrs in Idlib, 1 martyr in Damascus, and 1 martyr in Deir Ezzor.
While the report doesn't break the numbers down further, the LCCS did report that 5 members of the Free Syrian Army are included in that report. In all likelihood, based on earlier reports, the 5 deaths reported so far in Atareb are those 5 FSA fighters, but we cannot confirm that at this moment.
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the conclusions were based on accounts gathered by UN monitors and corroborated by other sources. He said UN monitors found that fewer than 20 of the 108 people killed in the west-central area of Houla were killed by artillery fire.
“Most of the rest of the victims were summarily executed in two separate incidents,” Colville told reporters in Geneva. “At this point it looks like entire families were shot in their houses.”
He said witnesses blamed pro-government thugs known as shabiha for the attacks, noting that they sometimes operate “in concert” with government forces.
Our preliminary analysis of some of these statements, and our own sources who reported the event in live time, reveal that the information that the city was being shelled came rapidly, but the information of the executions took some time to see daylight. Why? Activists were taking shelter from the shelling and trying to report on the aftermath, but took to hiding after the shabiha stormed the city and began entering homes. Houla and its villages were heavily shelled immediately before the shabiha attack - so even if the Syrian military wasn't directly responsible for the executions, there is strong evidence that the two parts of the attack were coordinated between the plain-clothed shabiha and the local military commanders.
1252 GMT: Syria. A long list of countries have cut their diplomatic relations with Syria today, including; France, US, UK, Germany, Canada, Australia, and Italy. Many have given up hope that the UN mission will be successful. But you know who gave up that hope long ago? The residents of Syria, as one activist translates:
FSA and residents ask the UN observers to leave Azaz because of massacres & shellling that come after their visits youtube.com/watch?v=HFIAL6…— Free Syrian (@HamaEcho) May 29, 2012
Azaz is north of Aleppo, near the border with Turkey, and has often been targeted by the Syrian military. According to sources, many activists fear that the presence of the UN will bring reprisal attacks against civilians, a pattern that is now becoming the rule rather than the exception across parts of Syria.
"Canada is acting in a co-ordinated effort with our closest partners who are pursuing similar actions," Baird said in the statement.
Australia, Great Britain, France, Italy and Germany all announced expulsions of Syrian diplomats posted in their respective countries Tuesday.
"These Syrian representatives are not welcome in our countries while their masters in Damascus continue to perpetrate their heinous and murderous acts," the statement said.
1233 GMT: Syria. James Miller here, catching up after Scott Lucas has been in meetings all day...
There are three independent-yet-entangled headlines in Syria today. The first, the meeting between Kofi Annan and Syrian President Bashar al Assad. The second, the international fallout from the massacre of more than 100 civilians in Houla over the weekend. The third story is the continuing violence, with news today of heavy fighting west of Aleppo.
We will not know what is being discussed between Annan and Assad in Damascus. That meeting was scheduled before the newest massacres in Houla and Hama over the weekend. However, the international community is sending a clear message to both men today. In what appears to be a coordinated international effort, France, the UK, the US, Germany, Australia, and 2 other European countries have all withdrawn their ambassadors from Damascus, expelled the Syrian ambassadors, or otherwise closed diplomatic relations with Syria today. The message is clear - there is no negotiating with the Assad regime. Any international solution to this crisis, if there is to be a solution, will be organized and negotiated outside of direct diplomatic relations with Assad. This signals that, regardless of further action or statements from the UN, these countries have officially decided that Assad's regime cannot be trusted. Kofi Annan now knows that as he meets with the President of Syria, he does so knowing that the majority of the strongest countries in the UN do not believe his mission can succeed. According to these nations, the UN gave Assad a chance to reform, and Houla is the final piece of evidence that Assad has no interest in reforming or ending the violence.
There are still two questions about the international reaction to this crisis - what action will the nations that have withdrawn their ambassadors push for, and how will China and Russia respond?
