2048 GMT: Syria. Earlier, we heard a report that a mortar shell fell on a hospital in Douma, an important suburb just outside Damascus. Now, this video claims to show the heavy damage. It is unknown how many injuries or fatalities occurred as a result of this attack:
2008 GMT: Syria. I've been having a conversation with several bloggers, micro-bloggers, and activists about improvised weapons and mortars being used by the Free Syrian Army. It's clear that the FSA is increasingly finding ways of going on the offense against the Syrian military, not just the defense. However, the video below, apparently showing a remote controlled bomb, could indicate that the FSA is using more sophisticated weapons against Assad military convoys and checkpoints:
Another activist shares an explanation of a video that we have seen but were confused by, that the truck moving down the road that appears to detonate was remotely controlled:
While we've seen plenty of roadside bombs targeting Assad's military vehicles, this is the first time we've seen videos like this.
2001 GMT: Syria. With all the violence keeping protests in some locations lower, it's easy to miss that there were still widespread protests today, some of which were very large.
Despite all the violence, the El Waer district in Homs hosted a huge protest today. The banner in the front of the video has today's date, and we're familiar with this square in the district.
A large crowd in Saraqeb, Idlib prepare to "blow the trumpets of victory this year."
A protest at a funeral of someone killed by pro-Assad forces in Yabroud, Damascus:
Perhaps more than a thousand protesters carry an opposition flag at the funeral for one of those killed yesterday in Hamoriyah, Damascus. According to activists, there were at least 9 funerals, most approximately this large:
1921 GMT: Syria. The following is an extremely gripping, extremely nerve wracking, must-see 10 minutes of video. Shared on Twitter by an activist, Sami, a man living in Homs whom I've spoken with via his satellite connection in the past. It shows a brave cameraman, hoping on a motor scooter and taking us on a tour of the Jouret al Shayah district of Homs. The man on the bike has to dodge sniper fire, a gunfight, and an ambulance carrying a wounded man, as he shows us the ruins of what was once the center of Syria's 4th largest city.
While we can't verify the video per se, it appears to match visually some of the neighborhoods of Jouret al Shayah, and it certainly matches the level of destruction reported by activists, citizens, and videos:
1842 GMT: Syria. The Obama administration may have a leak problem, but Bashar al Assad may soon have an anti-tank missile problem. According to The Telegraph, a high-level member of the insurgent Free Syrian Army has met with US officials, including the US Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, and Frederick Hoff, the administration's special coordinator for the Middle East. The topic - arming the Free Syrian Army:
The rebel emissaries, armed with an iPad showing detailed plans on Google Earth identifying rebel positions and regime targets, have also met with senior members of the National Security Council, which advises President Obama on national security policy. FSA representatives in Washington have compiled a "targeted list" of heavy weaponry, including anti-tank missiles and heavy machine guns that they plan to present to US government officials in the coming two weeks.
Rumors that the Free Syrian Army is being armed from the outside is nothing new. As of yet, however, there is little evidence that the US is supplying advanced weaponry to the insurgents. That may change. If we see any videos like this one (courtesy of Military.com, via Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell), then maybe we'll have evidence that the meeting went well and the US has delivered:
Several videos (including this one) also reportedly show shabiha burning shops and motorcycles, though the identity of the men cannot be confirmed from the video.
1819 GMT: Syria. This footage was reportedly taken earlier today in Aleppo, in the Salah el Dine district, where many injuries, and we think several fatalities, were reported. A graphic video appears to show a man hit in the head with a bullet, and another shows a man shot in the chest:
Moscow has sent a ship carrying a small contingent of combat forces to guard Russia’s deep-water port and military base at the Syrian city of Tartus, the US officials said.
8 martyrs in Daraa, 6 martyrs in Deir Ezzor, 5 martyrs in each of Aleppo, Damascus Suburbs and Homs, 2 martyrs in Damascus and one martyr in Idlib.
Also, video has been released showing the alleged location of today's explosion in Midan, Damascus. The video shows what appears to be a damaged shop. There are reports that as many as 6 are dead, apparently people attending a nearby mosque.
The details are unverified, but if they are true, then this attack, though relatively small in scale, does not really match the profile of any of the Damascus bombings we've seen so far.
One more note - the shops in question were closed during the explosion. Many shops are closed on Fridays. However, many of the shops in this general area of Damascus have been consistently shuttered for the last several weeks out of general protest against the regime.
Hopefully we'll be able to discern more details soon.
1501 GMT: Syria. Two prominent UN officials, the Special Advisers of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect, Francis Deng and Edward Luck, have urged the United States government and the international community to intervene in Syria in order to stop the violence against civilians. They urged the international community to meet its "responsibility to protect" by utilizing “the full range of tools available under the United Nations Charter.”
“With the increasing violence and deepening sectarian tensions, the risk of further mass atrocity crimes is high. The time for action is now,” the Special Advisers of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect, Francis Deng and Edward Luck, respectively, said in a joint statement.
“These massacres underscore the Syrian Government’s manifest failure to protect its population,” they stated.
The mass killings of civilians in Houla and Mazraat al-Qubeir, including the brutal assault and murder of women and children at close range, represent an alarming escalation in targeted attacks against civilians, they said, adding, “They must cease immediately.”
