Today's funeral march for some of the 13 men executed near Homs in Syria on Thursday
2137 GMT: Syria. Today, protests may have been the largest and most widespread that Syria has seen since the beginning of the uprising last March:
Victory! 900 protests counted in #Syria this Friday in 637 unique protest points. 83 protests in Damascus city.— Free Syrian (@HamaEcho) June 1, 2012
A group of activists have collected over 900 videos of today's protests in a database. Obviously, we have not had time to review all 901 videos that have been put into the spreadsheet, but a spot check of a few indicates that the spreadsheet is credible.
Beyond the sheer number of protests (a record, we believe), spread over a large number of protest locations, today's protests were held during a period of escalation in violence, a factor that should have suppressed the size and scope of demonstrations. It did not. Furthermore, there have been extremely large and impressive demonstrations in Aleppo, in particular, and in Damascus.
The trend is now established and clear. The protest movement has been consistently growing in strength, and if it continues at this pace it poses a serious risk to the Assad regime. Beyond the protests, the amount of labor strikes, closed shops, sit ins, traffic disruptions, and general chaos across Syria threatens to erode the economy at an increasingly rapid pace.
The people of Syria have spoken yet again, in the clearest terms possible. Popular support for Assad is rapidly shrinking, and an ever-growing throng of voices are calling for the fall of the regime.
Will this fact collapse the regime on it's own? No. However, it severely weakens the regime, costing it both legitimacy and money, two resources that the Assad regime is running out of. Without money, Assad may not be able to carry on his crackdown much longer. Without legitimacy, Assad will continue to suffer defections of both troops and government officials. Without strength, the Assad regime will be less able to resist the military forces that threaten it, both the FSA (which, granted, is far too weak to legitimately oppose Assad right now) and any outside intervention that may be down the pike.
2051 GMT: Syria. On the other side of Aleppo than our previous videos, there were also large protests disrupted by gunfire. This video, shared with us by activist Zilal who is familiar with Aleppo, shows Assad troops getting out of buses and firing their weapons to break up a crowd in the Shaar district. Though the video moves quickly, several plain-clothed men also appear to be firing guns along with the soldiers:
2029 GMT: Syria. Our sources suggest that today may have been the largest and most widespread protests yet since the start of the uprising over 15 months ago. In many places, protests have continued well into the night.
One protest, in particular, has caught our eye. According to multiple sources, there is an extremely large protest in the Kafer Souseh district of Damascus, right on the doorstep of the Assad government:
2015 GMT: Syria. This is another video from Sadallah Square in Aleppo, where security opened fire on the protests today. As you can see, there were already wounded, but protesters held their ground. However, by the end of the video the cameraman, and everyone else, is running. Bullets can be heard coming very close to the camera, and at one point the distinct "ping" of a bullet hitting a lamp post can be heard.
Also interesting - note the plain-clothed men near the police, at least one of which (dressed in red) appears to have a weapon:
1945 GMT: Syria. In the last hour there has been a flood of reports of new violence. Near Damascus, there is gunfire and/or shelling reported in some of the southern neighborhoods, as well as most of the eastern suburbs. There are also reports of firefights and shelling in Homs province. In Al Atareb, Aleppo, an area controlled by the Free Syrian Army, has been heavily shelled tonight.
We'll try to stay on the reports as things develop.
1921 GMT: Syria. Generally speaking, the Syrian regime is not tolerant of protests. Today, however, we've see a lot of videos of security forces opening fire on crowds.
This video, reportedly taken in Aqraba, southeast of Aleppo:
1848 GMT: Yemen/Syria. Syria wasn't the only place with large anti-Assad protests today. Thousands gathered in Yemen's capital, Sana'a, to chant support for the Syrian opposition:
1830 GMT: Syria. The death toll in Syria is high, but especially on Fridays it's usually more helpful to focus on the size of the protests to gauge the significance of the day's events. As such, we see some significant developments.
The protests in Aleppo were extremely large, marking a continuation of a very important trend that has been established over the last month or so. The following is an 11 minute video broadcast live earlier today:
However, even the large demonstrations in Aleppo were marked with violence. According to reports, security opened fire on one of the demonstrations, injuring many and hitting this child in the head:
13 martyrs were reported in the Damascus Suburbs (6 in Daraya, 4 summary field executions in Hammourieh, 2 in Heran Awameed and 1 in Sayeda Zainab), 8 in Homs, 9 in Aleppo (the city and Atareb), 3 in Idlib, 3 in Hama, 2 in the Saliba Projects in Lattakia, 2 in Mazzeh in Damascus, 2 in Deir Ezzor and 1 in Daraa.
That number includes the family executed in Hamoriyeh, Damascus (see previous update).
However, that number is likely out of date, as more shelling in Homs is reported, and the LCCS is reporting a major battle between the Free Syrian Army and Assad forces between Saqba and Hamoriyah (Map). According to the report, those suburbs are being shelled.
