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Tuesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Knowns Beyond the Unknowns of the Elections
2001 GMT: Syria. The most important factor to consider in Syria is the large and energized opposition, most of which has remained peaceful, but firmly in favor of the fall of the regime:
1950 GMT: Egypt. An administrative court in Cairo has banned the Presidential elections scheduled for May 23-24, "citing doubts over the constitutionality of a law banning former regime figures from participating in political life, said the website of the state-run daily Al-Ahram."
The initial headline is a shock, but at least one Middle East expert suggests that the news is not as important as it seems, as it is a non-binding decision by a lower court:
@DavidKenner Court annulled election Committee decision 2 refer law banning Former regime ( shafiq) 2 supreme court. But it is junior court>— Nervana Mahmoud (@Nervana_1) May 9, 2012
@DavidKenner and The supreme court will deliver its verdict tommorow— Nervana Mahmoud (@Nervana_1) May 9, 2012
@Dilmuniteit is not binding according to article 28— Nervana Mahmoud (@Nervana_1) May 9, 2012
1928 GMT: Syria. There have been many protests in the Midan district in Damascus. This video, posted by a group of activists who focus on covering Damascus, reportedly shows a crowd gathering in a central square:
Another video, shared by the LCCS, appears to show what we believe is the same crowd, setting up a burning roadblock to prevent police vehicles from responding to the area:
1835 GMT: Israel/Palestine. The main website of the UN - UN.org - was taken offline earlier today by hacking group Anonymous, who accused the UN of "ignoring" the political prisoners in Palestine currently on hunger strikereports Al-Akhbar. Anonymous announced the attack via Twitter:
The attack coincided with protests on the ground in Ramallah, targeted at the UN, also reported by Al-Akhbar:
Several dozen Palestinians on Wednesday blocked staff from entering UN offices in Ramallah to demand that UN chief Ban Ki-Moon take action over hunger striking prisoners.
The demonstrators, who blocked UN employees from entering the building, waved banners reading: "UNjust" and "UNfair."
At the Ramallah protest, the following footage was captured, where Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, accompanied by a Representative from the EU, listen to the demands of protesters, including the mother of one of the hunger striking prisoners (video via @AliAbunimah):
1517 GMT: Syria. There have been several reports of renewed offensives launched by the Free Syrian Army today. It's hard to view those attacks in a vacuum, especially after earlier statements by the commander of the Free Syrian Army suggesting that the FSA would not do nothing as Assad forces were already breaking the ceasefire (see update 0835 GMT).
Earlier, the BBC's Lyse Doucet reported that the opposition had launched an attack in the towns north of Homs yesterday. Interestingly enough, yesterday the Local Coordinating Committees (not associated directly with the FSA) had reported widespread shelling against civilian targets in Al Rastan and Talbiseh, north of Homs (Map). We asked Doucet for clarification:
@JMiller_EA hi..told it was "intense well coordinated" attack by opposition— lyse doucet (@bbclysedoucet) May 9, 2012
What's this mean? The FSA appears to have rallied, attacking in several areas, not just near Homs, is a nationally and locally coordinated attempt. This is smart - you don't announce that you're attacking a day before you attack, you announce it the day after. It also shows a level of coordination rarely displayed by the armed opposition forces.
There is another significant piece, however. It means that, as we have long suspected, widespread artillery bombardment campaigns may be being used by the Syrian military to punish population centers that allow the Free Syrian Army to operate in the area. In other words, when the Free Syrian Army attacks, it appears that the nearby civilians pay the price of government retaliation.
1507 GMT: Syria. Sources in the Damascus area report that the Syrian military is heavily shelling the Damascus suburb of Irbeen (Arbeen). This dramatic video claims to show some of those shells landing on homes in the area.
Irbeen is just outside of the capital, a highly central and highly important suburb of Damascus. Today's escalation is a potentially significant development.
1428 GMT: Syria. For the second day in a row there has been a large (and vocal) sit-in protest in the Palace of Justice in Aleppo. Lawyers and other professionals have protested last week's raids of Aleppo University (which resulted in 6 dead students and the closing of the campus until after the UN observers leave), the wide-scale arrest campaigns that have been perpetrated in Aleppo (and in many other cities), and other harsh measures taken against protests in Syria's largest city.
The sit-ins have been occurring periodically for several months, but are becoming increasingly large, and increasingly frequent. They are yet another sign that support from the regime, even among professionals, is slipping.
Thus far it appears that the regime has been unwilling to directly shut down the protests at the Justice Palace. The question is, as always, if the protests grow, how long will Assad's security apparatus permit this level of open dissent?
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us through to the afternoon.
1329 GMT: Syria. James Bays of Al Jazeera English reports from a Free Syrian Army position in Homs Province, following the United Nations monitors to the front line with President Assad's forces:
1325 GMT: Egypt. General Ali Abdel Mawla, the head of the general authority for legal affairs in the Ministry of Interior, has denounced a suggestion for a new authority monitoring police work, combatting the torture and abuse of citizens, and ensuring the application of international human rights standards.
Abdel Mawla said the task was already done by the National Council for Human Rights: "The NCHR is capable of monitoring the work of the police and submitted strong reports before the revolution, but they were not considered."
1310 GMT: Tunisia. The Tunisian Foreign Ministry has accused the US Ambassador, Gordon Gray, of interfering in internal affairs, after he criticised the fine imposed on the head of a television channel for airing the film Persepolis.
After Nessma TV boss Nabil Karoui was fined 2,400 dinars for "disturbing public order" and offending "good morals", the US Embassy put out a statement in Gray's name: "His conviction raises serious concerns about tolerance and freedom of expression in the new Tunisia."
