Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: 109 Killed Amid Reports of "Children as Human Shields" and a "Plainclothes Army"
Claimed video of plainclothes militia, "shabiha", being instructed by the Syrian military in firing of artillery
2023 GMT: Syria. The battles near Homs are heating up, and the Free Syrian Army seems to be making significant headway:
2003 GMT: Tunisia. The Ministries of Interior and Defense have declared a night-time curfew in the capital Tunis and seven other suburbs and cities following clashes with Salafi Islamists and other protesters angered by an art exhibition they say insults Muslims (see 1234 GMT).
The curfew begins at 9 p.m. and ends at 5 a.m. and will be enforced throughout the capital, the suburbs of Ben Arouss, Ariana, and Manouba, and the cities of Sousse, Monastir, Jendouba and Ben Guerdane.
Minister of Interior Ali Larayedh told Parliament earlier on Tuesday that he expected the violence to continue in the coming days.
1953 GMT: Syria. Activists report 56 dead today, including 16 in Deir Ez Zor Province, 15 in Aleppo Province, and 12 in Homs Province.
1849 GMT: Syria. Helicopters have also reportedly been used in Kherbat al Ghazali, north of Daraa (map). It appears that the Syrian regime is growing more desperate to make quick gains before the meeting between Russia and the US in moscow:
1832 GMT: Syria. Blogger Bjørn H Jespersen has been recording and categorizing the weapons used by the Syrian military and the shabiha in Syria. One observation --- the columns of vehicles and weapons being deployed to Homs differs greatly from those used recently, consisting of lighter weapons and trucks outfitted with guns, in contrast to the columns of armored tanks and armored personnel carriers we're accustomed to seeing:
"The column in this video is in stark contrast to the columns shown in the leaked videos in the section below (from June 5.), and my immediate thoughts are that the attempt to bring these weapons to use might have to do with a number of factors. One could be that the regime has lost a large number of its BMPs and tanks. Not that I believe the number they have lost in itself is critical, but the number of tank-crews lost might have started to be. Also since the title of the video says "...Al Shabiha reinforcements coming to Homs..." this could be seen as a way to arm this group of loyal militia-like personnel more heavily, instead of risking defections by using the ordinary soldiers."
Perhaps Jespersen, who has clearly done his homework, is on to something. Perhaps the Syrian military is afraid of defections, and so is sending less powerful equipment into battle so that if it did disappear into the hands of the insurgents it would not pose as strong a threat. Perhaps the Syrian tank crews are also demoralized at the sharp increase in casualties and destroyed armored vehicles, and is hoping to stem that tide.
This could also explain the use of helicopters in places like Homs. So far, the insurgents have not found a way to effectively combat the Syrian air force.
1809 GMT: Syria. The Syrian government may have verbally attacked the US (see previous entry) but the UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Herve Ladsous, has verbally attacked the government of Syria. In fact, there are a series of revelations this hour from the UN:
- According to Ladsous, the government of Syria is responsible for artillery strikes, tanks, and now helicopters to directly attack civilians.
- UN monitors were directly and purposefully shot at while trying to reach Haffeh: Ladsous said, "One of our observers was almost injured... We thought he was injured, but in fact the bullet did not penetrate (him) but hit his boot." Ladsous also said that there were many bullet holes in the UN's cars.
- Syria is now in a full scale civil war, according to Landsous.
However, the BBC's Paul Danahar, just returning from Syria, takes issue with that last assessment:
MT “@HalaGorani: AFP: "UN peacekeeping chief says Syria now in full a civil war."” no it isn't yet, too much of country not actually at war— Paul Danahar (@pdanahar) June 12, 2012
However, the surprises from the UN just keep coming this afternoon. Kofi Annan, chief architect of the failed peace plan, through his spokesman stated that he believed that helicopters have been used for the first time against the civilian populace:
Yes, if they had been used before, it has not been documented; this time it has been documented. Our observers have videotaped helicopters in the skies with fire coming out of them; so whether [they are] helicopters with machine guns on them, or helicopter gunships … we have not been able to make that distinction yet but yes, they are being used and we have observed them being used.
