View Syria - 2012 June 21 - EA Worldview in a larger map
An interactive map of yesterday's violence in Syria
One look at out interactive map (created with help from EA intern Josh Moss), and we can see that the reports of both large protests and violence were not isolated to a few locations, but were very widespread. This provides more evidence that the violence, as well as the opposition to Assad, are intensifying and spreading in every corner of the country:
View Syria - 2012 June 22 - EA Worldview in a larger map
2200 GMT: Bahrain. Was the head of AlWefaq specically targeted by police? Activists claim that this is the case, and they provide this photo as evidence:
Also, this photo reportedly shows the man who was shot in the head with a teargas canister, Ali AlMowali:
2132 GMT: Syria. Time for some snap analysis.
Today, Syria shot a Turkish warplane out of the sky. Details are sketchy, but it appears that the plane had a communications problem, strayed into Syrian airspace, and was shot at by a ground-to-air missile. It appears that both Syrian and Turkish forces are involved in the rescue operation.
What are the consequences? Some have suggested that Turkey, as part of NATO, could use this as a reason to call for foreign intervention to remove Bashar al Assad's regime:
It would almost certainly invoke Chapter IV of the Nato treaty, which allows a member to convene an emergency summit of the whole alliance if "the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened".
Turkey reportedly came close to invoking Chapter IV in April after Syrian forces opened fire into its territory, wounding two Turkish nationals and two Syrians at a refugee camp close to the border. It was persuaded not to by the United States.
Turkey has repeatedly stated that if its territorial integrity were threatened by an overflow of refugees or by cross-border attacks, it would ask NATO to get involved. Turkey has also been reticent to do so, and that has not changed in recent weeks. If this incident occurred in April, we'd probably be guaranteed a NATO intervention. Now, that is not so certain.
However, the question is whether this incident has rattled some cages and heightened concerns that Assad''s military has become a loose cannon, and thus a threat to its neighbors, a threat which will eventually have to be confronted. The incident also certainly provides more evidence that the local commanders in Assad's military are extremely nervous, another sign of just how vulnerable they have become.
There are more unanswered questions. We know that Turkey is likely patrolling its border more closely than in previous years, and accidents do happen, but what was this fighter doing in Syrian air space?
So far, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has used language that is fairly deescalating. Then again, this incident has just occurred, and Turkish and Syrian personnel are likely still working together on the rescue and recovery stage. Careful mind should be paid to Erdogan's language over the weekend and into next week, as he will have to explain this to the citizens of Turkey, and the words he chooses could be a signal as to whether this incident will serve as a catalyst for more action from Turkey and NATO.
2113 GMT: Syria. Turkey has finally clarified what happened to their F-4 fighter plane - it was shot down by Syrian military forces:
Turkish PM official statement over plane crash: Plane is shot down by Syria. Repeat: shot down by Syrian forces -- official statement!!— ilhan tanir (@WashingtonPoint) June 22, 2012
2012 GMT: Bahrain. If Bahrain is trying to project an image of reform and tolerance, this is not the way to do it. Today's AlWefaq protest was disrupted by police, and this video appears to show the minute that the police opened fire:
This picture offers another angle. As you can see, the protesters appear completely surrounded by police at the moment that teargas and reportedly birdshot was fired:
According to activists, one protester, Ali AlMuwali, has hit in the head with a teargas canister fired from a gun, and head a nasty wound, and he needed surgery:
According to Ali Muwali's family his operation was successfully done, he is now moved to the extreme care room. #Bahrain— Ahmed Al-haddad (@DiabloHaddad) June 22, 2012
1930 GMT: Syria. As the title of today's coverage implies, however, it's not all about the deaths. The protests today, while smaller than they were before this most recent wave of violence, were still surprisingly large, and very widespread.
In Irbeen, east of Damascus (map), a fairly large crowd gather, despite nearby violence and a heavy security presence in and around the capital:
A funeral for one of today's martyrs in the Al Sukkarhi district of Aleppo (map):
A loud and large protest in Kafranbel, an Idlib town whose protests stand apart, and just like most days, their messages are both in English and in Arabic (map):
15 martyrs were reported in Aleppo, 13 in Homs, 10 in the Damascus Suburbs, 8 in Daraa, 8 in Deir Ezzor, 3 in Lattakia, 2 in Damascus, 1 in Hama and 1 in Idlib.
