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Tuesday
Jul172012

Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Fighting Across the Country

A 9-minute video of street fighters in the Midan section of Damascus on Monday

See also Syria Analysis: It's Not Quite "The Battle for Damascus"...But It's An Important Fight
Bahrain Snapshot: The Curious Tale of The American and $11 Million in Cash --- What Does It Mean?
Monday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Fighting in Damascus


1935 GMT: Syria. A map of Damascus, a snap shot posted by the Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre:

click for larger image

A snapshot of what is happening in Damascus now. The modern city centre is marked in Green. Strong opposition areas where clashes are reported are marked in Red. Military bases are marked as trucks, intelligence bases as question marks while flags show important government building such as parliament, ministries and Ba'ath Party buildings.

The map is visually striking, but if we were to make our own, it would show an even stronger presence of opposition fighters and popular support in some of those blank areas. Some of the area between the green and the eastern red is also a conflict zone, but the presence of military soldiers and armored vehicles has kept the peace so far today. Also, some of the areas northeast of the green are also heavily embattled. Though these areas are not "opposition strongholds" per se, just because they have not been filled in does not mean that the regime has significant there. By the same token, none of the areas in red are in opposition control, but they have a large presence of opposition fighters, and popular support for the opposition in many of these areas is overwhelming.

To be clear, what we are seeing this week in Damascus is historic, but the regime is not ready to fall yet. We expect more battles tomorrow, and we eventually expect the regime military to recapture some of this territory. There is likely only one reason why that has not happened already - the regime is worried that if it takes too many casualties, or too many soldiers defect, then it could lose the momentum here. Assad will be careful. But if he's too careful, the fighting in the capital could get out of hand, and his forces could continue to lose territory elsewhere while the military's focus is foxed on how to gingerly restore order in Syria's capital city.

Below is our interactive map of the developments today. Click the link below it to expand the map into a full-sized window:


View Syria - 2012 July 17 - EA Worldview in a larger map

1853 GMT: Syria. The latest death toll released by the LCC says that 62 people have been killed so far today in Syria:

In Damascus, there were 23 martyrs due to the shelling at Qaboon, Medan, Tadamun and Nahr Eisheh neighborhoods. In Aleppo, there were 11 martyrs, 9 in Idlib, 7 in Damascus Suburbs, 5 in Homs, 2 in Lattakia, 2 in Deir Ezzor, 1 in Swaida, 1 in Daraa and 1 in Hama.

1815 GMT: Syria. The Qaboun neighborhood of Damascus at dusk (map):

According to the latest reports, the area is still being shelled by artillery and helicopter rocket attacks. Casualties are mounting, as the LCCS reports:

The number of martyrs in Qaboun neighborhood has risen to 14 martyrs due to the shelling on this neighborhood situated in the middle of the capital Damascus, several are reportedly wounded including women as the shelling continues.

This isn't just fighting. Yesterday, the majority of those killed in Syria's capital were either Assad soldiers or Free Syrian Army fighters. Today, the regime has unleashed its fury, or at least a taste of it, on some of the key residential areas in Damascus.

Even if the Syrian opposition does not have a break-out military victory, it's hard to see how this level of violence in Syria's capital could possibly be a victory for the regime.

1605 GMT: Syria. Only a few short months ago, whenever we posted claims that several armored vehicles were destroyed or captured in the same week, the claims felt like radical statements. Now, such a claim would be far too conservative.

There are rumors that the Free Syrian Army has destroyed several armored vehicles, perhaps as many as 10 or 12, in the Midan district of Damascus (map). What's more impressive is the claim that the FSA captured this vehicle from security forces:

This may not have been the most significant insurgent military victory of the day, though. This video, reportedly taken in Talbiseh, north of Homs (map), shows 7 armored vehicles reportedly captured by the Free Syrian Army.

1547 GMT: Syria. The fighting in northern Damascus has spread. There are now reports that helicopters are using rockets and machine guns against targets from Harasta, an eastern suburb (map), to Qaboun (map), Jobar (map), and Barzeh (map).

Effectively, there is now a wall (albeit an incomplete one with many holes) of violence on all 4 sides of the capital city.

1534 GMT: Syria. The Guardian speaks with Lena, a spokeswoman for the Revolution Leadership Council in Damascus, who reports that the situation in Damascus are heating up. According to Lena, these hit and run attacks are the insurgents' attempt to pressure the regime, with the potential aim to eventually take the capital. According to Lena, "Damascus is burning. Damascus is boiling today."

