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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Insurgents Advance

Insurgents claim victory in Hayan in Aleppo Province (Warning: Graphic Images)

See also Sudan Opinion: Why the Khartoum Regime Will Fall
Wednesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Assad Declares, "We Are In a Real State of War"

2125 GMT: Syria. In an interview on Iranian state television, President Assad has drawn a line against an outside solution for the Syrian political crisis: "We will not accept any non-Syrian, non-national model, whether it comes from big countries or friendly countries. No one knows how to solve Syria's problems as well as we do."

Assad also offered no sign of relenting in the military campaign against opposition:

The responsibility of the Syrian government is to protect all of our residents. You have a responsibility to eliminate terrorists in any corner of the country. When you eliminate a terrorist, it's possible that you are saving the lives of tens, hundreds, or even thousands.

2055 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria report that 120 people have died today, including 42 in the Damascus suburbs, 26 in Homs Province, 17 in Daraa Province, and 15 in Deir Ez Zor Province.

1905 GMT: Syria. More evidence that the Free Syrian Army has inflicted some damage today --- this first video shows 3 destroyed tanks in Khan as Subil, Idlib province (map):

A tank burns in Deir Ez Zor (map):

Other, less conclusive, videos show supply trucks, and what was reportedly a tank, destroyed in Saraqeb (map). And there are other unconfirmed reports of successful FSA actions against soldiers and vehicles. Add to these reports the rumors and reports of more defections, and Assad is hemorrhaging troops and vehicles this week.

1850 GMT: Syria. The suburbs of Damascus hold today's headlines. Gruesome videos (like this one) show bodies piled in the streets, reportedly the result of pro-Assad soldiers and militia. On another video, three bomb blasts can be heard echoing through the streets of Kafer Batna (map). The video below shows the suburb of Hamoriyah, rocked by gunfire and explosions (map):

A tank opening fire in Douma (map):

1802 GMT: Syria. This video was reportedly taken just east of Daraa city, in AlNaymah (map). What it shows is intense shelling of the suburb, matching reports we received earlier:

1743 GMT: Syria. According to the Local Coordinating Committees, 100 people have been killed so far today:

43 martyrs in Damascus Suburbs death tolls mostly concentrated in Douma, 25 in Homs, 12 in Deir Ezzor, 10 in Daraa, 9 in Hama, 9 in Idlib and 2 in Damascus.

The report from Douma and the other suburbs around Damascus are obviously the most striking. Gunfire, mortar roads, and explosions have rocked the areas east of Damascus since morning, and those reports continue to come in.

1601 GMT: Syria. According to State media SANA, the Syrian parliament has passed a new law to combat "terrorism."

The Assembly also approved the draft law on demobilizing state workers or employees and depriving them of their wages, salaries and pension rights if charged with committing terrorist acts, joining terrorist groups or providing support to them.

In other words, parliament may have felt that too many of their employees were in various ways supporting the opposition, and parliament is trying to send a stern warning to stop.

1534 GMT: Syria. This is Deir Ez Zor (map), a city where the shelling, gunfire, and artillery strikes are intensifying as the day goes on.

The city was stormed several days ago by the Syrian military, and artillery has been punding the city. However, Free Syrian Army insurgents in the area rushed into the city over the last 24 hours, and have reportedly engaged the regular army in battle. This video reportedly shows smoke coming from the Civil Defense building, perhaps the result of an FSA counterattack:

1526 GMT: Syria. More than 100 people were killed by Assad's security forces yesterday, according to activists, and more than 100 may die today. In fact, the death toll has been in the 50-100+ range every day for more than a week. For every death, there is a funeral, and many funerals turn into anti-regime protests, and those protests look like this one, reportedly held today in Dael, Daraa (map):

1515 GMT: Syria. The military situation in Syria is developing quickly. From what we can tell, the Syrian military is pulling out of the mountains and is trying to establish strongholds near the major highways, particularly the roads that link Aleppo, Idlib, Hama, Homs and Damascus, as well as the roads to the south that link Damascus to Daraa. The strategy is proving extremely costly, both in terms of regime military losses and civilian loss of life.

Today, there are even more reports that the Free Syrian Army is making the Assad military pay for every inch of highway in Idlib province. The Local Coordinating Committees report that a helicopter was shot down near an airforce base in the Saraqib/Taftanaz area. An activist suggests that this is here (map).

However, another activist shares a recorded statement from an FSA battalion to the south of this. They claim to have destroyed 6 tanks and a helicopter in Khan as Subil (map). Two days ago, FSA fighters did destroy a helicopter there, so we're not sure if this is the same helicopter or a new one.