Just like yesterday's figures, the deaths are spread out, indicating that while some areas (Aleppo, Homs, Damascus) saw heavy violence, the destruction is still very widespread and intense.
These FSA fighters are really happy with their B-10 recoilless rifle - they like to use it a lot youtube.com/watch?v=qOddQh…— Fadi Mqayed ★★★ (@DSyrer) June 22, 2012
Since February, the Assad military has struggled to bring down the Free Syrian Army in central Homs. Once again, the insurgents are on the offensive, despite being completely surrounded and cut off.
Today the city is reportedly being shelled. The LCCS posts two videos showing shells and smoke in various neighborhoods:
1653 GMT: Bahrain. Other prominent activists were also injured by police today, though if this Tweet is any indication, it won't deter future protests:
1612 GMT: Bahrain. In addition to the alleged beating of the head of the Al Wefaq opposition society today (see 1530 and 1538 GMT), activists are claiming that Hasan Marzooq, the Vice President of the Alwihdawi opposition group, was wounded by birdshot fired by security forces:
1609 GMT: Egypt. The late-afternoon scene in Cairo's Tahrir Square:
1558 GMT: Syria. The rally in the Bustan al-Qaser neighbourhood of Aleppo today:
1550 GMT: Syria. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that Syrian authorities have apologised for bringing down a military plane that lost contact with the Turkish Armed Forces earlier today.
An "official source" confirmed to Hurriyet that the plane had been shot down. The pilots, who are in good health, were rescued from the Mediterranean Sea.
1538 GMT: Bahrain. As police broke up a rally led by the opposition society Al Wefaq (see 1530 GMT), they reportedly used large amounts of tear gas in Bilad Alqadeem:
Al Wefaq reports that its Secretary General, Sheikh Ali Salman, is in good condition after treatment for injuries allegedly suffered at the hands of police.
The scene at the rally earlier today:
1530 GMT: Bahrain. Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary General of al-Wefaq, the largest opposition society in Bahrain, has allegedly been attacked by police at the start of a protest in Bilad Alqadeem. Despite being refused permission to hold the protest by the Ministry of Interior on THursday, opposition societies decided they would continue with the demonstration, beginning at 5 p.m. local time. Activists reported that police were quick to fire tear gas to disperse the gathering citizens. The use of shotguns firing birdshot was also reported. The nature and extent of Ali Salman's injuries are currently undetermined.
A sit-in in Barbar is also underway, called by the February 14th Youth Coalition in support of women who have suffered miscarriages, allegedly as a result of excessive tear gas in civilian areas by security forces.
1442 GMT: Gulf States. EA's John Horne reports:
In London yesterday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, co-chaired the second UK-GCC strategic dialogue meeting attended by ministers from all six Gulf states. In a week which has seen continued instability in Bahrain, upheaval in Kuwait following the suspension of Parliament, and uncertainty in Saudi after the death of the Crown Prince, the joint ministerial meeting provided a platform for the foreign ministers to project unity and co-operation, masking the current turbulence in their home states, as well as the fallout from the recent failure to achieve consensus on forming a Gulf union, a Saudi-led initiative which some see as having been scuppered by the US.
In a statement released after the meeting, Hague spoke of the UK's "historical ties" with the Gulf states and his governments wish to "build closer relationships". He continued:
Today we discussed ways to broaden UK-GCC cooperation in a wide range of fields. We agreed that a Joint Action Plan should be developed on issues that concern us all, including the maintenance of peace and security in the region, economic prosperity, and strengthening cooperation in trade, investment and consular activities. We also discussed wider issues of concern which threaten the stability of the region, specifically Syria, and how we can work together to increase the pressure on the Assad Government to end the violence and allow a political transition. I also updated the group on progress in talks between Iran and the E3+3 in Moscow. I made clear that we remain committed to finding a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue, but that the pressure will only increase on Iran until it shows it is willing to take urgent, concrete steps to build confidence that its nuclear programme is purely peaceful.
Missing from Hague's statement is any indication of British concern for human rights in dealing with the region.
The GCC ministers will hold similar meetings with EU members in Luxemberg on Monday.
1437 GMT: Syria. There was renewed violence at a very large protest in central Aleppo city today. According to activists, large numbers of protesters gathered in the Sallah el Dine district (map), but security forces opened fire on the crowd. We're not yet sure how many died, but deaths are reported.