1503 GMT: Syria. According to the Local Coordinating Committees, 45 people have been killed so far across the country:

14 martyrs were reported in the neighborhoods of Damascus (Midan, Nahr Esha, Qaboun, Sidi Meqdad and Jobar), 9 in Aleppo Suburbs with most being in Jarablus, 8 in Idlib, 4 in Homs, 3 in Deir Ezzor, 2 in Latakia, 2 in Damascus Suburbs (Deir Asafeer and Douma), 1 in Hama and 1 in Swaida who is a defected Sergeant, martyred in Rastan city, Homs.

Looking at the numbers, the amount of people killed in Damascus and its suburbs has already passed the amount who died yesterday.

This is the scene in Midan, where the LCC reports tanks and soldiers are pouring into the neighborhood (map).

This video is significant because it was reportedly taken in Barzeh, in northern Damascus (map). Gunfire and helicopters can be heard nearby. Barzeh has been the site of fighting in previous skirmishes, and was the first area inside the capital that Syrian military forces shelled. Barzeh is potentially one of the key access points to the center of the capital from the northeastern suburbs of Damascus, suburbs that are arguably opposition strongholds, and areas that have been embattled for weeks. If the opposition can hold locations in northern Damascus AND in southern Damascus, Assad could quickly find his capital city completely surrounded.

1455 GMT: Syria. On June 29th, we posted video of bodies piled up in Douma, a suburb of Damascus where residents say pro-regime forces massacred more than 40 people. It has taken nearly 3 full weeks because of the intense fighting there, but CNN has finally uncovered video that shows the immediate aftermath of the killing:

1406 GMT: Syria. A quick rundown of the situation in Damascus - so far, internet has been cut in nearly the entire city, and power has been cut in many districts. Fighting is continuing in many of the areas where it raged yesterday, areas like Midan (map), Nahre Eshe (map), and Tadamon (map). Generally speaking, though, the entire southern half of the city should be considered a conflict zone.

The LCC posts this video, reportedly showing security forces firing at the Othman Bin Affan Mosque in Tadamon (which we believe is here on the map). It's always shocking to see people fire on a mosque, though those familiar with Homs and Hama will know that this is nothing new.

1330 GMT: Syria. Everyone is talking about the battles in Damascus. Fighting has been raging in many neighborhoods for more than 3 days now. A quick look at yesterday's interactive map of the fighting, and it's clear that the regime has a serious challenge on its hands, as it has been unable to dislodge insurgent fighters from nearly every neighborhood in southern Damascus:


View Syria - 2012 July 16 - EA Worldview in a larger map

In my in-depth assessment of the Free Syrian Army, I postulate that the regime is now weak enough that it is vulnerable to a sudden takeover of the capital, a series of surprise insurgent attacks that could topple the regime nearly overnight. The big question on everyone's mind is then obvious - is this the epic Battle for Damascus?

Probably not. What we're not seeing is heavy casualties on either side. We're not seeing large swings in territory. We're not seeing extremely heavy firefights that are an indication that either side is motivated to win a particular neighborhood or area. This does not look like an epic battle to the finish line.

What we are seeing are widespread skirmishes that have nearly shut down the entire capital.The Guardian has been asking the same question, and has spoken to two activists. One man, a resident of Barzeh, says that the fighting is a sure sign of the government's weakness:

These clashes in the capital mark a new stage in the Syrian revolution. It is close now.

The regime has tried hard in the last year and half to make Damascus [isolated] from what's going on outside - to make Damascus quiet. They succeeded in the past, but yesterday there was shelling here, and [today] there was shelling on al-Qaboon and shelling on the south. Suddenly Damascus is in the centre of the action.

Inside Barzeh there is no sign of government presence. I think they don't dare to fight here. They are stuck in Midan and Qaboon. They are too busy to come here. They used to storm my neighbourhood three times a week

Another man, reportedly the head of the Revolution Leadership Council in Damascus, shares our assessment that, while important, these fights will not likely result in the fall of the capital - but the fighting could spread.

Then he adds two really interesting details - the the Free Syrian Army did not start this fight, and that it could escalate very soon:

The Free Syrian Army didn't start this fight. It was an operation by the army to put pressure on demonstrators, and the Free Syrian Army.