If all these reports are true, the Syrian military may have lost 3 helicopters and more than a dozen armored vehicles in these small towns in just 3 days.

1452 GMT: Syria. Douma, a major suburb of Damascus, is once again the target of heavy shelling today. According to some, the smoke rising above the city can be seen from the capital (map):

1438 GMT: Syria. In Deir Ez Zor, tank and artillery shells seem to be responsible for most of the damage. Here's a video that claims to show a tank firing on the city:

Just after a shell has landed in the Hamidiyah district of Deir Ez Zor (map):

1421 GMT: Syria. Today's death toll in Syria is rising rapidly. LCCS now reports 80 deaths, in

32 martyrs were reported in Damascus Suburbs and 29 in Douma, with one martyr in Daraya, Erbeen and Hamouria. 17 martyrs were reported in Homs, 12 in Deir Ezzor, 7 in Idlib, 4 in Daraa and 2 were reported in Damascus.

One of the reasons for the sudden spike is a report that 6 people, two man, one of the men's wives, and 3 children, were all killed as shells landed in Asharneh, a town northwest of Hama and south of Qa'allat al Madiq (map):

James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started today.

1350 GMT: Yemen. A Yemeni official, Ali Mohammed al-Ansi, said security forces have arrested a cell of Al Qa'eda operatives suspected of carrying out a suicide bombing in Sanaa on 21 May that killed more than 100 troops.

Last week, security forces announced the detention of Majed al-Qulaisi, a member of the alleged Al-Qaeda cell that planned the attack.

1345 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria claim 66 people have died today, including 24 in the Damascus suburbs, 17 in Homs Province, and 12 in Deir Ez Zor Province.

1155 GMT: Syria. State news agency SANA reports three people have been injured in an explosion in the car park of the Justice Palace in Damascus this morning.

1147 GMT: Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has denied reports that Moscow has endorsed a transition plan, put forward by United Nations envoy Kofi Annan, for a national unity government.

An unnamed U.S. official claim Annan had assured Washington that Russia backed the plan, to be discussed at an international conference in Geneva on Saturday.

A spokesman for the opposition Syrian National Council said, "The opposition has not yet received the details of the Annan proposal and cannot reply to it. But its firm position remains that the opposition would not participate in any political project unless Assad is removed from power."

1138 GMT: Yemen. France 24 claims, citing observers on the ground, "The residents of a neighbourhood in the southern Yemeni city of Aden have been at the mercy of tanks and snipers, deployed there by the Yemeni army. According to our Observers, the army has adopted a shoot-on-sight policy and the neighbourhood of Mansoura has become so dangerous that some residents have abandoned their homes."

The Yemeni army has been pursuing an offensive against insurgents, re-taking several cities and towns in the south. This campaign, however, goes farther --- according to France 24, "On June 15, the army launched an assault on a camp that separatists had set up in Martyrs’ Square, in the centre of the Mansoura neighbourhood. Several people were injured. The violence escalated on Friday June 23, when soldiers opened fire on a group of mourners who were part of a funeral procession heading towards Martyrs’ Square." The site, citing activists, says at least 12 people were killed and more than 30 wounded.

1024 GMT: Israel and Palestine. A senior Hamas official, Kamel Ranaja, has been killed at his home in Damascus. The Palestinian organisation has blamed the Israeli intelligence service Mossad.

Ranaja's death was announced in a Hamas statement which said he died "in the service of his cause" and that his "blood would not be wasted". He was reportedly to be a deputy to Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, killed in a Dubai hotel in 2010.

1020 GMT: Bahrain. The Chief of Public Security Major-General Tariq Al-Hassan, has announced in a press conference that suspects are being sought after raids on 14 June on buildings "used for highly-explosive bomb production".

Hassan claimed more than 5 tonnes of material and 110 litres of chemicals were seized.

Police video of the raids on the houses:

1010 GMT: Syria. Turkish media report a convoy of about 30 military vehicles, including trucks loaded with missile batteries, have arrived in Turkey's coastal town of İskenderun, 50 kilometres (about 31 miles) from the Syrian border.

Turkish television film showed the column setting off on Wednesday, escorted by police cars. It included rocket launchers on transporters, anti-aircraft artillery, and military ambulances.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said earlier this week, following last Friday's downing of a Turkish fighter jet by Syrian forces, that any military unit moving towards the Turkish border and deemed threatening would be declared a target.

0935 GMT: Iraq. At least 12 people have been killed and more than 40 wounded in a series of car bombs in and around Baghdad.

Almost 200 people have been killed in attacks since 13 June.