This video shows the size of the crowds before the gunfire:
1429 GMT: Syria. At least 46 people were killed so far today, according to the Local Coordinating Committees, though based on their most recent reports we expect that number to rise. So far, the deaths are broken down as follows:
11 martyrs were reported in Aleppo, 10 in Damascus Suburbs, 8 in Daraa, 4 in Homs, 3 in Lattakia, 2 in Damascus, 1 in Idlib and 1 in Deir Ezzor.
1408 GMT: Syria. The international intrigue story of the day - Earlier, Reuters reported that a Turkish fighter jet was missing. Now, Hurriyet Daily is reporting that the plane crashed in Syrian waters:
The pilots of a crashed Turkish military plane have been rescued by forces, daily Hürriyet reported.
The pilots, who are in good health, were located in the Mediterranean Sea.
A missing warplane that lost contact with Turkish Armed Forces earlier today crashed in Syrian territorial waters, Doğan news agency has reported.
There are already rumors that the plane was shot down by the Syrian military.
Hopefully, more details to come soon.
1351 GMT: Syria. For more than 5 days, the staff here at EA have been grappling with a terrible feeling, a reminder of how dangerous Syria has become. A prominent activist and always helpful contact in Hama, Sami al-Hamwi (a pseudonym), went silent, not responding to messages and not sending any Tweets. We feared the worst, as his disappearance was timed with a massive escalation in violence in Hama and a haunting Tweet about snipers.
Today, in a rare piece of good news, Sami reports that he was released after being arrested:
Released. Treated worse than last time. A lot of people got arrested in past few days in Hama, the regime is very desperate to stop Hama.— Sami al-Hamwi (@HamaEcho) June 22, 2012
I got released in the morning along with 14 other people, I think to make room for new detainees. Implied we would be killed if caught again— Sami al-Hamwi (@HamaEcho) June 22, 2012
While we cannot confirm, per se, Hama Echo's account, we have been in communication with him for many, many months, and have been watching him to verify his location. We believe, and we have plenty of evidence that suggests, that Hama Echo is inside Syria, in Hama, and that his reports are accurate.
Still, it's a reminder that freedom of speech is a dangerous game in some places, and Syria is perhaps the most dangerous place for a free thinker these days.
1340 GMT: Syria. As the title of today's coverage, and my opening entry, suggest, the two headlines on this Friday (and really most Fridays) are the large protests and high death tolls. The protests appear to already be fairly large and widespread, despite all the violence, perhaps even larger that I initially anticipated.
In Sareqeb, a small town east of Idlib on the important road that leads to Aleppo (map), the crowds appear to be extremely large, relative to the size of the population:
A large and loud protest in Ma'arrat al Nouman, often the center of regime attacks (map):
Nahr Eshe, in southern Damascus, an area that is often filled with soldiers, and an area not far from heavy fighting between insurgents and Assad military last night (map):
The El Waer district of Homs (map):
Syrians are taking to the streets on the day after what was one of the bloodiest days so far. The video shows today's protest in Binnish, Idlib province, where they represent events in Syria as a football game between the regime and the revolution - it may currently be a 0-0 draw but they predict the revolution will score the winning goal. On the reverse, shame on the world for doing so little to help bring that about.
And sometimes it's not the size of the crowd, but the significance of the location:
1306 GMT: Syria. More details on the death of the shabiha in Aleppo province...
The men were reportedly killed in Daret Azzeh (map). The village is west of many of the suburbs that have been bearing the brunt of Assad's shelling for two weeks. Towns like Anadan have been badly beaten, but still have a large opposition presence. This means that there is a motive for a reprisal attack such as this, but there are also likely large numbers of "shabiha," pro-Assad militiamen, "ghosts" who are renowned for their brutality.
Looking at the bodies, it's hard to see any specific wounds, making it difficult to assess the nature of their death. The truck on the roadside looks like a typical shabiha truck, but there are far too many bodies for them to have all come from a single vehicle.
It's likely that SANA's account of the event is fairly accurate, though it's not likely that these men were civilians. From the look of their clothes (dark colors, some bodies have a mix of military uniform and civilian clothes) it's likely that these men were, indeed, shabiha, as the video claims.
1255 GMT: Egypt. In a statement on national television, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has confirmed the dissolution of Parliament and re-affirmed a decree limiting Presidential powers while increasing its own.
The SCAF also criticized the two Presidential candidates for making premature claims of victory in the run-off election: "Anticipating the announcement of the presidential election results before they are announced officially is unjustifiable and is one of the main causes of division and confusion prevailing the political arena."