There are threats from regime forces that they will bombard the southern part of the city - they have stationed tanks and artillery in the southern parts of the city.

One of the grey areas of this conflict is that the Free Syrian Army views itself as the protector for the pro-democracy protests, protests which are by and large peaceful. However, those protests are consistently fired upon by Assad forces, which is what is motivating the Free Syrian Army fighters to attempt to provide an escort. In the process, however, the FSA is also giving an incentive to militarily confront the protesting crowds, as there are now armed insurgents present.

And even the protesters who do not want to see an insurgency appear to morally support the Free Syrian Army. Groups that are themselves committed to nonviolence are organizing protests in the streets of Damascus, often a few hundred meters from gun battles between the FSA and the regime forces. Those lines blur further when protesters do what they did yesterday - light fires or otherwise establish roadblocks to prevent regime forces from arriving on the scene.

All of this means one thing - when the violence escalated, it will escalate exponentially, and civilians will be caught in the crossfire.

It's another complicated, bloody, and significant day in Syria, particularly in Damascus, so stay tuned.

1140 GMT: Syria. Claimed video of insurgents in the Tadamon section of Damascus today:

1138 GMT: Syria. A Turkish official has said a Syrian brigadier-general and several other officers are among 1,280 Syrians who crossed into Turkey overnight.

The official said the latest defections brought the number of current and retired Syrian generals sheltering in Turkey to 18.

The official claimed there are now 42,680 Syrian refugees in Turkey.

1133 GMT: Oman. Six people have been sentenced to prison terms of 12 to 18 months over "slander" of ruler Sultan Qaboos in social media posts

The verdicts, issued on Monday, are being appealed by the defendants after they paid fines and bail of 1000 Omani rials ($2,600) each.

Four people were sentenced to up to a year in prison last week over comments directed against Sultan Qaboos amid protests and strikes in the oil sector in late May.

1125 GMT: Syria. The United Nations says the number of Syrian refugees seeking help since April has almost tripled to 112,000. Women and children make up three-quarters of total

Spokesman Adrian Edwards said Tuesday in Geneva that the actual number is probably "significantly higher" and that many Syrian refugees are completely dependent on humanitarian aid. He reported Edwards says at least 40,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey. Jordan has seen 33,400 refugees, while 30,900 have arrived in Lebanon. Another 7,900 have sought sanctuary in Iraq.

1120 GMT: UAE. Lawyer Mohammed al-Roken, his son, and son-in-law were detained early this morning amid a crackdown on political activists.

Nine men have been detained and one deported since Sunday amid regime allegations of a foreign-linked group planning "crimes against the security of the state".

Roken represented seven Islamists stripped of citizenship last year.

1111 GMT: Syria. Prominent blogger Razan Ghazzawi, reporting from the Damascus suburbs, posts on the situation in the capital:

1106 GMT: Syria. Explosions in the Talbiseh section of Homs today:

Insurgents claim they have taken checkpoints in the area:

1046 GMT: Syria. A pro-regime site is reporting that the Damascus deputy police commander, Brigadier Issa Duba, has been killed in the clashes in Midan.

Dutch journalist Sander van Hoorn reported this morning:

Free Syrian Army members celebrate the capture of an armoured vehicle in Lattakia Province:

1006 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage of regime tanks entering the Midan section of Damascus today:

0856 GMT: Bahrain. Sameera Rajab recently appointed as Minister of State for Information Affairs, spoke yesterday to students at the Royal Police Academy's summer camp. She "emphasized the need to promote patriotism" and "said all people must enjoy the positive climate reigning in Bahrain, including freedom of expression"

Sameera's cousin Nabeel Rajab was sentenced last week to three months in prison for his Twitter messages criticising the Prime Minister.

0846 GMT: Syria. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, at its general assembly in Istanbul, has reviewed opposition tactics.

The Syrian National Council (SNC) and other anti-regime groups also took part in the two-day meeting.

Mohamad Faruq Tayfur, an executive member of the SNC, summarised the meeting, “We will see where we made mistakes and where we gained ground. From there we will continue our resistance.”

Another member of the movement said the subjects of the meeting included the form of the government, the role of women and youth in the movement, and national cohesiveness.

0841 GMT: Qatar. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Pentagon is building a missile-defence radar station in Qatar as it prepares its biggest-ever minesweeping exercises in the Persian Gulf.