We'd disagree with this assessment, as in the last several months helicopters have been video taped while firing at ground targets north of Aleppo. That video, while taken by sources we believe were reliable, were taken by amateur video. The Guardian provides THIS video, however, which is edited together from footage verified by the UN. They also provide a description below:
In Homs where increased and intensified fighting is taking place,smoke drift into the sky from buildings and houses hit by shelling. Next the observers traveled to Talbiseh and al-Rastan,north of Homs city. The roads were empty and all shops, garages, health centers were closed. The bridge on the highway between Talbiseh and al-Rastan appeared shelled.
A Syrian opposition flag - with three stars - draped from the bridge as the smoke and fire continued to burn. UN military observers on patrol to these towns noticed helicopters firing.
There was fresh blood on corridors and outside some of the houses. The UN patrol team spoke with both side - Syrian army soldiers and oppositions free Syrian army - to try and ascertain the extent of this increased heavy weapons and attacks.
The Guardian also provides video, picture, and testimonial evidence that assault helicopters have fired Russian-made missiles at civilian areas in Homs.
1708 GMT: Syria. The Foreign Ministry has condemned the US for "blatant interference in the internal affairs of Syria, its open support for terrorists, covering up terrorists' crimes, distorting facts about Syria at the United Nations, and extorting countries and the international community to beleaguer Syria".
The unnamed source, quoted by State news agency SANA, specifically criticised the State Department for a declaration of concern on Monday about the situation in several cities. The American spokeswoman raised the possibility of a "massacre" in al-Haffeh, the town in Latakia Province currently besieged by regime forces.
The Foreign Ministry claimed that the "massacre" could actually be committed by "armed groups", citing the claimed interception of a phone call between insurgents in Turkey and Syria.
1503 GMT: Syria. In Bianoun, north of Anadan, shells are also falling today (click here for a map, and see update at 1310 GMT). It appears that once again the cluster of suburbs north of Syria's largest city are receiving heavy bombardment. As we've seen in the past, the reason for the danger and death to the north may have nothing to do with protests or insurgents there, but may have more to do with discouraging protests inside Aleppo, a city that currently has shells screaming overhead:
1439 GMT: Syria. We're still watching the live-stream from Homs, and the gunfire and explosions are still intense. Unfortunately, there are serious connection problems, and the video keeps stopping. Then again, the fact that the video has gone live at all, during this intense bombardment, is a miracle.
However, this is not the only video camera in Homs. Another angle shows today's shelling near the Khalid ibn Walid mosque in central Homs, very close to where the livestream appears to be coming from:
Homes burn in the Juret al Shayah district, west of the mosque:
Al Rastan, north of Homs, a badly beaten opposition stronghold, was also shelled today:
Amateur video of the mortar attack in Deir el-Zour showed dead people in a street as survivors screamed in panic and tried to remove their bodies. Other videos showed some of the wounded receiving treatment at a hospital. The Local Coordination Committees activist group and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 10 died in the barrage.
An ICRC spokesman said: "The ICRC confirms that an explosion occurred in our Misrata office at 3.50am on 12 June. The nature of the explosion is still not verified yet, but the authorities were informed and were on site early at five in the morning."
>em?The Guardian has also posted information about a suspected militant group that may be responsible for the attack.
1354 GMT: Syria. Some of the strongest allegations of regime wrongdoing to emerge in recent weeks are coming from Al Haffeh, in Lattakia province. According to a UN spokesperson, the area is far too dangerous to allow UN monitors into the city:
"The security situation is not safe for them to enter. They were at the last checkpoint and the government said 'you can go through', but we deemed it unsafe," Sausan Ghosheh told Reuters by phone from Damascus.
1342 GMT: Syria. Beyond our live-streaming video that we posted in a previous entry, Al Jazeera has spoken with Activist Hadi al-Abdallah, living in Homs, who reports that many districts are heavily shelled, by artillery, mortars, and helicopters:
Abdallah says that perhaps more than 60 are already wounded today, and the field hospitals have no resources to help them. Many, he says, will die without surgery, but the doctors cannot move into the affected neighborhoods because of the shelling, and the shabiha and security forces who prevent aid from entering Homs.
