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Saturday
Jun302012

Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: An International Gathering in Geneva

The moment a mortar or shell hit a funeral procession in the Damascus suburb of Zamalka today --- at least 20 people were reportedly killed (see 1800 GMT)

See also Saudi Arabia Feature: The Professor on Trial for Speaking Out
Syria 1st-Hand: The Stories of the Widows
Friday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: 139 Die as Assad Talks of "Eliminating Terrorists" to Save Lives


2104 GMT: Syria Observers on the Internet appear to be racing ahead of the situation to proclaim US support of military intervention.

The catalyst is a statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the US would "accelerate" its work at the United Nation Security Council on a resolution that would "impose real and immediate consequences for non-compliance" with today's resolution of an international conference for a transitional national unity government, "including sanctions". She continued, "We should endorse this plan in the Security Council, we should endorse it with real consequences, including Chapter 7 sanctions if it is not implemented."

A Chapter 7 action provides for non-military sanctions and/or military action, but chatter is jumping to the presumption that Clinton is indicating the latter.

2002 GMT: Syria It appears Saturday's international "agreement" has only entrenched division between Moscow and Washington.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has followed up with a firm line against foreign intervention and an implication that President Assad would be part of the transitional national unity government.

Lavrov said, "How exactly the work on a transition to a new stage is conducted will be decided by the Syrians themselves," adding that Russia had convinced other world powers that it would be "unacceptable" to exclude any party.

The Foreign Minister continued, "Of course, the Syrian authorities often react disproportionately and in an inadequate manner. Yes, he makes a tremendous amount of mistakes, but still—President Assad accepts advice. I am not sure if that is the case with the opposition."

In contrast, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared:

[It is] incumbent on Russia and China to show Assad the writing on the wall. There is a credible alternative to the Assad regime. What we have done here is to strip away the fiction that he and those with blood on their hands can stay in power.

1955 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees in Syria reports that 100 people have died today. Of the 35 slain in the Damascus suburbs, most were killed in the attack on the Zamalka funeral (see 1800 GMT). There were also 16 deaths in Deir Ez Zor Province, 13 in Hama Province, 12 in Daraa Province, and 10 in Idlib Province.

1855 GMT: Syria. A mass rally in the Bistan al-Qasr section of Aleppo today:

1840 GMT: Syria. Journalist Zaid Benjamin has posted the final communiqué of today's international conference in Geneva.

1800 GMT: Syria. Activists are reporting that dozens of people have died in the Damascus suburb of Zamalka when a mortar or a shell hit a funeral. Video (Warning: Very Graphic) of the immediate aftermath and of the retrieved bodies supports the claim.

1740 GMT: Syria. United Nations envoy Kofi Annan has announced the agreement of today's meeting of Foreign Ministers --- there will be an effort at a transitional national unity government which "could include members of the present government and the opposition and other groups and shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent".

It is not clear if President Assad will be allowed to remain as part of the transitional administration. The issue had divided the US, which insisted Assad must go, and Russia.

1730 GMT: Syria. A mass burial in the Damascus suburb of Douma today --- more than 40 people reportedly died in regime shelling and attacks on Thursday:

1605 GMT: Tunisia and Libya. Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, in a speech at the National Constituent Assembly, has defended the controversial extradition of former Libyan Prime Minister Al Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi.

Al-Mahmoudi was returned to Tripoli on Sunday against the wishes of Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki and the advice of human rights organisations who said Mahmoudi will not receive a fair hearing in Libya.

Jebali declared that the previous Tunisia government arranged the extradition of al-Mahmoudi and that the decision was made after ensuring that conditions for humane treatment in Libya would be guaranteed: “To those who accuse us of not respecting human rights…Mustafa Abdul Jalil, head of the Libyan National Transitional Council, and Libyan Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib have assured to us that he [al-Mahmoudi] will receive a fair trial."

Jebali declared that al-Mahmoudi’s presence on Tunisian soil constituted a threat to Tunisia’s national security, as well as an affront to Libya’s pursuit of transitional justice. He declared:

From an ethical standpoint we cannot protect a person that has committed so many crimes against our Libyan brothers....This man has many serious charges against him. It is out of respect to the sacrifices of the great Libyan people [that he has been extradited].

1555 GMT: Egypt. President Mohamed Morsi with officers at the "official" end of rule by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces:

1545 GMT: Sudan. Activists claim about 1,000 people were detained and hundreds injured during anti-regime protests on Friday.

An official from the Organization for Defense of Rights and Freedoms said some of those seized were released but many are still being held in prisons or "ghost houses" the location of which is unknown.

One of those detained is Sudanese journalist Talal Saad, who had brought some freelance photos of the protests to the AFP bureau in Khartoum. He was taken when armed national security agents raided the bureau and ordered AFP's correspondent to delete the photos.

Police said in a statement that "some of the rioters" were arrested and would be brought to trial after "small groups" demonstrated in Khartoum and elsewhere. They said they had contained the situation "with a minimum use of force."

1255 GMT: Egypt. Journalist Borzou Daragahi has posted the English translation of President Mohamed Morsi's speech in Tahrir Square on Friday.

Morsi, who took the Presidential oath this afternoon, is now speaking at Cairo University: ""I swear by God that I will sincerely protect the republican system and that I respect the constitution and the rule of law....I will maintain the security of Egypt alongside the military. The army is the shield of the people'"

1227 GMT: Syria. US officials have said that intelligence indicates a Turkish warplane, shot down by Syrian forces on 22 June, was most likely hit by shore-based antiaircraft guns while it was inside Syrian airspace.