If a group of nations have given Assad his final chance, then today's third story, the ongoing violence, may become fodder for sparking further action. And the Free Syrian Army may understand this, as a new offensive today will force Assad to respond militarily at the same time that his actions will be under the highest scrutiny.
In fighting in Al Atareb, west of Aleppo near the border with Turkey, 20 regime soldiers, and many insurgents, have been killed today:
They said six civilians and six rebels, including two rebel commanders, were also killed in the past 24 hours after the army launched an offensive with tanks and helicopters to retake the region around Atareb in Aleppo province, 18 km (11 miles) east of the Turkish border.
Most of the soldiers were killed when rebels attacked a column of armoured vehicles and pickup trucks carrying 'shabbiha', a pro-Assad militia, en route to Atareb from an army base to the east of the town, the opposition said.
"Four tanks and armoured vehicles were hit. At least ten troops were captured," said Ahmad Kinan, an opposition activist in contact with the rebels.
Syrian activists have posted many videos which they claim show today's fighting, and the damage to the city:
Why is this significant? Atareb is situated between Aleppo, a city which the regime cannot afford to lose, and Idlib, a region that he has arguably already lost, perhaps not in the strict military sense, but in public opinion and in strategic sense. Assad cannot afford to allow the FSA to hold Atareb, nor can he afford to take heavy loses there. By the same token, any large-scale military attack on a town may lead to many civilian deaths, deaths which will likely be used as ammunition by those who wish to see international action against the Assad regime.
Assad cannot afford to do nothing, but cannot afford to fight. At the same time, a growing chunk of the international community appears to believe that they cannot afford inaction, but with soaring deficits, domestic politics, uncertainty in Syria, and a Russian and Chinese veto threat, they have been unable to organize decisive action. However, regardless of one's opinions of who is to blame for the violence, or what to do about it, it is increasingly clear to many that Assad is incapable of restoring peace and order to a country that is decaying into all out civil war.
“All depends on the appeal process for the election candidates,” Abdel Jalil explained. “This appeal process will result in a postponement of the elections.”
Abdel Jalil did not say how long the ballot might be postponed.
0445 GMT: Syria. The political news in Damascus today will be the meeting of United Nations envoy Kofi Annan with President Assad.
Arriving on Monday, Annan called "every individual with a gun" to put down arms, but most of his criticism was of the regime after Friday's killings of more than 100 civilians in Houla: "I am personally shocked and horrified by the tragic incident...two days ago, which took so many innocent lives, children, women and men....I urge the [Syrian] government to take bold steps to signal that it is serious in its intention to resolve this crisis peacefully."
Clashes continued around the country, with 26 people reportedly slain by security forces, including eight members of the Free Syrian Army. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also claimed that 21 regime troops were killed in fighting.
Egypt. Hours after the Election Commission declared the official result of the first round of the Presidential ballot, dismissing all appeals over the vote, thousands of protesters challenged the result in Egyptian cities
An annex of the headquarters of Ahmed Shafiq, the former Vice President who is now in the Presidential run-off, was set ablaze, while a rally was held in Tahrir Square, the centre of the demostrations that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
"We were inside when they attacked us," a member of Shafiq's campaign staff said, "They set fire to the garage that had general Shafiq's campaign literature." There were no casualties, and eight people were arrested.
Several hundred protesters also marched in Alexandria, ripping down posters of Shafiq, and there were demonstrations in the Nile Delta provinces of Dakahliya and Mansoura.
In Tahrir Square, the crowd shouted, "Freedom! Freedom!', and chanted slogans against both run-off contenders, the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi and Shafiq, saying they will not allow Egypt to be ruled by one party again nor allow the former regime to regain power.
The Election Commission had declared that Morsi led the first-round ballot with 24.7%, with Shafiq at 23.6%. Nasserite socialist Hamdeen Sabbahi finished third with 20.7%, and former Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh was put at 17.4%.