A mass rally in Kafar Obeid in Syria on Sunday
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Sunday's Syria, Egypt (and Beyond) Live Coverage: 277 Dead in Two Days?
Only 5 miles west, heavy shelling was reported in Qa'alat al Madiq, a town built into the ruins of an ancient castle constructed by crusaders, a castle that was largely dismantled earlier this year by Assad's artillery shells and bulldozers (map):
16 martyrs were reported in Deir Ezzor, 10 in Idlib, 5 in Homs, 4 in Damscus Suburbs, 3 in Daraa, 2 in Lattakia, 2 in Hama 1 in Aleppo, 1 in Damascus and 1 in Hasakeh.
Looking at the numbers, the most noticeable development is the high death toll in Deir Ez Zor. However, other areas saw plenty of violence as well.
1815 GMT: Syria. Today's headline may wind up being the violence in Deir Ez Zor (map) - Videos and activist reports suggest that there has been a massive escalation today, with many reports of snipers, shelling, and gun battles as Free Syrian Army insurgents attempt to defend the city from Assad military advances.
Shells landing on Deir Ez Zor:
1638 GMT: Syria. UPDATE: The ship has not yet left the port.
A Russian ship has been fitted with a new flag and
is MAY now headed to Syria, loaded with attack helicopters and air-defense equipment. Last week, the MV Alaed left Russia under a Curaçao flag, but had to turn back when its British insurers cancelled the insurance. Now, the freighter is MAY BE destined for Syria with a Russian flag.
The Russian government, for its part, has assured the international community that the helicopters already belong to Syria and were being repaired. However, most analysts agree that this is splitting hairs - the helicopters will likely be used to conduct air strikes against civilian targets, a pattern now common in large parts of Syria.
1613 GMT: Syria. The Syrian government is already extremely isolated from much of the Middle East, but the executive committee of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation has recommended that Syria be officially kicked out of the group:
The committee has "recommended to the meeting of the council of foreign ministers to be held in Djibouti the suspension of Syria's membership in the OIC in light of the bloody events taking place in the country," said the statement that followed a meeting in Saudi Arabia late Sunday.
Qatar and Brunei also recently announced that they will have women competing for the first time this year.
What's the likely motivation? A sudden change in heart? Unlikely, as there have been many associated with the Olympics whose private conversations have mirrored the public condemnation of the Middle Eastern countries that have banned female athletes. This decision ensures that Saudi will be able to compete in the Olympic games.
But the decision is also likely aimed to defuse internal political pressure:
The tide began to turn in April, when “the head of the kingdom’s General Presidency of Youth Welfare, the body that regulates sports in Saudi Arabia, said it would not prevent women from competing but that they would not have official government endorsement,” Reuters reported.
That same month, a Saudi girls’ school defied the ban “by erecting basketball hoops and letting pupils play at break-time.” In the comparatively liberal city of Jeddah, there are several female basketball and soccer teams, but they remain unofficial and are not allowed to compete internationally.
Al Raqqah has been relatively quiet, and only really joined the opposition in the last several months, but reports of a growing crackdown are now fairly regular. Though the city has been spared some of the more intense violence that other cities have seen, this is how it started in every other city, with teargas and arrests. Does Assad have enough resources to fight with yet another city, especially one so far from the seat of his power?
12 martyrs were reported in Deir Ezzor, 8 in Idlib, 4 in Homs, 4 in Damscus Suburbs, 3 in Daraa, 2 in Lattakia, 1 in Aleppo, 1 in Hama, 1 in Damascus.
Accompanying those numbers are reports of widespread military assaults on Deir Ez Zor and the towns around it, as well as an escalation of regime raids on several towns across Daraa province. These reports suggest that the military is continuing campaigns launched late last week in those two areas.
Daraa has been a focus since the start of this conflict, but the interesting developments are in Deir Ez Zor. The city, in the far east of Syria (map), has often felt ignored by the government and isolated from the rest of the country. However, Deir Ez Zor is a relative late-comer to the revolution. As an opposition movement has been steadily growing, it was not until the spring that we began to see widespread crackdown against protests and activists. Now, however, the city is also becoming the eastern headquarters for the armed wings of the opposition, and there is considerable evidence that the Free Syrian Army insurgents have been smuggling arms across the nearby border with Iraq.
The scale of the crackdown is costing Assad dearly. Deir Ez Zor is a long ways from Damascus, and so most of the soldiers and equipment deployed there has been trucked across the country in an emergency response to this growing threat. Also, those resources are now a long ways from Damascus, Idlib province, Homs, Daraa, and Idlib - leaving an already taxed Syrian military even more thinly spread.
Deir Ez Zor has been slowly slipping from Assad's grasp. The level of violence there is evidence that he believes he cannot afford for that to happen.
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us to the afternoon.
1320 GMT: Tunisia. An appeals court has upheld a 7 1/2-year sentence on Jaber Mejri, on charges of "attacking public order and morality", over on-line caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed and manuscripts critical of Islam.
Mejri was arrested along with Ghazi Beji, who managed to flee to Greece before the trial.
1140 GMT: Syria. Anita McNaught of Al Jazeera English reports on today's defection and crossing into Turkey of six senior military officers and 33 troops:
1050 GMT: Iraq. Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, head of an important political faction, has called for more political reforms and said he would back a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki if these were not implemented.
The Sadrists have been part of the al-Maliki ruling coalition, having backed the Prime Minister after the most recent elections and refused to join a no-confidence effort in Parliament.
But Sadr said yesterday, "Our main demand and the last demand is reforms. I said and I am still saying that there is a promise from me to the other blocs if the votes (for a no-confidence motion) reach 124, my 40 votes are with them."
0920 GMT: Syria. Destruction in the Qusour area of Homs from shelling:
0850 GMT: Syria. Turkish State television is claiming that six Syrian military officers --- a general, two colonels, two majors, and a lieutenant --- and 33 troops have defected and crossed into Turkey.
0550 GMT: Syria. The Syrian conflict was overtaken in headlines on Sunday by the drama of the Egyptian Presidential election, so it may come as a revelation this morning --- if eyes turn from Cairo --- that another 82 people died at the hands of security forces, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria.
On the regime side, State media says another 44 army, law enforcement, and civilian "martyrs" were buried on Sunday.
If the numbers are correct, at least 400 people have been slain in Syria since Friday.