The Turkish Government says the debris fell in Syrian waters, but maintains its fighter was shot down without warning in international airspace. Ankara also has said the jet was hit too far from Syrian territory to have been engaged by an antiaircraft gun.

However, a "senior [US] defense official" said, "We see no indication that [the jet] was shot down by a surface-to-air missile."

Syrian officials said the plane was downed by an antiaircraft battery with an effective range of about 1.5 miles.

1221 GMT: Syria. United Nations envoy Kofi Annan has told Foreign Ministers at an international conference in Geneva, considering his proposal for transition through a national unity government:

An international crisis of grave severity now looms. We are here to agree on guidlelines and principles for a Syrian-led political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.

It is the Syrian people who will be the greatest victims, and their deaths will be the consequence of not only the acts of killers on the ground but also your inability to bridge the divisions between you.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has set out the line, challenging Russia's resistance to any pre-conditions, "President Assad and his closest associates cannot credibly lead the process of transition in Syria."

1208 GMT: Syria. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and local activist Mohammed Saeed report that regime troops have regained control of the Damascus suburb of Douma after a 10-day assault (see 1151 GMT).

The Observatory claimed there were dead bodies in the streets and a lack of food, electricity and running water.

1201 GMT: Mali. Witnesses report that fighters of the Ansar Dine Islamist group have destroyed mausoleums in Timbuktu.

The attack came just four days after UNESCO agreed to a request by the West African state to place Timbuktu on its list of World Heritage sites in danger, following the seizure of the northern two-thirds of the country in April by separatists and insurgents.

"They have already completely destroyed the mausoleum of Sidi Mahmoud (Ben Amar) and two others. They said they would continue all day and destroy all 16," journalist Yeya Tandina said. "They are armed and have surrounded the sites with pick-up trucks. The population is just looking on helplessly."

Tandina said that the fighters were taking pick-axes to the mausoleum of Sidi El Mokhtar, another cherished local saint.

1151 GMT: Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims that at least 16 people have been killed amid regime shelling of cities such as Deir Ez Zor, Homs, and Idlib and Damascus suburbs.

Footage has been posted of Free Syrian Army troops helping those injured in the Damascus suburb of Douma.

1143 GMT: Egypt. Mohamed Morsi has been sworn in as President by the Supreme Constitutional Court.

0948 GMT: Bahrain. A photograph of Zainab Alkhawaja after she left hospital on Friday --- the activist was hit in the left leg on Thursday by a tear gas canister fired by security forces:

0945 GMT: Syria. Video testimony to the outcome of months of shelling and attacks on the Qusour section of Homs:

0900 GMT: Syria. Activists, posting blurred video, claim security forces have raided homes in the Al-Qosour neighbourhood of Daraa this morning:

0630 GMT: Egypt. President-elect Mohamed Morsi addressed a crowd of tens of thousands in Cairo's Tahrir Square last night, promising dignity and social justice. He swore to uphold the constitution and "the republican system", reciting the words of an oath which he will formally take on Saturday morning in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court: "I will look after the interests of the people and protect the independence of the nation and the safety of its territory."

Morsi opened his speech by addressing himself to "the Muslims and Christians of Egypt" and promised, "We will complete the journey in a civil state, a nationalist state, a constitutional state, a modern state."

In a possible reference to the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, he insisted that "no institution will be above the people," telling the crowd, "You are the source of authority."

The President-elect vowed to work for the release of civilians arrested by the army since the February 2011 overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. More than 12,000 people have been tried by military tribunals, according to local human rights groups.

0610 GMT: Syria. Most headlines this morning feature today's gathering of Foreign Ministers in Geneva, discussing a proposal by United Nations envoy Kofi Annan.

However, even before the talks open, questions arise over whether the meeting will be significant. There is the far-from-small matter of the exclusion of some regonal countries, notably Iran and Saudi Arabia. 

There is the division between Russia and the US. Washington's effort earlier this week to show Moscow on-board with the Annan plan for transition through a Syrian national unity government soon ran into a Russian denial. 

Yesterday Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met US counterpart Hillary Clinton in St Petersburg. Each side gave a token sign of hope afterwards about "a very good chance [of finding] common ground at the conference in Geneva"; however, Lavrov's deputy Gennady Gatilov put out the message that Moscow would not give way on its demand that President Assad could not be ordered out of office:

Our Western partners want to determine themselves the results of the political process in Syria. However, this is a matter for the Syrians themselves.

Lavrov appeared to put a kinder pressure on the Americans, "I felt a change in Hillary Clinton's position. There were not ultimatums. Not a word was said that the document we will discuss in Geneva cannot be touched."

And then there is the question --- probably the most important one --- of whether the Geneva talks will have any relevance to the situation on the ground in Syria. The latest mass killing emerged from Douma: amid a regime effort to quash opposition in the Damascus suburb, at least 40 people were slain on Thursday. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria report another 70 deaths across the country on Friday.

Yet, for all the regime assaults, the insurgency appears to be strengthening, especially in the northwest. There was more news yesterday of the Free Syrian Army knocking out the Syrian military's tanks and helicopters, and a notable video indicated the insurgents had captured two of President Assad's generals.

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