The official result was supposed to be announced on Thursday but was delayed by the Electoral Commission, ostensibly to check hundreds of claims of campaign violations.
Referring to the declarations expanding its power, the SCAF said, "The issuance of the supplementary constitutional decree was necessitated by the needs of administering the affairs of the state during this critical period in the history of our nation."
Video (warning: graphic) of bodies, some in army fatigues and some in civilian clothes, piled at the side of a road.
State news agency SANA carries this report:
Armed terrorist groups on Friday kidnapped a number of citizens in Daret Azzeh area in the countryside of Aleppo, according to official sources in the province.
The sources later confirmed that the terrorist groups in Daret Azzeh committed a brutal massacre against the citizens, whom they had kidnapped earlier on the day, through shooting them dead and then mutilating their bodies.
The sources added that initial information indicates that more than 25 of the kidnapped citizens were killed in Daret Azzeh massacre, with the fate of the rest of the kidnapped people is still unknown.
1240 GMT: Egypt. The scene in Cairo's Tahrir Square this afternoon as protestors challenge the military rulers:
1220 GMT: Syria. Back from an academic break to find a statement from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs that the number of people needing humanitarian assistance has risen to 1.5 million from the previous estimate of 1 million.
The World Food Programme distributed food to 461,000 Syrians by mid-June and aims to increase that number to 850,000 in July, officials said.
Robert Watkins, the UN Development Programme representative in Lebanon, said, "Increasing violence has made it extremely difficult to establish the field presence so important for ensuring the delivery of humanitarian aid. Humanitarian deliveries do continue, however, though not at the pace we had hoped and as required by the needs."
0948 GMT: Syria. A demonstration this morning in Aleppo, with protesters waving Kurdish and "Syrian independence" flags:
The explosion was in the mostly Shia neighbourhood of Husseiniyah. Minutes later, a second bomb went off, apparently targeting police who arrived at the scene.
Gunmen also opened fire on a police checkpoint in western Baghdad, killing three officers, according to a police official.
0803 GMT: Egypt. Jamal Elshayyal of Al Jazeera English speaks with demonstrators at Cairo's Tahrir Square, staging a sit-in protest over military rule:
0745 GMT: Syria. A day after The Washington Post citing US officials, revealed that CIA personnel were in Turkey advising on arms shipments to the insurgency, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta issued a carefully-worded statement:
We made a decision not to provide lethal assistance at this point. I know others have made their own decisions.
But I think it's very important right now that everybody focus on a smooth and responsible political transition.
If we don't get this done in a responsible way, there's a real danger that the situation there could deteriorate into a terrible civil war.
0510 GMT: Syria. Facing the risk of snipers, residents of the Khalidiya section of Homs try to retrieve a body with a grappling line:
0500 GMT: Syria. In relatively short time, Benjamin Franklin witnessed the first true democratic revolution in history, the independence of America from a colonial power, and the establishment of a new Constitution. Still, despite his fledgling country's success, he wrote, "in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." If Franklin were alive to see Syria today, in the midst of its own revolution, he might easily amend that to "death and protests." Not a single Friday has passed in the last 15+ months without large, widespread protests on the streets of Syrian towns and cities, and many who have joined the revolution have long since stopped paying taxes.
This spring the peaceful prottest movement was growing, with its largest and most widespread protests since the violence sharply escalated last year. With the sudden surge in serious violence --- not just in the battle-grounds like Homs and Idlib but everywhere ---- protests were still across the country last week but they were smaller and shorter. That trend may continue, especially since Thursday saw some of the worst conflict in the 15-month uprising. While there was no single headline, no massacre like "Houla" or "Al Qubair" or "Baba Amr", more than 115 people were killed. The shelling, the gunfire, the raids, arrests, and the helicopter strikes were so far-flung it was hard to capture and catalogue it all.
Syria is in the midst of a massive, two-week regime campaign against opposition and insurgent strongholds, testimony that President Assad is scared that he is losing control of the country. Evidence suggests that he has reason to fear. Even if the violence keeps many off the streets, there are those who defiantly and --- equally important --- many more who are trying to stay outside the line of fire but hoping for the day that the regime gives up power. Meanwhile, the insurgent Free Syrian Army continues to score hits against a Syrian military which is unable to contain defections --- yesterday Assad lost a MIG fighter plane and its crew --- and the economic woes threaten an implosion.