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Friday
Jun292012

Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: 139 Die as Assad Talks of "Eliminating Terrorists" to Save Lives

See also Sudan Primer: Happy Elbow Lick Day? Activists Look to Expand Protests
US Feature: Why Has a Florida Professor Endured House Arrest since 2003?
Thursday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Insurgents Advance


1834 GMT: Syria. According to the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria, a network of activists, 54 people have been killed so far today:

13 martyrs were reported in Homs; 11 in Deir Ezzor; 10 in Hama, most of whom were martyred in the Souran massacre; 6 in Aleppo; 5 in Daraa; 4 in Idlib; 3 in Damascus Suburbs,1 in Damascus and 1 in Jableh.

1828 GMT: Syria. These fighters in the Free Syrian Army claim to have destroyed 12 armored vehicles in Khan as Subil, Idlib (map).

They also claim to have captured the BMP armored vehicle, visible in the bottom of the frame:

1654 GMT: Syria. ITV's Bill Neely has just returned from Douma (map), the hard-hit suburb of Damascus that has been shelled for several weeks, and is now the place of heavy battles between insurgents and the regime's military. He paints of picture of a fierce battle, one where the regime's soldiers and tanks are taking heavy losses. The following is taken from a series of Tweets:

Just back from ‪Douma‬ where I witnessed very heavy fighting. Syria‬ Army bombarding area with artillery, mortars. Tanks firing too. Very loud explosions in Douma‬ as shells landed. Clear gun battles - 2 sides involved.

Syrian‬ troops told me 1 tank destroyed by RPG. I saw Syrian‬ army tank firing in ‪Douma‬ at target who had just launched RPG. Troops told me "it's very, very dangerous."

Syrian‬ troops based at a hospital on edge of Douma‬ showed me their damaged vehicles/tanks, hit by RPG & gunfire. They said they'd lost many men.

I witnessed ‪Douma‬ fighting & shelling for 1 hour before we fled as gunfire & battle came very, very close - bullets flying around us. Huge plumes of black smoke billowed out from southern end of ‪Douma‬ - almost continuous firing for an hour. Some very heavy exchanges.

Syrian‬ troops didn't want to be filmed in Douma‬ but talked of 2 day battle with rebels. Wounded men talked of hard fight. Troops lay - tired.

Two tanks near troops in Douma‬ hit by RPGs-1... The tank crew spoke nervously of moment [the tank was hit]. Troops very wary of going 300m down road - deadly.

Syrian troops said rebels were fighting to take large hospital on edge of Douma. Army defended it - many of their injured inside.

We'd note that in the last 6 months there have been many battles for hospitals - the Syrian security forces have policed them, arresting injured members of the opposition who were treated inside, and so the opposition's insurgents have fought to capture the locations, partially in order to raid the medical supplies.

1621 GMT: Syria. Long before there was an insurgency, there was a peaceful protest movement. The Free Syrian Army is really a response to Assad's crackdown against the protests, and Assad has cracked down because his government is so threatened by widespread public dissent.

Clearly we have entered a new stage of the uprising, which is resembling a full-blown war now. However, the protest movement is still significant for many reasons. First of all, Assad's economy is crippled more by passive resistance (refusal to pay taxes, blocked traffic, labor strikes) than by sanctions. Secondly, the crowds give moral support for the uprising and lend legitimacy to the claims that the Assad regime has no legitimacy. But the most important reason we have barely touched upon - as the Free Syrian Army insurgents move into the cities, they will require public support in order to keep them clothed, fed, sheltered, and hidden from Assad's soldiers. We've already seen the consequences of the FSA hiding among the populace in places like the suburbs of Damascus, where despite the heavy presence of the Assad security forces, the FSA has been able to launch surprise attacks on Assad government and military checkpoints and installations.

Today is Friday, and every Friday since last March has seen widespread anti-government protests. Today's protests appear larger than last week's.

Another tremendously impressive protest in the El Waer district of Homs (map):

Protesters fill the streets in central Aleppo (map):

Ariha, Idlib (map):

Ma'arrat al Nouman, Idlib, a central crossroads in the middle of one of this week's most bloody battlefields (map):

We have hundreds of videos like these today. From what we can see from social media and our contacts, protests are large and widespread.

1527 GMT: Syria. Deir ez Zor is Syria's 7th largest city, a city built on a lush oasis on the banks of the Euphrates River (map). Deir Ez Zor has occasionally been a city is widespread protest against President Bashar al Assad, and has often seen violence, but in the last week it has been turned into a war zone. The Local Coordinating Committees report:

The bloody campaign lead by the regime's army against the city continues for the eight consecutive day with the intense shelling of most districts of the city. Over 158 have been martyred including women and children and the Red Crescent emergency reponse doctor Bashar Al-Yousef, who was killed by a sniper bullet to the head. Over 2,000 injured individuals reside throughout field hospitals and private hospitals. Health conditions have worsened due to a lack of meical supplies and personnel and an inability to perform operations due to the continued shelling and. Homes and shops have also been destroyed due to the continued indiscriminate shelling.