1513 GMT: Syria. Disturbing news from the Hamoriyah suburb, east of Damascus. According to the LCCS, there has been another "massacre" there, what appears to be an execution of a family. They post a graphic video which appears to show a dying woman and 1 child, presumably dead, with other just off screen. Another activist Facebook account says that the woman and her 3 sons were killed in their home. We're treating this story as probable, but unconfirmed, until we see more conclusive videos or photos.
Also, a very large protest was held in Hamoriyah earlier today. We're not sure if the protest was before or after the claimed massacre, but the video of the crowds in the street is posted below:
1502 GMT: Syria. Kofi Annan, speaking in Beirut, has expressed serious doubts about the prospects for peace in Syria.
Asked whether his mission was diplomatic cover for more killings, he said:
"That's an interesting question. The implication is also that if this effort was not on the table, there would be no killing. But let me go on and say that we are making an effort to find a peaceful solution, and many Syrians and many governments around the world would want to see this effort resolve peacefully. We deplore the killings, we condemn the massacre in Houla and the subsequent killings that happened. And this is I think one more reason that one should make greater effort to find a solution. To suggest that an attempt to find a peaceful solution is a reason for further killings – I find it difficult to defend because the implication is that if this proposal was not on the table, if we were not discussing ways of getting people to the table to discuss political solutions, there would be no killing. I disagree with that."
Asked at what point he would declare the plan dead, Annan revealed his frustration:
"I think that is a decision that the Security Council will have to take once the Council decides that it is going to take other measures. What is important is that we continue our efforts to find a solution, a solution that leads to a transition in Syria, a democratic transition that fulfils the aspirations of the Syrian people. I know we are all impatient, we are all frustrated by the violence, by the killings. So am I. I think perhaps I am more frustrated than most of you because I am in the thick of things. And we really want to see things move much faster than it has done. When you are dealing with these sorts of issues, it is not a simple issue of drawing up red lines. The Council and the countries involved will have to keep working together to find a solution. If it is not this proposal on the table, there could be something else. I am not one of those who believes that there is only one way of solving—there could be other ways. And if other proposals on the table, I am sure the Council will look at them and I will be the first to say "bravo, let's move with it." But I am afraid I cannot draw up a list of red lines. These are decisions for the security council and I will not presume to usurp their powers."
1448 GMT: Syria. The US Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, has posted satellite images to Facebook that he says provide more evidence that the Syrian regime is responsible for the massacre in Houla, Homs, last weekend:
That's interesting. Also interesting is Ford's condemnation of Russia's arming of the Syrian regime.
Most interesting, however, is Ford's statements that the Iranian government is arming the regime, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is supplying logistical support for the regime, and the Quds force is directly supporting the "shabiha," pro-Assad militias suspected of being responsible for a large amount of the violence, including the most gruesome massacres in the conflict's 15 month history:
To echo what Secretary Clinton said yesterday, the violent situation in Syria is a destabilizing force in the region. Russia continues to supply the Syrian military with arms. We all know that the Iranian regime’s interests are deeply embedded in the Assad regime’s survival - it is directly supporting the Syrian government through lethal and non-lethal means, and its revolutionary guard corps (IRGC) and intelligence services are coaching the Syrian military. The IRGC’s Qods force, which takes explicit instruction from the Iranian regime, appears to be helping set up the sectarian government-affiliated militias in Syria commonly referred to as the Shabiha. On the other hand, Syria’s neighbors like Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon are concerned about the role this conflict will play in their countries. Therefore, we call on the Syrian regime implement all other elements of Annan’s six-point plan so that a political process can begin to address the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.
1438 GMT: Syria. More impressive videos from Aleppo:
In Al Rastan, to the north, LCCS shares a video of a small crowd chanting in protest:
While we don't know exactly where in Rastan that protest took place, we know that yesterday the town was once again shelled - these protesters could face the same fate at any minute.
1349 GMT: Syria. Many hundreds, perhaps thousands, have attended a rally in Qamishli, in the Hassakah governorate. An activist sends us a series of videos, including this one, showing parts of the crowd.
Qamishli represents a significant threat to the Assad government because its opposition defies the traditional Sunni vs. Alawite (Majority vs Minority) narrative that Assad, and many Western observers, have tried to pigeon-hole this crisis. The city is extremely racially diverse, and only contains a minority of Sunnis, and has thus avoided sectarian categorization. At the same time, those are Kurdish flags being waved. The Kurds in Qamishli increasingly back the opposition (the Kurdish youth strongly supports the opposition), thus helping to alleviate one of the primary concerns about the path of Syria's uprising.
Of course, this brings with it complications. Turkey feels threatened by the Kurdish presence in the opposition, and Turkey appears weary of backing the Syrian opposition too strongly for fears of the results being an empowered Kurdish populace.
Though the actions of the Kurds, and Qamishli, may be complicated, that does not diminish from the importance of the steadily-growing opposition sentiment in the capital of Hassakah.