1332 GMT: Syria. According to activists on the ground, the central districts of Qusayr, south of Homs, are being shelled by artillery as well as helicopter gunships today. Video also appears to show a helicopter in action, and shells landing close to a Christian church in the center of the city (map):
1310 GMT: Syria. According to multiple sources, the town of Anadan, a few kilometers north of Aleppo, has been heavily shelled today. The LCCS reports that crops are now on fire, the result of the explosions, a report we've been hearing more frequently in recent days. Interestingly, the timing of the shelling may have been tied to a protest on the campus of Aleppo University. When the artillery positions in southern Aleppo fire on the northern suburbs, the shells pass directly over the University, a stark warning to the protesters to stay in line.
And what happens after those shells land? Heartbreaking video shows 2 dead toddlers, a crying infant with a severe injury, and an injured man, being treated in a field hospital, reportedly today in Anadan. The video is a sad reminder of the human cost of this conflict, and isn't easy to watch. While we can;t verify the video, it appears to match reports carried by activists and the Al Jazeera Arabic network. Another graphic video, from a different source, claims to show more dead adults in the town.
1302 GMT: Syria. We're watching the live-stream from Homs (see the last entry and click on the link to see the latest video feed). The shelling has intensified, with huge explosions happening regularly perhaps only a few hundred meters away from the camera. Heavy smoke is also rising from the city, and there is sporadic gunfire.
1254 GMT: Syrian. A day after perhaps several thousand shells fell on the city of Homs, perhaps the heaviest shelling so far, we are once again receiving a live-video stream, which matches some eyewitness reports, of heavy shelling of central Homs:
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for taking us to the afternoon.
1239 GMT: Bahrain. Further hearings have been held today for 13 detained political figures and activists, eight of them given life sentences, and for 20 doctors and nurses handed prison terms of 5 to 15 years.
Regime officials have been more concerned, however, in promoting this week's public-relations interview of John Timoney, the American police chief advising on "reform" of security forces --- "the western media and human-rights activists are doing a terrible disservice to Bahrain in failing to distinguish between peaceful, lawful protests and the violence that occurs nightly" --- and a speech by the Minister of Interior to a Royal United Services Institute conference:
The threat to our security comes from multiple sources and we have seen further instability due to regime changes in certain countries. This confused situation has encouraged Iran to seek further regional - military, political, and media expansion.
These changes raise questions on whether the American ally is serious about achieving long-term stability within the Gulf region, especially after the events relating to the global financial crisis which began 2008.
The Minister of Interior did not note that several invited experts, such as Kristian Ulrichsen and Jane Kinnimont of Chatham House, were denied visas to attend --- possibly because of their remarks in articles and social media.
Meanwhile, a 19-year-old has been detained for "insulting the Prophet's wife" on a website. Prosecutors "stressed the need to deter such deviant practices which may fuel sedition and case tension in Bahrain".
The protesters blocked streets and set tyres alight in the Ettadamen and Sidi Hussein districts of the capital, hurling petrol bombs at security forces who tried to disperse them with tear gas and bullets fired into the air, witnesses said.
The witnesses claimed the protesters had attacked a court house in Sidi Hussein and tried to burn a police building in Ettadamen.
On Monday, a group of Salafis forced their way into an art exhibition in the upscale La Marsa suburb and defaced works they deemed offensive.
1229 GMT: Qatar.
Human Rights Watch presents the downside of Qatar's successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup in football.
Underpinning this push is a vast army of migrant workers, who comprise a staggering 94 percent of Qatar’s workforce --- 1.2 million of its 1.7 million residents --- the highest percentage of migrants to citizens in the world. Qatar’s World Cup selection means that worker recruitment will reach new heights: media have reported that over a million additional workers may be needed to carry out World Cup-related construction.
Yet the deeply problematic working conditions of migrant workers throughout the country mean that realizing Qatar’s World Cup vision may depend on their abuse and exploitation unless adequate measures are taken to address the human rights problems widespread in the construction industry in Qatar.
This report documents pervasive employer exploitation and abuse of workers in Qatar’s construction industry, made possible by an inadequate legal and regulatory framework that grants employers extensive control over workers and prohibits migrant workers from exercising their rights to free association and collective bargaining. It also addresses the government’s failure to enforce those laws that at least on paper are designed to protect worker rights. It examines why violations of workers’ rights go largely undetected, and looks at the barriers that workers face in reporting complaints or seeking redress.