1518 GMT: Syria. There is growing evidence that the Syrian regime is rapidly losing ground to insurgents of the Free Syrian Army west of Aleppo. On Tuesday, Reuters reported that an air force military base had fallen in Dar'at Izza (map), and we noted that just a few miles east an entire military checkpoint reportedly defected (map). Today, a blogger, Brown Moses, inquired about the town of Qabtane al Jabal (map). He said that he had seen plenty of evidence that the Free Syrian Army was growing stronger there, even mounting machine guns and anti-aircraft guns to trucks. We researched opposition reports, and found that over the last week there has been a significant body of evidence that not only has the FSA positioned itself in the town, but it has also scored some significant victories. On the 23rd, this video was posted, reportedly showing the area being "bombed."

On the 25th of June, a video was reportedly taken showing an anti-aircraft gun firing while noises of battle fill the air. By the 26th there are videos of rubble and surgery being performed in a makeshift hospital, clear signs of heavy military campaigns in the area.

But none of those videos is as interesting as a series reportedly taken on the 21st of June, showing insurgents having killed a truckload of "shabiha," pro-regime militia, as well as a tank, and then celebrating afterwards:

Qabtane al Jabal is halfway from the captured military base to IdlibAleppo city. With fight raging all around Idlib Aleppo, the Assad regime is beginning to look extremely vulnerable in the area. Insurgents have destroyed dozens of armored vehicles, killed or captured perhaps hundreds of soldiers, and have destroyed at least 2 attack helicopter this week alone. Beyond that, defections appear to be increasing (all the evidence for that is anecdotal, but it exists), and there are signs that the regime is panicking.

The Free Syrian Army may not be a military match for Assad's army, but if Assad's army continues to lose this much firepower and territory, and if it continues to see defections increase, Assad could find himself vulnerable to a coup attempt, or a sudden series of surprise attacks such as the ones that have characterized the last month of fighting.

1448 GMT: Syria. This video shows the wreckage of a helicopter that the FSA said yesterday it shot down in Idlib province. What's interesting about this is that this is the second helicopter shot down in this area in 3 days.

1424 GMT: Syria. ESCALATION near the capital - The Guardian posts this video of a helicopter firing rockets in Barzeh and Harasta (map), a northern neighborhood in Damascus. Guardian has also spoken to a resident of Damascus who says that this is a first inside the capital:

This is a remarkable development. The Assad regime has been trying to spare the capital from the kinds of violence seen elsewhere, an attempt to maintain the illusion of normalcy. The shelling of the suburbs over the last several weeks was, in a way, a surprising admission of weakness, but the use of attack helicopters to fire inside the capital is a shocking development.

1415 GMT: Syria. It is worth remembering that Turkey has been threatened by Syria not once, but three times so far in the last year. Previously, Syrian troops fired across the border, and at various times in the uprising the refugees pouring over the border have reached epidemic levels. The third incident, of course, was the recent downing of a Turkish jet fighter.

So with Turkey on edge (see previous update) and Turkish forces deploying along the border, this Tweet sums up the potential for disaster (Azaz on a map):

James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Big thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us through the morning.

1328 GMT: Syria. Both the Turkish daily Vatan and Michael Weiss of London's Daily Telegraph report from sources that Turkey has raised the possibility of a "no-fly zone" in northwestern Syria with NATO allies.

According to the journalists, Turkey broached the idea at this week's special NATO meeting discussing the downing of a Turkish jet fighter by Syrian forces.

1318 GMT: Syria. A cameraman is wounded by gunfire while filming in Aleppo:

Today's rally in Sawran in Hama Province:

Kafranbel:

1315 GMT: Sudan. An interactive map of today's developments, including the Elbow Lick Protests:

1211 GMT: Bahrain. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights has expressed concern over the ongoing detention of journalist Ahmed Radhi, arrested without a warrant on 16 May after a raid on his house and denied access to a lawyer.

Radhi's family believe that his arrest is a result of comments he made in international media, including BBC and London-based Bahrain Lulu TV, criticising the proposed union between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

1204 GMT: Syria. A rally in the Salaheddin section of Aleppo today:

Kafrouma in Idlib Province:

Al Habeet in Idlib Province:

And a demonstration in Qamishli:

1102 GMT: Syria. Division continues over United Nations envoy Kofi Annan's proposal for a transition of power in Damascus.

