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Thursday's Syria, Egypt (and Beyond) Live Coverage: A Relative "Calm"?
2018 GMT: Syria. Activists are still counting the bodies of those killed today, still collecting the names. Beyond this, scores more were injured in many areas today, but most notable are the deaths and injuries in the capital, Damascus. According to reports that continue to come in, from Damascus to Homs to Idlib to Daraa, the gunfire has not stopped despite the late hour.
Death, however, is not the main headline. The most important thing that occurred today were extremely large and extremely widespread protests. Though widespread protest is now common on Fridays, today's protests were much larger than in recent weeks, a show that the resolve of the peaceful demonstrators has not been eroded by 14 months of relentless violence.
And the protests have lasted well into the night, even after the regime intensified its attacks on protesting civilians.
An evening protest in Daraa province:
2010 GMT: Syria. Syrian activist Zilal informs me that one of the names of the dead in Kafer Souseh listed in our previous update was spelled wrong. However, the CFDPC has published a correction, as well as the name of 4 who were killed in the Tadamoun district:
1 - Mohammad Ziad Hajal, Kafarsooseh area
2 - Malek Shorbah, Kafarsooseh area
3 - Ahmad Kosaji, Kafarsooseh area
4 - Mohammad Diab Taweele, Kafarsooseh area
5 - Tarek Turkiyeh, Kafarsooseh area
6 - Mohammad Ismail Darweesh, 17 year old, Tadamon area
7 - Osama Taha, 25 year old, Tadamon area
8 - Ayman al-Kurdi, 25 year old, Tadamon area
9 - Mohammad Awdi, Tadamon area
There are other dead whose names are still unknown.
2000 GMT: Egypt. This video shows the start of clashes outside the Ministry of Defense in Abbasiya:
The April 6th Movement has asked its supporters to withdraw from the area in order to stem further violence, but there are many reports that those efforts have been in vane. Though things may be calming, clashes continue.
1938 GMT: Syria. According to a leading activist network, the death toll in Kafer Souseh, Damascus, has risen to 5, "after the martyr Tareq Tarkeya joined them. The humanitarian situation is very poor. There are a number of wounded, including some severe cases."
The CFDPC has posted the names of the 5 who died today:
1 - Mohammad Ziad Hajal
2 - Malek Shoriyeh
3 - Ahmad Kosaji
4 - Mohammad Diab Taweele
5 - Tarek Turkiyeh
The activist network has also posted a video claiming to show wounded protesters in the area. According to the report, among the injured shown in the video is Malek Shoriyeh, who is reportedly among the dead.
According to an activist we spoke with, Zilal, who is associated with the CFDPC, a network of activists working on covering news from Damascus, at least 3 people have died in the Tadamound district of Damascus as well. CFDPC shares this video:
People helping Mohammad Owdi who was injured by regime forces who opened fire on demonstrators in the Tadamon area of Damascus. He died.
This level of violence in the heart of the Syrian capital is rare, far more rare than it is in other places, and perhaps indicates activists are becoming more willing to challenge the regime in Damascus, and the security forces are more willing to crackdown against the dissidents.
1921 GMT: Syria. Reuters, citing anonymous "Western" diplomats, suggests today that the US and its European allies are skeptical of the UN brokered peace deal, but have no "plan B."
"There is effectively no ceasefire for U.N. monitors to observe," a Western diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "The time is coming where we're going to have to call it what it is."
These sentiments appear to be echoed by the White House, though the Obama administration appears to be dragging its feet on publicly calling the UN mission a failure:
"If the regime's intransigence continues, the international community is going to have to admit defeat and work to address the serious threat to peace and stability being perpetrated by the Assad regime," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
The UN has been cautiously optimistic, despite all the evidence that their mission has not made things better. However, even the UN's optimism is likely reaching its limits:
Annan and U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous will brief the 15-nation Security Council on developments in Syria on Tuesday. Western diplomats in New York say Annan will likely report limited progress in achieving the full ceasefire.
Annan's "natural and understandable tendency ... will be to try and keep the show on the road rather than do what would really amount to be drawing a line and a declaration of failure," a senior Western diplomat said this week.
"We will have to be hardheaded," he said. "If the government continues not to comply we will want to come back to the council for a different kind of action."
Another senior envoy said: "If there's no progress, I think voices will increase that we ought to call a spade a spade."