1338 GMT: Syria. An impressive video - thousands have once again marched in Aleppo. This video shows just the start of an extremely long line of protesters marching down a main boulevard in the Ad Hamiyah district:
Many Syrian experts, including Joshua Landis speaking to NPR yesterday, continue to gloss over the extremely large protests in Aleppo, despite the presence of security forces and the the brutality that often limits the size of these crowds. Syria's largest city is consistently host to protests such as these, and the momentum for change in Aleppo is growing rapidly, not shrinking. While it has not yet reached a tipping point there, the mantra that there are no large protests in Aleppo or Damascus is as tired as it is inaccurate.
1328 GMT: Syria. This video is important - it was reportedly taken outside the Hanbali Mosque in northern Damascus, not far from the seat of Assad's power (and less than 2 miles from the Presidential Palace). As a sizeable crowd gathers, security forces open fire. It is unclear if there are any injuries or fatalities.
1308 GMT: Syria. 24 people have already been killed today nationwide, according to activists. The Local Coordinating Committees are a network of activists who work to confirm deaths in Syria, and they break down the geographical locations of the violence as follows (It should be noted that these reports are usually broken down by province, with specific cities or neighborhoods in parenthesis):
6 martyrs were reported in Damascus Suburbs (Daraya), 6 in Homs, 6 in Aleppo, 2 in Daraa, 2 in Damascus (Mazzeh), 1 in Idlib, and 1 in Hama.
Sadly, violence in Homs is nothing new. However, the amount of violence in Darayya, to the south of the capital, Damascus, is interesting. Darayya has a strong opposition presence, has occasionally been occupied by the insurgent Free Syrian Army, and has been the site of heavy crackdowns this week.
With reports of violence still coming in, a delay in reporting and confirming fatalities, and a local time just past 4 PM, expect this number to rise.
1301 GMT: Syria. Every Friday since last March there have been large and widespread protests in across Syria. Muslims attend mosque at regular times, and are already gathered together, making gathering for protests easy. As Friday is the holy day of the week in Islamic tradition, most people don't work, and when there is violence more protesters are willing to risk dying on Friday than on any other day.
In the last several weeks the protest movement has been particularly impressive, though it has really been growing steadily for months. A year ago, the crowds were extremely large, and protests were often planned and advertised ahead of time. Now, since the violence has escalated, protests tend to be smaller, faster, but more numerable arguably involve just as many, or more, demonstrators in the streets.
Despite this trend, we expected today's protests to be even larger, as the opposition is marking a terribly bloody weak (complete with several massacres, in Deir Ez Zor, in most notably in Houla and Buwaydah Al Sharqiyah. We're just now receiving a tidal wave of protest videos, but it's a little too early to test this hypothesis.
Maliha, southeast of the capital:
Saqba, east of Damascus:
Talbisah, north of Homs:
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for taking us to the afternoon.
1225 GMT: Syria. A mass protest in the Saleheddin section of Aleppo:
And a photograph of the march in the Al-A'zamiyeh area:
"I think most of it will be done via the black market," a trader said.
Other sources in European grain trading centers and the Middle East concurred. "It's a given that Iran will help Syria," said a grains dealer in western Europe. "But it won't be on the radar. It will be a bilateral agreement between them."
Grains traders said Iran would also help Damascus by turning a blind eye to its private merchants re-selling wheat to Syria.
Iran could get supplies to Syria through trucks via Iraq or Turkey. Shipments could also be routed through Iraqi or Turkish ports and then to Syria.
1105 GMT: Syria. The United Nations Human Rights Commission is conducting its hearing on last week's mass killing in Houla.
Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has said, "These acts may amount to crimes against humanity and other international crimes and may be indicative of a pattern of widespread or systematic attacks against civilian populations that have been perpetrated with impunity. I reiterate that those who order, assist or fail to stop attacks on civilians are individually criminally liable for their actions."
The Guardian is providing a summmary of developments in the hearing.
1005 GMT: Syria. A funeral in Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib Province for a victim of the security forces:
0850 GMT: Bahrain. Human rights activists Nabeel Rajab and Zainab Alkhawaja, both released from detention this week, speak with Democracy Now! about their experiences and the situation in the country:
0650 GMT: Bahrain. Security forces disperse a protest on Thursday in Diraz:
0540 GMT: Syria. Last weekend's slaying of more than 100 civilians in Houla continues to make headlines --- it will be discussed at the United Nations Human Rights Council today --- but it is only the largest, most visible of a series of mass killings.
On Wednesday, the bodies of 13 bound and executed men were dumped in Deir Ez Zor Province. Then last night EA's James Miller received word from several sources that insurgents had discovered the corpses of 15 men --- later information revised the number to 13 --- shot in the head at close range, in a village outside Homs. Activists said the men were workers at a fertiliser factory who were taken off a bus by plainclothes "shabiha", enforcers for the regime, and killed. Photographs and video, as well as the names of 12 of the victims, appeared to corroborate the account.
The latest episode has yet to make a mark in international media, although the BBC's flagship radio programme has just carried a report from its Beirut correspondent who says that, in light of Houla and recent events, he is willing to put forth "such a bold claim".