The Foreign Ministry responded that this was an "interference in the internal affairs of the Tunisian judiciary", declaring that the Government meets international norms and respects the independence of judges in their rulings.
1210 GMT: Syria. The opposition Syrian National Council has asserted that the regime is behind an explosion today that hit a military convoy, wounding at least seven regime soldiers, just after a vehicle with United Nations monitors passed by.
"We believe the regime is using these tactics to try to push the observers out amid popular demands to increase their numbers," SNC executive committee member Samir Nashar said.
The explosive device, which appeared to have been planted underground, detonated as a convoy of four vehicles was about to enter the town of Daraa in southern Syria.
Major General Robert Mood of Norway, the head of the UN mission, was in the convoy and was unharmed along with 11 other observers and his spokesperson.
1000 GMT: Syria. An explosion in Daraa Province has targeted a Syrian military truck, injuring at least six soldiers, just seconds after a team of United Nations observers, including the head of mission Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, passed by.
Pro-regime Addounia TV claims eight troops were wounded.
Residents and a doctor say Syrian forces fired across the Lebanese border on Wednesday morning, killing an elderly woman and wounding her daughter.
Meanwhile, the BBC's Lyse Doucet reports from Homs:
Doucet also says, from sources, that there was an "intense, well coordinated" opposition attack yesterday north of Homs, lasting a few hours.
The UNHCR said that there were an additional 2,600 files in process. It noted about 7630 Syrians registered in April 2012, far more than the 4650 registrations between March 2011 and February 2012.
The UNHCR attributed the rise in registrations to an outreach campaign for displaced Syrians in Jordan, many of whom have avoided registration due to fear for their safety.
UN officials acknowledged that there are many more unregistered refugees, with officials saying the total could be around 30,000.
0835 GMT: Syria. Colonel Riad al-Asaad, a commander of the Free Syria Army, has threatened to resume attacks on regime forces, saying he could no longer stand idle while a crackdown on protests continued.
Speaking to the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, al-Asaad said:
We will not stand with folded arms because we are not able to tolerate and wait while killings, arrests and shelling continue despite the presence of the (United Nations) observers who have turned into false witnesses. Our people are also demanding we defend them in the absence of any serious steps by the Security Council which is giving the regime a chance to commit more crimes.
0830 GMT: Algeria. Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, on the eve of legislative elections, has who attacked the Arab Spring as "a plague", resulting in "the colonisation of Iraq, the destruction of Libya, the partition of Sudan and the weakening of Egypt":
The revolutions that engulfed brotherly and friendly countries such as Iraq, Sudan, Tunisia, Mali, Libya and Egypt are not accidental but are the work of Zionism and NATO. The NATO countries grant visas to young people according to their objectives, to train in new technologies to create unrest....
The Arab Spring for me is a disaster, we don't need lessons from outside, our spring is Algerian, our revolution of November 1, 1954.
Meanwhile, Borzou Daragahi of the Financial Times profiles, "Anger Flares in Land That Escaped Arab Chaos".
0825 GMT: Palestine. The British anti-poverty charity War on Want has condemned an Israeli military raid on the offices of the human rights defenders Stop the Wall in Ramallah in the West Bank of Palestine.
Stop the Wall campaigns against a "separation wall" built by Israel through the West Bank.
At 1.30 a.m. Tuesday, Israeli troops in 10 armoured jeeps surrounded the offices, then entered and removed two laptop computers, three hard drives, cards with files and photographs, and archive material.
One security guard was killed and three injured in the battle when about 200 armed men, some carrying mortars, tried to storm the building. The attackers, one of whom was wounded, were eventually repelled by security forces. Fourteen men were arrested.
In a televised speech, al-Keib said the men had pretended to be former insurgents claiming cash handouts offered as rewards for helping to topple the Qaddafi regime.
Al-Keib defiantly asserted, "As the government asserts that it will deliver on its promises, it also announces that it will not give in to blackmail or to outlaws and will not negotiate under the threat of force."
Government spokesman Nasser al-Manaa said that a group of demonstrators had gathered outside the offices on Tuesday morning. By noon, the crowd had grown to 200 people, including gunmen from the western town of Yafran, backed by about 50 trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns and rocket launchers. The demonstrators aired their grievances but then some of the gunmen forced their way into the building and opened fire, Mr Manaa said.
Most people inside the building fled, including the Minister of Finance and the Deputy Prime Minister.
0500 GMT: Syria. Addressing the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday, the UN's envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, said his six-point peace plan for Syria is a "possible last chance to avoid civil war".
Effectively admitting the view of many, from the Syrian opposition to US Government officials, that the cease-fire he declared last month is illusory, Annan said the Security Council's member shared a "profound concern" that the violence was escalating rather than decreasing.
The former UN Secretary-General said, ""Government troops and armour are still present though in smaller formations. There have been worrying episodes of violence by the government, but we have also seen attacks against government forces, troops and installations."
Damascus, for its part, put all the blame on insurgents. Bashar al-Jafaari, Syria's ambassador to the UN, said "there is a positive trend on the ground", but the regime was "still facing some Arab, regional and international powers who are deploying huge efforts in order to topple and undermine the mission of the observers....The big problem we are facing right now is the smuggling of weapons, sponsored by some Arab, regional and international powers into Syria."
The next step for the UN is the deployment of 300 monitors to Syria by the end of the month, but Annan put out the broader message that his pursuit of peace was not an "open-ended" opportunity for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The envoy told the Security Council that he plans to carry out a second trip to Syria. His spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi offered a vague timetable, "I would say weeks but all depends on what we hear from Damascus."