Russia proposed changes on Thursday to the plan for a national unity government, but the US, Britain, and France rejected the amendments, Western diplomats said. The Russians object to any pre-condition that President Assad will step aside and have no role in the transitional regime.

An American diplomat claimed earlier in the week that Moscow had endorsed Annan's proposal, which will be discussed at an international conference tomorrow, but Russian officials quickly denied this.

Despite the tension, Annan said, "I think we are going to have a good meeting tomorrow. I am optimistic," as he arrived in Geneva for a preparatory meeting.

1058 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage of more than 40 people, their bodies wrapped for burial, killed in the Damascus suburb of Douma on Thursday --- activists claim that, in addition to deaths from regime shelling, civilians were stabbed to death by pro-regime militia:

Claimed footage has also been posted of a family slain in the assault.

1051 GMT: Syria. The Free Syrian Army has posted videos of two captured commanders of Syrian forces, Brigadier General Mounir Shleibi of the Palestine Intelligence Branch (left) and Major General Faraj al-Maqt of Syrian Central Command. The Brown Moses Blog offers further detail:

1036 GMT: Egypt The crowd in Tahrir Square in Cairo for Friday Prayers --- President-elect Mohamed Morsi has announced he will address the gathering later today:

0846 GMT: Kuwait Al-Monitor posts an overview of the political situation in Kuwait, amid protests and the controversial decision to dismiss the election of the latest Parliament:

The opposition’s new attachment to the idea of a “constitutional emirate” is considered an important development in its confrontation with the regime. Just two weeks ago, only opposition youth espoused such an idea. This step would also require significant changes to the 1962 constitution, which gives the prince alone the authority to appoint a prime minister select the members of the government. The opposition is now demanding that this be carried out through a vote, as is the case in all western democracies.

0659 GMT: Syria. The Red Cross has said again that it cannot evacuate civilians and wounded from Homs.

The organisation said in a statement, “The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is very concerned that the suffering experienced by the civilian population in Homs is being exacerbated by the fact that aid is still not reaching them. [On Wednesday] a joint ICRC and Syrian Arab Red Crescent team was prevented from entering the city’s worst-hit areas.”

Beatrice Megevand-Roggo, the head of Red Cross operations for the Near and Middle East, said that there had been an agreement from Syrian authorities and the opposition for the ICRC team to carry out an evacuation, but “on the spot...agreed-upon conditions were not met and the staff were unable to proceed”.

Claimed footage of a Red Crescent ambulance attacked in the Khalidiya neighbourhood:

0634 GMT: Egypt. Former Minister of Oil Sameh Fahmy, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for corruption and squandering public funds in the sale of natural gas to Israel.

Five other officials of the Ministry and the state-run natural gas company were sentenced to prison for 3 to 10 years. A business associate of deposed President Hosni Mubarak, Hussein Salem, was tried in absentia, as Egypt seeks his extradition from Spain.

0628 GMT: Sudan. Continuing the recent challenge to the Bashir regime, the opposition has called for an "Elbow Licking Day" of protests.

The unusual name comes from President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's declaration, amid almost two weeks of demonstrations, that it would be easier to "lick your elbow" than to remove him from power.

Reuters offers background, EA has posted a preview and a feature.

0625 GMT: Bahrain. Twenty-seven countries have submitted a strongly-worded joint statement on Bahrain to the UN Human Rights Council. They call for the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, issued last November to be "implemented as soon as possible" and continue:

We jointly express our concern over the human rights situation in Bahrain, both theviolations that took place in February and March 2011 as well as the related ongoing ones. We areparticularly concerned about the consequences faced by those who protested for democratic change in a peaceful manner. We call upon the Bahraini government to fully respect their rights of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and especially to ensure the protection of Human RightsDefenders.

To enhance the prompt implementation of the recommendations of the Commission we suggest Bahrain to seek international expertise. Therefore, Bahrain should deepen its cooperation with the SpecialProcedures of the Human Rights Council. The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peacefulassembly and of association have both requested to visit Bahrain. We encourage Bahrain to find specificdates for their respective visits and engage in a constructive manner with them.

The statement was made by: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mexico, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland. The statement thus represents a strong stance from Europe, and a significant increase in the tenor of the pressure being placed on the Bahrain regime to comply with their international obligations.

Notably absent as signatories are the US and Britain.

0620 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria post that 139 people died at the hands of security forces on Thursday. The activists said 59 of those killed were in the Damascus suburbs, with most perishing in the Syrian military's shelling of Douma.

The battle for Douma has raged all week, and the prospect is that the violence will continue there and elsewhere. In an interview aired by Iranian state television last night, President Assad presented this as a necessary campaign for the good of the Syrian people:

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.

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