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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Spread of the Conflict

Protest in Maarat Harma in Idlib Province this morning

See also Syria Feature: Snapshots from Aleppo
Russia Audio Feature: Moscow's Manoeuvres Around the World --- Scott Lucas with Monocle 24
Turkey Live Coverage (6 June): Erdogan Chides Israel; A Meeting on the Kurdish Issue
Tuesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: From Houla to Douma

2202 GMT: Syria. There are widespread reports of violence tonight, in nearly every region of Syria. Despite the fact that the number may rise, the Local Coordinating Committees, a network of activists, report that at least 140 people have been killed, including them ore than 70 reportedly killed in a single village in Hama province:

92 in Hama (35 martyrs from one family, the youngest victim was a 3 month old baby), 15 in Latakia, 11 in Idlib, 12 in Homs, 5 in Deir Ezzor, 2 martyrs in Damascus Suburbs,and 1 in Daraa.

2152 GMT: Syria. The blogger Brown Moses offers a good translation of an opposition Facebook page we cited earlier. This is the most complete detail of the attack on Qubair village that we have seen yet:

Hama Countryside | al-Qubair Farm near Ma'arzaf Village | Details of the Massacre Ma'arzaf village lies about 20 km west of Hama city and 2 km south of the city of Mharde. al-Qubair is considered to be a residential area south of Ma'arzaf with about 25 houses where members of the al-Yateem, al-Farees and 'Alwan families live.

At around 2 p.m., 3 T-72 tanks moved from the direction of al-Majdal village and Aseela village towards Ma'arzaf and began shelling Ma'arzaf and al-Qubair, another small village whose residents are mostly from the al-Yateem family.

After about an hour, several cars and buses carrying shabiha (regime thugs) from al-Aseela village (which is a regime loyalist village) stormed al-Qubair and began destroying houses, slaughtering residents and burning their corpses.

Among the casualties is a woman from the Qastal family, who was killed with all her children 35 people from al-Yateem family were killed

Some members of the 'Alwan family were killed as a result of injuries sustained by the shelling, as the supplies needed to care for them were not available.

Knives were used to summarily executed many women and children.

Many houses were completely destroyed during the shelling by Assad regime tanks, Shabiha kidnapped the bodies of many men. At this point, about 78 martyrs have been accounted for and identified by name and some corpses were burned by the shabiha.

As we've noted below, the incident is still unconfirmed, and is likely to stay that way at least until morning. Hopefully the UN dispatches UN observers immediately to confirm as much of the story as possible.

That said, there are indications that the report is real. First of all, this level of detail will eventually make this story easier to verify. Secondly, these details decrease the chance that this is some rumor gone horribly wrong.

Regardless, news of the claimed massacre has spread, and contacts indicate that there are widespread protests across the country in solidarity with those killed in Qubair and the rest if Hama province.

2117 GMT: Syria. Editor's note - A few notes of caution on these recent reports. The LCCS is typically reliable because they work to confirm reports, and there have been reports of burned bodies and many deaths in Kafer Zita, north of Qubair where the current massacre is being claimed. We're confused as to whether both cities were hit hard today, or whether the reports are confused. It's also possible that "Kafer Zita" is being used to describe the countryside in the area, not just the town itself (Syria often employs a unique brand of geography that is very hard to follow).

Compounding this problem is the rural location of these towns and villages - few activists are familiar with the area, and fewer residents are in the area to report and confirm details.

Still, the entire Twitterverse, and many Main Stream news agencies, are reporting the massacre. We do believe, based on information we've received, that the death toll in the Hama area is very high.

2109 GMT: Syria. Information is trickling out about what is already being called the Qubair massacre near Hama. So far, however, we should stress that much of the information is unconfirmed. Qubair is a small village in a rural area, so there are not enough people in the area to provide adequate confirmation yet. However, the amount of details about the event add some credence to the reports.

This claim is the latest to make it to Twitter:

2103 GMT: Syria. An opposition Facebook page offers more details about in the village of Al Qubair (which we believe is here). According to the report, 3 regime tanks rolled into the village at around 2 PM and began shelling. When they were done, plain-clothed "shabiha" raided the village, killing an entire family and burning some of the bodies.