1752 GMT: Egypt. Photographer Jonathan Rashad sends the messages:
And he updates on the status of photojournalist Virginie Nguyen:
Virginie is in Tahareyat Askareya (military detention). Friends are arranging to get her out. Via @AhmedHayman— Jonathan Rashad (@JonathanRashad) May 4, 2012
1703 GMT: Egypt. Photographer Jonathan Rashad reports:
Al-Masry Al-Youm's photojournalist Virginie Nguyen got arrested by military police. Now in Helmeyet Zatoun hospital. She's injured. #MOD— Jonathan Rashad (@JonathanRashad) May 4, 2012
1553 GMT: Syria. UN observers have reportedly arrived at the city of Al Rastan, Homs. Rastan is one of the hardest hit areas of the conflict. According to sources who have seen Al Rastan, the situation there has often been compared to Baba Amr.
Observer mission comes to Rastan: youtube.com/watch?v=sqMljD…— michaeldweiss (@michaeldweiss) May 4, 2012
1546 GMT: Kuwait. Amnesty International has strongly condemned the indefinite detention of 13 protesters who were arrested during demonstrations against the plight of the Bidun, the "stateless" people in Kuwait:
Thirteen activists and a journalist detained by Kuwait’s security forces during an apparently peaceful protest by members of the stateless Bidun minority must be released unless charged with a recognizably criminal offence, Amnesty International has urged.
Bidun rights activist Abdulhakim al-Fadhli, who is currently on trial in connection with his involvement in previous Bidun demonstrations, was among those detained by non-uniformed security officials.
On Thursday, some of those arrested were taken to the public prosecutor’s offices, possibly in order to confirm the basis of their arrest.
Security forces including masked police reportedly used batons and armoured vehicles to disperse about 200 Bidun protesters calling for citizenship and improved rights in al-Jahra, outside Kuwait City, on Tuesday.
“These protests highlight the urgent need for the Kuwaiti authorities to heal the open wound of discrimination against the Bidun community," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
10 martyrs in Damascus "Tadamun, Kafar Souseh", 7 martyrs in Idlib, 6 martyrs in Hama, 5 martyrs in Homs, 4 martyrs in Aleppo, 2 martyrs in Deir Ezzor, 2 martyrs in Daraa and 1 martyr in Maliha, Damascus Suburbs.
It is 6:39 PM there.
1515 GMT: Syria. More impressive videos of large protests across Syria. This video was reportedly taken in the small village of Mia'rbah, Daraa province. The village is small - the crowd, and the level of defiance, is not.
In Binnish, a key town in Idlib province, the people have a message (in English) for the world:
Bosra, Daraa Province:
Talbisah, an embattled town north of Homs:
Al Bukamal, Deir Ez Zor, where extremely large protests were reported today:
Again, this is only a very small sample of the protest videos we've seen today.
1459 GMT: Syria. From what we've seen, the protests in Damascus are larger than they have been in many months. They are also widespread, with every corner of the capital reporting large crowds, and many neighborhoods in between. With protests being so large, it's not surprising that a government afraid of democracy has cracked down in its capital city this hard today.
1440 GMT: Syria. For the moment, we focus on new reports of violence in Damascus.
This video was reportedly taken in the volatile Tadamoun district. According to sources, when police tried to disrupt a protest some members of the crowds began throwing rocks. In the video, one can clearly see security forces firing live bullets at the crowd. A man on the left of the screen falls to the ground, apparently shot.
Damascus: Kafar Soseh: Reports of the fall of many wounded in the neighborhood after security forces opened fire to disperse the participants in the funeral procession of martyr Uday Junblatt. Residents are facing difficulties to aid the wounded as the gunfire is ongoing and due to the lack of medical materials and staff.
There are even more reports of gunfire across Damascus and its suburbs at this moment.
1419 GMT: Egypt and Syria. This says a lot about how the media works in the Middle East:
1359 GMT: Egypt. Things in Cairo have become violent once again, with protesters and police clashing in the streets:
#Egyptian security troops use water cannons to prevent protesters from storming the barriers surrounding the Defense Ministry in Abbasiya— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) May 4, 2012
The Guardian posts this live-stream from Abbasiya, showing protesters erecting makeshift walls and throwing objects at police:
7 martyrs were reported in Idlib; 7 martyrs in Damascus (Tadamun Neighborhood), 6 martyrs in Hama, 5 martyrs in Homs, 4 martyrs in Aleppo, 2 martyrs in Deir Ezzor, 1 martyr in Damascus Suburbs (Maleha), and 1 martyr in Daraa.