Meanwhile, Defense Industry Daily reports on Qatar's request to the US "to buy 24 AH-64D Block III helicopters, plus associated equipment, support, and weapons, including Hellfire missiles" at an estimated cost of $3.13 billion.

0829 GMT: Egypt. Robert Mackey of The New York Times summarises the suspicion of some Egyptians that the Obama Administration is backing the Muslim Brotherhood's rise to power:

The news that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s motorcade was pelted with shoes and tomatoes by Egyptian protesters, who also taunted her by chanting “Monica! Monica!” as she left the U.S. consulate in Alexandria on Sunday, delighted conservative bloggers in the United States.

What has attracted less attention, however, is the extent to which the Egyptians who vented their rage during Mrs. Clinton’s visit appear to have been inspired by fears that the Obama administration harbors a secret, pro-Islamist agenda, [an allegation] which originated with American conservatives.

As my colleague Kareem Fahim reported on Sunday, some political opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt claim that the United States even plotted to install the Islamist party’s presidential candidate in office. “Although wildly counterintuitive,” my colleagues David Kirkpatrick and Mayy El Sheikh observed on Saturday, “that conspiracy theory has tapped into the deep popular distrust here of the United States.”

The strength of that belief was on full display on Saturday in Cairo, as hundreds rallied outside Mrs. Clinton’s hotel, waving placards that read: “Stop U.S. funding of the Muslim Brotherhood,” “Clinton is the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood” and “To Hillary: Hamas will never rule Egypt,” suggesting an even-wider conspiracy, including the Islamists in neighboring Gaza.

0723 GMT: Bahrain. Leading human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, currently serving a three-month sentence for "insulting" Twitter messages, was in court on Monday on a charge of "participation in an illegal gathering".

Rajab's wife Sumaya attended the session and reported:

Today we went for the trial of Nabeel Rajab and since we arrived to the court building police were not treating us well. The officer in charge refused the entry of [our son] Adam to the trial without a reason - [it seemed] clear that it's orders from above.

The trial was delayed and they were late to bring Nabeel Rajab for unknown reasons, until we thought they won't bring him. Then they brought Nabeel Rajab and he was strong and proud of being imprisoned for a just cause, and he was raising the V sign [Sumood]. On the way to court, Nabeel raised V sign to detainees families and asked them to be patient because everyone will be released.

When the judge called him, Nabeel Rajab stood like a lion and surprised everyone by his bold statements. Nabeel Rajab's statements shocked the court and turned it into the trial of ‪the Bahrain‬ regime. Nabeel Rajab told the judge: "You sentenced me to three months on a fabricated case. My trial will enter your history. You won't be able to change my beliefs even if you sentence me to three months, three years or thirty years. You won't change my beliefs that the Prime Minister is corrupted and can't manage ‪Bahrain." Everyone was silent for awhile.

0715 GMT: Bahrain. Activist and filmmaker Jen Marlowe, who was expelled from the Kingdom this week, offers her observations on protest and repression in the country:

0625 GMT: UAE. The Financial Times summarises the latest crackdown on opposition, with the arrest of at least six members of the Al-Islah movement and the deportation of prominent activist Ahmed Abd al-Khaleq to Thailand, in the name of preventing "crimes against national security".

0525 GMT: Syria. The Foreign Ministry has sent a letter to the United Nations Secretary General challenging allegations of abuses by the regime and its military:

[The] time has come for the Human Rights' Council and those who mislead it to abandon the accusations pointed to Syria and to direct these accusations to their right place; the armed terrorist groups which perpetrate acts of killing against the Syrian people, target the national interests in addition to its ignorance to the difficult impacts of 60 bulks of sanctions and coercive measures imposed by states that claim commitment to the Syrian people's rights," the Ministry said.

0515 GMT: Syria. A straightforward start to Tuesday, picking up on James Miller's analysis from last night:

While the battles in Damascus are relatively new, the battles in Hama, Homs, Aleppo, Idlib, Daraa, and Deir Ez Zor are raging. On any given day, each may post a higher or lower casualty figure, but in parts of the country "civil war" is not a designation from the Red Cross. It is now a familiar reality.

The Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported 97 deaths, including Free Syrian Army members and defectors as well as civilians. There were 30 casualties in Hama Province, 21 in Homs Provice, 13 in Aleppo Province, and11 in Damascus.

Youth protest in the streets of Damascus on Monday:

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