Another blogger, Brown Moses, is live-blogging the event and provides these reports from contacts on Twitter:

Al-Qubair is a tiny farm with a population of 130. 78 of the 130 were slaughtered today, including 20 children & 35 women. #QubairMassacre 30+ of those killed in #QubairMassacre were burned alive. The rest were either shot at or slaughtered with knives...

via Mohammed Sarmini - Among the killed, there were 20 kids of 2 years old or less, and 20 women#syria

A new massacre in Al Qubeer Farm in the rural areas of Hama, The thugs of Assad raided today the Qubeer Farm#syria#hamah

20 km to the west of Mohardeh in the rural area of Hama. They’ve committed a horrible brutal massacre#syria#hamah

they’ve killed around 100 people with knives and burned some alive. Among the killed, there are 20 kids of 2 years old or less; and 20 women

Among the killed, there were 20 kids (2 years old or less); and 20 women.

2022 GMT: Syria. A Massive escalation in the violence in Syria. The LCC reports:

The number of martyrs has risen to 129 thus far, including women and children slaughtered during the fierce regime shelling in different areas of Hama. 86 in Hama (35 martyrs from one family), 14 in Latakia, 11 in Idlib, 10 in Homs, 5 in Deir Ezzor, 1 in Daraa and Damascus Suburbs.

All the numbers are high, with significant violence in Lattakia, Idlib, Homs, and Deir Ez Zor.

But tomorrow's headline belongs to Hama. The majority of the violence was in Kafer Zita, where many shells fell, and fires were reportedly set by "Shabiha," pro-regime gangs. This video shows some of the destruction, and one of the bodies of the burned:

Several more videos shows shells falling after dark as well.

However, the LCCS reports that scores have been killed elsewhere outside the city as well tonight:

Hama: The number of martyrs in the city today has reached 86 martyrs. 78 of them are from the Qubeir massacre (near Maarzaf), 35 of whom are from one family, half of them are women and children.

Maarzaf is here, a village not far from the city.

The full extent of the damage in Hama is not yet known, however. If these numbers are accurate, the number of dead there will likely continue to rise as shells fall and more damage is discovered.

2003 GMT: Syria. A significant claim - an activist, "Anonymous Syria," shares a video claiming to show a significant victory for the Free Syrian Army:

What do we know about the video? Two brigades of the Syrian Army claim to be involved in the raids - both say their names and both are mentioned in the description: The Abu Bakr al-Saddik Brigade and the Tariq ibn Ziyad Brigade. Also, today's date is mentioned, and the fighters claim they launched the attack as retaliation for the Houla massacre.

As far as we can tell, this video is likely legitimate, but it cannot be confirmed.

If the Free Syrian Army has captured at least 2 armored vehicles and destroyed at least another, that adds significant fire power to their small arsenal. More importantly, it is another sign that though the FSA is massively outnumbered and significantly outgunned, it is still capable of inflicting significant damage on the Assad military.

1823 GMT: Syria. Once again, artillery shells are reportedly flying over the University of Aleppo Campus. According to the LCC, artillery pieces at the Military Academy have opened fire, and the shells are reportedly falling on the northern suburb of Hayyan. The flight path of those shells is nearly directly over the top of the University of Aleppo, site of widespread protests, and an area that was raided earlier by police.

This matches patterns seen last night, disquieting many activists.

1745 GMT: Syria. This video was reportedly taken in Al Haffeh, Lattakia, showing smoke rising after shells landed inside the town:

More video claiming to show the bombardment of Homs, this time the Hamidiyah district:

1625 GMT: Syria. Earlier (see the must-watch video on update 1237 GMT), we reported that shells had fallen in the Khalidiyeh district of Homs, and a building had fallen as a result. Now, activists report that the shelling continues, despite the approach of nightfall:

1542 GMT: Syria. According to the LCCS, 42 people have been killed so far across Syria:

9 martyrs were reported in Lattakia, 10 in Homs, 5 in Deir Ezzor, 8 in Hama, 6 in Idlib, 2 in Aleppo, 1 in Daraa, and 1 in the Damascus Suburbs.