1450 GMT: Syria. Many towns and cities across Syria have launched demonstrations today, and many of them have been disrupted by police and military forces. However, in Homs the struggle has a different feel all together. Once again, several neighborhoods in central Homs are on fire, the result of heavy shelling. This video shows smoke rising above the Jouret al Shayah district:
Meanwhile, in Houla, west of Homs, the military has reportedly attacked the town. This video shows gunfire and smoke filling the streets. It roughly matches eyewitness reports we've heard on various social media platforms:
Mortar falls in Basra al-Sham, Dera'a province. Lots of these people are going to die soon.
6 martyrs were reported in Deir Ezzor, 7 in Daraa, 5 in the Damascus Suburbs, 5 in Homs, 3 in Aleppo, 2 in Damascus, and 1 in Idlib.
A bomb has exploded near al-Majed mosque in the Midan area of Damascus, according to the Revolution Leadership Council of Damascus. It says:
"The blast resulted in at least six injuries, and ambulances rushed to the area in about one minute only.
"Security forces were later deployed in the area and didn't allow anyone near the scene.However, a demo took off from the mosque and was fired at by shabiha."
A few notes - Ignoring the fact that most opposition groups have condemned terrorism, nobody with a clear head in the opposition camp would detonate any sort of explosive on a Friday. In fact, even many units of the Free Syrian Army have stated that they will not conduct offensive actions on Friday, and nearly every major opposition group has said that attacks against regime targets and acts of terrorism should never happen on a Friday.
Why? The logic is that the opposition organizes protests every Friday in a kind of weekly show of strength. Any explosions, FSA gun battles, or other acts of extreme violence will interrupt those protests.
There is another interesting pattern - a major opposition Facebook page reports that the Syrian State TV predicted that there might be "Al Qaeda" attacks today. State TV characterized these statements as a warning. The Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Center, however, characterized them as a "threat."
1359 GMT: Syria. This video shows a relatively small, yet defiant, protest in the Damascus suburb of Douma. The city was heavily shelled for most of the day yesterday, so protests on the street appear smaller than in recent weeks:
Even this protest was short lived. Videos show large amounts of soldiers, tanks, and other armored vehicles flooding the city streets, not only in Douma (the dramatic video below) but in several suburbs in the Ghouta region, east of the capital.
And this was reportedly filmed in Saqba:
After last Friday's gun battles in the capital, Assad's military does not appear to be taking any chances today.
1353 GMT: Syria. Looking more closely at one of the graphic videos allegedly showing men killed by the military in Hamoriyah (see last update), one of the men clearly had his throat slit. The video is here, and is disturbing.
1338 GMT: Syria. The crackdown in Damascus - the CFDPC, a network of activists with contacts in greater Damascus, reports that at least 9 people were killed in a single neighborhood in Hamoriyah, east of Damascus, on Thursday. They have also released a series of graphic videos which they say show the bodies of some of the victims.
1251 GMT: Syria. There are reports of violence everywhere, but of particular note today is the violence close to the capital, especially in the suburbs east of Damascus. The Local Coordinating Committees, a network of activists based inside and outside of Syria, report that a people were shot at while leaving a mosque in Zamalka, a suburb nestled on the eastern edges of Damascus. There are also arrest campaigns reported in Harasta, further east, and live gunfire was reportedly heard in the central Mezzeh district. One needs to view these events through the lens of recent history. Yesterday, the suburbs east of Damascus, particularly Douma, were heavily shelled, and in the last week there has been occasional intense fighting between the Free Syrian Army insurgents and Assad's security forces and military. Things are escalating in the capital, and it appears that Assad's forces are taking extra care today to ensure that large protests do not congregate anywhere nearby. If the past is any indication, those attempts will likely fail. We'll be watching Damascus closely today.
Another area to keep a close eye on is Aleppo. Syria's largest city is absolutely crucial to the stability of the Assad regime, but its suburbs are opposition strongholds, and the city itself has been rocked by protests that are growing larger with every passing week. Alread today there are reports of large protests in the Sallah Al Dine district, especially the Al-Athmieh area. This video reportedly shows part of the protests there:
Other videos, however, showed several injured, and one dead, after regime forces opened fire.
1229 GMT: Syria. James Miller takes over today's live coverage. While Scott Lucas is on the road, we'll try to play catch up.
It's Friday, so the headlines are torn between deaths and demonstrations, or more accurately deaths AT demonstrations, as crowds in several cities have already been fired upon by security forces. Basically, the violence today falls into two categories - a continuation of a military offensive against opposition strongholds that has been ongoing, and the specific targeting of Friday protests.
While deaths are reported in several areas, Homs has once again been heavily shelled. The video below is from a live-stream that ended only 20-25 minutes ago, and it shows heavy shelling, and heavy smoke, in central Homs:
0505 GMT: Syria. Another Protest Friday begins, this one following news of yet another death site.
United Nations observers were belatedly able to tour al-Haffeh in Lattakia Province on Thursday, 48 hours after they were blocked by regime supporters from entering. The town was taken by the Syrian military on Wednesday, following an eight-day siege and shelling, when Free Syrian Army insurgents withdrew.
The observers found the main hospital burned, state buildings and an office of the ruling Baath party in ruins, and a corpse lying in the street. "A strong stench of dead bodies was in the air," Sausan Ghosheh said.
The number of casualties was unclear, Ghosheh said, raising concerns --- as with the al-Qubair mass killings last week, when UN monitors were also prevented from getting to the site --- that bodies had been removed or buried before the observers belatedly arrived.