0931 GMT: Syria. Looks like it could be another bloody day --- the Local Coordination Commitees of Syria report 21 people dead so far.

0924 GMT: Bahrain. Human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, who was freed from detention on Wednesday, has been given a 300 dinar ($800) fine for his Twitter messages which supposedly insulted the people of Muharraq village.

Rajab still faces four other charges, including participation in illegal marches.

0814 GMT: Bahrain. Human Rights Watch has called on the authorities to quash the sentences of protesters Jaffar Salman Maki and Mohamed Ali, "unfairly convicted by military courts" and "in need of urgent medical treatment due to the long-term effects of injuries from security forces’ gunfire".

Maki and Ali were convicted on charges of “illegal gathering" after hearings in which they had no legal representation. In June 2011, Maki was given a two-year sentence and Ali three years. A court is due to review their cases today.

Maki was injured on the face and chest by police gunfire on 15 March near his home in Sitra as he was returning from work as a cleaning supervisor. His family says he is blind in one eye and has limited vision in the other.

Ali was shot in the chest by the Bahrain Defense Forces during a demonstration near the Pearl Roundabout in Manama on 18 February 2011.

0811 GMT: Bahrain. British Minister of State Lord Howell has visited the Kingdom, meeting the Minister of Interior, Sheikh Rashid Al Khalifa, "to discuss the implementation of reforms in Bahrain and the prospects for political dialogue".

After the meeting, the British Foreign Office issued Howell's statement:

The Bahraini Government has made some progress in addressing the recommendations of the Independent Commission of Inquiry, but wider concerns still need to be addressed. I urged the Government to increase the pace of reform and ensure that the human rights of all Bahraini citizens are fully respected. For the long-term stability of the country, I encourage all parties to enter into an inclusive and constructive political dialogue without preconditions.

0711 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria say 13 people have already died today: five in Idlib Province, three each in Deir Ez Zor and Homs Provinces, and two in Harak in the south.

0657 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage from late March of Syrian troops recording the advance of a convoy on al-Madiq citadel, a historic fortress in Hama Province which had been occupied by insurgents: "We will cleanse al-Madiq....The Citadel is burning. Either Assad or the country burns."

The second part of the footage records troops' discussion in the aftermath of the assault:

0650 GMT: Syria. More on United Nations envoy Kofi Annan's latest initiative, to be considered at an international conference on Saturday....

Annan has proposed setting up a transitional government that could include both members of the current Assad regime and those of the opposition. It would exclude those "whose presence could harm the transition and jeopardize the credibility of the government or undermine efforts to bring reconciliation".

A UN diplomat said, "The language of Annan's plan suggests that Assad could be excluded but also that certain opposition figures could be ruled out," but he emphasised that nothing in the document automatically forced Assad to step aside.

Russia has insisted that there must be no pre-condition for Assad's removal.

0620 GMT: Bahrain. It looks like the US Ambassador Thomas Krajeski's effort to smooth over relations with the Kingdom has been far from successful. First, his words were distorted by the pro-regime Gulf Daily News to highlight the supposed Iranian threat to the country. Now, Krajeski is getting less than glowing reviews from MPs:

Parliamentarians yesterday expressed their fury at the interference of US in Bahrain’s affairs and demanded the removal of US Ambassador Thomas Krajeski.

They said that their voice represent the ‘people’s will' who ‘rightfully reject’ the ambassador and his stand in the Kingdom’s crisis.

The MPs unanimously agreed that the right to appoint or reject an Ambassador is the sovereignty of HM King Hamad, however, hoped that HM will not disregard people’s demand.

Addressing a press conference, 12 MPs representing all blocs of the house, highlighted the reasons for their decision – the major ones being – the US’s dictatorial interference, its ambassador’s biased comments and coalition with the opposition parties and his suggestion to ‘compromise’ while condemning security measures in the Kingdom.

0520 GMT: Syria. There was a lot of chatter on Wednesday about diplomacy, with United Nations envoy Kofi Annan calling an international meeting --- but excluding Iran and Saudi Arabia --- on Saturday in Geneva. For us, however, the story was on the ground inside the country.

Beyond the morning drama of an attack by gunment on a pro-regime TV station, that story was the continuing advance of the insurgents in the north and northwest. The Free Syrian Army is already in control of much of Idlib Province, and reports and videos on Wednesday pointed to further gains, with regime forces either retreating or re-deploying. Footage also testified to the insurgency's rising challenge in Aleppo Province.

Tuesday's death toll pointed to the intensity of the fighting. Of the 104 victims reported by the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, 42 were in Idlib Province. And there was also the notable silence --- State news agency SANA has stopped reporting the number of security forces who have been slain.

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