The deaths in Hama are new, and we're seeking details. However, the LCCS has also posted a disturbing video showing burnt bodies in what it is calling "another massacre" in Kafr Zita.

1532 GMT: Syria. The latest on the international response --- US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has cast serious doubt about Russia's efforts to negotiate a political solution to the crisis in Syria if a Yemen-style deal was brokered with Russia and Iran playing major roles. Clinton stated that it was hard to imagine a country like Iran, whom she accused of playing a role in inciting the violence, as a partner in the possible solution. Or, as she phrased it, "it's a little hard to imagine inviting a country that is stage-managing Assad regime's assault on its people".

The US also signaled that it will be increasing economic sanctions against Syria and working with the international community to seek some sort of Yemen-style transition:

In recent days, Clinton has sought to open the door to a compromise with Russia, calling Assad's ouster from power a necessary outcome of any political transition but not necessarily a "precondition."

The nuance suggests the U.S. is willing to allow Assad to hang on in power for part of a structured regime change. But the administration is also making it clear that Assad's eventual departure must be agreed on by all parties as part of the transition, and that it cannot accept Russian ideas about promoting reform or greater dialogue in Syria as a substitute for true political change.

The US strategy is perhaps defined by these statements. The US will continue to ramp up economic pressure on the Assad regime, increasing the danger that it will be unable to afford its crackdown against a protest movement and a growing insurgency. At the same time, it will negotiate the removal of the Assad regime --- on its own terms, not on Iran's.

If such an effort is to succeed, it will require Russia's assistance, so Washington is willing to accept some of Moscow's concerns. At the same time, however, Russia will be under increased pressure to lean on the Assad regime while keeping Iran out of the manoeuvres.

1506 GMT: Syria. Multiple opposition Facebook pages and Twitter accounts have reported that students were arrested and teargas fired on the campus of Aleppo University today. Several videos, posted by different Youtube channels and potentially filmed by two different sources, claim to show the raid. Both appear to visually match Aleppo University:

1404 GMT: Syria. CNN provides this fascinating and important look at the battle between the Free Syrian Army and Assad forces in the Khalidiya district of Homs. The video shows behind-the-scenes footage of the FSA's campaign to halt advances by the Syrian army, while it gives insight into the nature of the battles and the motives behind them:

1351 GMT: Syria. According to the LCC, the number of dead in Syria continues to rise. As of now they report to have confirmed 23 deaths nationwide:

8 martyrs in Lattakia, 6 martyrs in Homs, 5 martyrs in Deir Ezzor, 2 martyrs in Hama, 1 martyr in Idlib, and 1 martyr in Daraa.

Striking is the sudden rise of deaths in Lattakia. Reports are circulating that the town of Al Hassah, in eastern Lattakia, is once again the site of heavy fighting between insurgent fighters and the Syrian military. Artillery and air strikes have been reported, as has heavy sniper fire, though we're not yet able to confirm those reports.

1332 GMT: Syria. It's all about the economy. One of the primary motivators for unrest in Syria has been the regime's inability to cope with the glaring economic issues facing the country, including rising prices and the high unemployment rate. On the other hand, now that the nation is facing a crisis, and the Syrian government is bleeding money, the failing economy threatens to strangle the Assad regime (and, likely, many innocent Syrians who can no longer afford to pay for basic necessities.

As such, The Guardian discovers an interesting figure - that according to the regime's own numbers (Arabic) the inflation rate in April was 31.45%.

1322 GMT: Bahrain. More on the arrest of Nabeel Rajab.

Rajab has been ordered by the General Prosecutor to serve a 7 day term in prison. Scott Lucas adds that the previous charges involved allegations made over Twitter, and charges related to holding an illegal march.

While the prison term is related to previous charges, the timing of the incident is curious. Clearly, the Bahraini government is turning up the heat on the activists who are getting the most attention, particularly the ones who make it to international television news broadcasts, either as guests or because their Tweets were featured.