Reports of violence continue to come in. Among the reports that have our most attention are new claims of violence in Kafer Souseh in the center of Damascus, and a report that police fired at a protest in Aleppo.
1341 GMT: Syria. Today's headline - Very Large Protests Nationwide. We couldn't possibly give you even the links to all the videos we've seen so far today, but here is a small selection:
Daraya, a suburb of Damascus:
Kafer Aaouaid, Idlib:
An amazing protest in Kafer Takharim, Idlib province, a city that was completely controlled by the Free Syrian Army for a month and a half earlier this year:
And an incredibly defiant protest in the Kahlidiya district of Homs, an area heavily shelled by security forces nearly every day for months on end:
It's hard to quantify these protests, and there is an obvious sample bias, but so far we have seen some of the most impressive demonstrations in many weeks, maybe more.
1258 GMT: Syria. There have been large protests in Aleppo today, a day after between 4 and 6 students were killed in police raids of Aleppo University. This protest took place in the Salah el Deen area, a central district south of the university:h
This was reportedly taken in the Al Sukari area:
8 martyrs reported in Idlib, 4 martyrs in Aleppo, 4 martyrs in Tadamoun neighborhood in Damascus, 4 martyrs in Homs, 2 martyrs in Deir Ezzor, 2 martyrs in Hama, and 1 martyr in Daraa.
Once again, we see widespread violence, not isolated incidents. We also see violence near the capital and in Aleppo, both places where large protests are once again reported.
Almost every Friday for the last 14 months have been crazy in Syria. It's early, but it certainly does not look like today will disappoint, for better and for worse.
1237 GMT: Syria.James Miller takes over today's live coverage from Scott Lucas, and he'll start by publishing a video that may be the perfect microcosm of the Syrian Uprising.
This protest was reportedly held earlier in a small town in the Hawleh region, just west of Homs. The video starts with a relatively large protest, as a jubilant crowd chants and dances in the streets. In and of itself, the protest would have been worthy of posting the video.
Then something dramatic - about 3:40 into the video, shells land nearby. The crowd continues to chant and dance. Then more shells, this time closer to the crowd. Still the crowd does not disperse. For 2+ minutes, the shells land closer and closer to the crowd, at a faster and faster pace, and still the crowd continues to protest, to dance and sing in defiance of the Assad regime.
This is Friday in Bashar Al Assad's Syria, still uprising after 14 months and possibly 12,000 lives have passed.
1000 GMT: Syria. Ahmad Fawzi, the spokesman for United Nations envoy Kofi Annan, has declared that the proposals for peace are still on course to be fulfilled, "The Annan plan is on track and a crisis that has been going on for over a year is not going to be resolved in a day or a week. I agree with you that there are no big signs of compliance on the ground. There are small signs of compliance."
Annan will brief the United Nations Security Council on the Syria situation next Tuesday by video link from Geneva.
The Local Co-ordination Committees in Syria claim 16 people have died today: five in Idlib Province, three each in Aleppo and Homs Provinces, two each in Deir Ez Zor and Hama Provinces, and one in Daraa Province.
0630 GMT: Syria. According to the Local Co-ordination Committees of Syria, 32 people died across the country on Thursday at the hands of security forces.
On this day. however, it would be a specific set of casualties that would hold political significance. At least four students --- the LCCS claims six --- were killed when their dormitories were stormed after campus protests. The decision to attack the students brought a defiant response, with their colleagues continuing to express anger and resistance even as authorities announced classes were suspended until 13 May.
Beyond the immediacy of young people challenging the Assad regime, the decision to attack them had a whiff of desperation. Amidst the uprising from March 2011, Aleppo has had the reputation of being a city unlikely to rise up, given its business and financial interests linking it to the regime's survival. Now security forces were having to take over its university, ending the lives of some of those who might have been expected to be among Syria's elite.
Whether President Assad's men can close off that incident or whether it is yet another spark for the fire of demands for significant reform or even the removal of the regime remains to be seen. However, given that the dead students do not fit the official model of the "armed terrorist groups" who must be defeated, this event has undercut Damascus's claim of legitimacy.