Based on interviews with 73 migrant construction workers in Qatar, industry employers, government officials, diplomats, and labor attachésfrom major labor-sending countries, journalists, academics, and worker advocates, as well as correspondence with both government officials and companies, it examines key factors that trap workers in exploitative jobs, including exorbitant recruitment fees, and the restrictive kafala (sponsorship) system that prevents them from changing jobs or leaving the country without a sponsor’s permission. In the worst cases, workers described conditions that amounted to forced labor. At the request of the workers we spoke to, this report does not name their employers.
1113 GMT: Syria. Insurgents have said they are are trying to smuggle out civilians trapped in fierce fighting in al-Haffeh in Lattakia Province.
Three fighters contacted by phone said hundreds of insurgents are fighting a tank and helicopter-backed assault in rugged mountains near the Mediterranean coast. They said they sent civilians to the outskirts of Haffeh when the siege began last week, but tehse areas now under fire, surrounded by the army and pro-regime militia.
"Every few days we manage to open a route to get out the wounded, so some families were able to escape yesterday," said one rebel who called himself Abdulwudud. "We're trying to move the families all out so they can flee to Turkey," about 25 kilometres (15 miles) away.
Witnesses said activists with placards lined up a road opposite the headquarters and were quickly surrounded by police. "They put them on a bus and took them away," Zaher al-Abri, a local journalist at the scene, said. "Some were handcuffed but most were not." He reported seven women and 22 men had been taken away.
Activists said Monday's protest was the third since Saturday. The previous two ended peacefully with officials only threatening to deploy riot police.
Meanwhile, authorities have arrested 10 activists in a series of detentions. Six people were seized on Friday night, including blogger Hassan Rukaishi, authors Hammoud Al Rashedi and Nabhan Al Hanashi. and poet Hamad Al Kharusi.
Government troops and allied tribesmen began an offensive last month to retake large parts of Abyan Province held by the insurgents since last year.
The Ministry said the army, backed by local fighters from popular committees set up during last year's uprising against President Saleh's rule, entered the city on Tuesday after heavy fighting that killed at least 20 insurgents and four Yemeni soldiers.
A spokesman for the insurgency Ansar al-Sharia said the army had taken control of the town of more than 100,000 people and said a statement would be issued later. Residents said the militants fled under cover of darkness, leaving behind flyers asking inhabitants to forgive them and asserting that they did not want to “cause any harm to Jaar and its inhabitants.”
Armoured vehicles moved into the center of Jaar hours after al-Qaeda militants withdrew towards the nearby town of Shuqra, when “fighting with the army became fiercer,” one resident said.
For the first time, United Nations monitors are reporting fire from Syrian helicopters on insurgent positions.
"UN observers reported heavy fighting in Rastan and Talbiseh, north of (Homs), with artillery and mortar shelling, as well as firing from helicopters, machine guns and smaller arms," UN spokeswoman Sausan Ghosheh said.
UN envoy Kofi Annan said he was gravely concerned about violence in Homs and in al-Haffeh, a town in Lattakia Province on the coast.
CNN dramatically reports that we now have "A Battle for Syria's Cities":
0645 GMT: Syria. A sometimes frantic day on Monday with continued shelling of towns and cities such as Homs, battles between regime forces and insurgents. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported 109 people killed by the security forces, including 36 in Idlib Province, 19 in Deir Ez Zor Province, 17 in Homs Province, and 15 in Hama Province.
A United Nations report on "Children in Conflict" included the Syrian regime among its worst offenders against the young, documenting interrogations, executions, and detentions.
In one incident in March, Government forces allegedly rounded up dozens of boys aged eight to 13 before a four-day attack on the village of Ayn l'Arouz in Idlib Province: "[The children were] used by soldiers and militia members as human shields, placing them in front of the windows of buses carrying military personnel into the raid on the village."
"Eventually, the village was reportedly left burned and four out of the 34 detainees were shot and burned, including the two boys aged 14 and 16 years," the report said.
UN special representative Radhika Coomaraswamy declared, "Rarely, have I seen such brutality against children as in Syria, where girls and boys are detained, tortured, executed, and used as human shields."
And then there is the question of whether plainsclothes shabiha --- the militia recently noted for their alleged role in mass killings in towns and villages like Houla and al-Qubair --- are working alongside the Syrian military. Visual evidence for the possibility emerged on Monday, with claimed footage of shabiha receiving instructions from uniformed personnel on how to fire artillery (see top of entry).