1304 GMT: Bahrain. Activists are reporting that prominent human rights campaigner Nabeel Rajab has once again been arrested. This prominent activist thinks he knows why, and his allegations certainly match patterns we've already seen develop over the last 2 days:

1237 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordinating Committees report that 16 people have been killed so far today by regime loyalists or security forces:

6 martyrs in Homs, 5 martyrs in Deir Ezzor, 2 martyrs in Hama, 1 martyrs in Lattakia, 1 martyr in Idlib, and 1 martyr in Daraa.

We've been chasing some rumors of clashes between the Free Syrian Army and Assad loyal forces in the Deir Ez Zor area, so the slightly elevated death toll there is somewhat curious.

But so far the most dramatic activist report appears to be this building, reportedly 12 stories high, that collapsed in the Khalidiya district of Homs, the result of shelling:

James Miller takes over today's live coverage, with thanks to the hard-working Scott Lucas for getting us through to the afternoon.

1140 GMT: Tunisia. The Ministry of Education has issued a decree banning students, sitting for next week’s baccalaureate examination, from covering their faces with the niqab, the veil worn by women that covers the face except for the eyes.

The Ministry said this would "ensure the candidate’s identity and avoid any misunderstanding which could lead to accusations of cheating and misbehavior”.

1130 GMT: Libya. The Libya Herald provides new information and opens up more mysteries about Monday's temporary occupation of Tripoli's airport by the Al-Awfia Brigade from Tarhouna.

The brigade had occupied the airport in retaliation for the abduction of its commander, Abu-Alija Habshi, a day earlier.

The Herald reports that just before his kidnapping, Habshi had left Tarhouna for Tripoli with the intention of handing over two of his brigade’s tanks to the Ministry of Defence. However, he was stopped at a government checkpoint on the approach to Tripoli and informed that the tanks could not be brought into the capital without relevant documentation from the military council in Tarhouna.

Having left the tanks at the checkpoint where they were stopped, Habshi headed back to Tarhouna appently to collect the documentation but was abducted not far away on the same road.

This has fed speculation has emerged that the Supreme Security Committee (SSC) was responsible for the kidnapping, after having been informed of Habshi’s whereabouts and his intentions by the guards at the checkpoint.

The SSC has denied that it had anything to do with Habshi’s disappearance, and has said that it is currently looking for those responsible.

1125 GMT: Egypt. Egyptian foreign reserves rose $302 million in May to reach $15.52 billion, their second consecutive monthly increase after a year of decline.

Just before the January 2011 uprising that unseated president Hosni Mubarak, the country's reserves were close to $36 billion.

1120 GMT: Syria. There have been clashes between Syrian troops and residents in the border town of Arsal in eastern Lebanon after a Lebanese man was killed and two wounded at dawn, according to a security source.

The source said rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons were fired during the fighting, which began after Syrian security forces intercepted a group of arms smugglers crossing into Syria in the town in the Bekaa Valley.

1105 GMT: Syria. It looks like Russia's shift on Syria --- indicating on Tuesday that it could accept a solution without a President Assad and proposing today (see 1050 GMT) that a "broader international meeting" be convened, including Turkey and Iran --- is part of an initiative including other countries. An unnamed diplomat has fed the story to David Ignatius of The Washington Post:

[United Nations] Kofi Annan is tinkering with a radical idea for reviving his moribund peace plan for Syria --- a road map for political transition there that would be negotiated through a “contact group” that could include, among other nations, Russia and Iran....

The reason Annan is said to be considering this unconventional approach is that nothing else has worked. The United States and its key Western allies don’t want to intervene militarily, fearing that this could produce a highly unpredictable and unstable outcome. The West wants Russia to broker a deal, but so far President Vladimir Putin hasn’t seen enough pragmatic benefit to embrace this course.

To break the deadlock, Annan would create his contact group, composed of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States), plus Saudi Arabia and perhaps Qatar to represent the Arab League, and Turkey and Iran. The idea is to bring together the countries with most influence on the situation.

This unwieldy group would then draft a transition plan and take it to Assad and the Syrian opposition. This road map would call for a presidential election to choose Assad’s successor, plus a parliamentary ballot and a new constitution — with a timeline for achieving these milestones.

Assad would presumably depart for Russia, which is said to have offered him exile; the Syrian dictator is rumored to have transferred $6 billion in Syrian reserves to Moscow already. Under this scenario, Assad presumably could avoid international prosecution for war crimes. Iran is also said to have offered exile to Assad and his family.

To contain the bloodletting that would follow Assad’s ouster, Annan is said to favor a detailed plan for reforming the security forces, similar to reforms in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism.

1050 GMT: Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in Beijing, has called for an international meeting on the Syrian crisis, including Iran and Turkey, to bolster the peace plan of United Nations envoy Kofi Annan.

Lavrov made the comments while in Beijing.

1030 GMT: Syria. More from our opening entry on the spread of the conflict, specifically, operations by regime military in the Lattakia area....

The Local Coordination Committees of Syria claim, "Shelling of the villages of Kanda, Kabani, Aako and most villages of Jabal Aako with helicopters."

Syrian activists claim casualties:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims army reinforcements arrived at dawn, killing an insurgent captain in the town of Selma and six civilians in Haffeh.

0900 GMT: Syria. President Assad has named Riyad Hijab as the new Prime Minister, asking him to form a government.

Hijab was Minister of Agriculture. He replaces Adel Safar, who was appointed in April last year shortly after the revolt began.

0739 GMT: Egypt. The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has set a 48-hour deadline for political parties to complete the formation of a 100-member panel to write a new Constitution. If this is not done, the SCAF said it will draw up its own blueprint.

Lawmaker Mustafa Bakri outlined the ultimatum after representatives of 18 parties and independent lawmakers met with the head of the SCAF, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, on Tuesday. The process has been deadlocked in a dispute over the composition of the body, with secular and liberal members claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party was trying to stack the panel with its members.

Several parties boycotted the Tuesday meeting, including the FJP. The Party's Saad el-Katatni, who is Speaker of Parliament, declared, "No one can strip the parliament of its authority to issue legislation or laws.

Yasser Ali, a spokesman for Mohammed Morsi, the Brotherhood's candidate in the Presidential run-off in mid-June, said that if the SCAF proceeded, "It will be hijacking legislative authority from Parliament....We won't recognize whatever comes from the military council."

0708 GMT: Bahrain. The Minister of Interior, Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, has given "a wide-ranging, extremely frank interview" to a pro-regime newspaper. Typical statement: "Bahrain will never combat terrorism with terrorism --- and totally rejects killings and torture."

0518 GMT: Syria. Carrot-and-stick from the Assad regime on Tuesday --- it agreed to let aid workers into the country while expelling the diplomats of 17 countries.

The aid workers will initially be based in Homs, Daraa, Idlib, and Deir Ez Zor.

John Ging of the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said UN teams already have been sent to scout the areas. He added, ""Whether this is a breakthrough or not will be evident in the coming days and weeks, and it will be measured not in rhetorics, not in agreements, but in action on the ground."

0500 GMT: Syria. Yesterday we opened by noting both the mass killing on 25 May in Houla in Homs Province and this week's fighting in the Damacus suburb of Douma. As Tuesday developed, however, we had to watch other locations. 

A note from the Local Co-ordination Committees of Syria that 10 people had been killed by security forces in Lattakia raised an eyebrow. The coastal area is generally seen as supportive of the Assad regime and, although we have seen small protests there this spring, we have not anticipated significant violence.

Then there was the incident last night in Aleppo, Syria's largest city, where the military fired shells over the campus of Aleppo University into the northern suburb of Anadan. EA's James Miller caught the lesson: "The shelling started at a time where there were large protests at Aleppo University and in the Salahadine district. These shells would have been travelling directly over the University, a clear message to the entire city, particularly the students, that the regime will no longer tolerate large protests."

That's a pretty stark message, given that Aleppo throughout 2011, with its economic and political ties to Assad, was not considered a site of resistance.

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