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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Fighting Reaches Aleppo

Sounds of fighting in the Saif al Dawleh section of Aleppo, Syria's largest city, this morning

See also Syria Snapshot: As Refugees Surge, Jordan Turns Some Away
Syria Analysis: Why the Regime Could Lose Aleppo
Syria Audio Feature: "Assad May Be Slipping from Power" --- Scott Lucas with the BBC
Saturday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Story is Beyond Damascus

2020 GMT: Syria. Turkish police have fired tear gas on stone-throwing Syrian refugees, protesting at the lack of food and water in camps.

A Turkish official said demonstrations erupted at two of the 10 camps set up along the border sheltering more than 40,000 Syrians.

"We have had no food for three days," said a young Syrian boy standing outside the container city of Kilis, which is home to some 15,000 people.

1936 GMT: Iraq. Bombs in several towns have killed at least 17 people and injured dozens, in one of the most violent days in the past two weeks.

Two parked car bombs exploded near an entrance of a public market in Mahmodiya, a town 30 kilometres (19 miles) south of Baghdad, and another exploded close to the town's police station. Five people were killed and 28 wounded.

In Madaeen, 30 kilometres southeast of the Iraqi capital, three IEDs exploded inside a crowded al-Tameem market just before the evening meal for Ramadan, killing six people and wounding 13 others.

Car bombs planted near a public restraunt in Najaf, 160 kilometres (100 miles) south of Baghdad, killed five people and wounded 14, and a policeman was killed and 16 others were injured when a car bomb exploded in the Mosul district.

1922 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees claim that 42 people have been killed by security forces today, including 11 in Damascus and its suburbs.

1908 GMT: Syria. Insurgents claim they have captured Hussam Hussam, who gave testimony to the United Nations enquiry into the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Hussam, a Syrian intelligence agent, incriminated Syrian and Lebanese security officials in the murder. Some have alleged that Assef Shawkat --- the Deputy Minister of Defense and brother-in-law of President Assad, killed on Wednesday by a bomb in Damascus --- was involved in the operation to assassinate Hariri.

In the aftermath of the murder, there were mass protests in Lebanon and Syria withdrew armed forces who had occupied the country for almost 30 years.

Claimed video of Hussam:

1905 GMT: Syria. Earlier today (see 0835 GMT) we reported, from an AFP photographer, that 150 "Islamist foreign fighters" had arrived at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey after it had been taken by insurgents.

Claimed footage of the fighters with an "Islamist" flag:

1900 GMT: Syria. A witness and activists have said. that the elite 4th Division, under the command of President Bashar al-Assad's Maher, drove insurgents out of the northern Damascus district of Barzeh and summarily executed several young men,.

"At least 20 Fourth Division tanks and hundreds of its members entered Barzeh this afternoon. I saw troops go into the home of 26-year-old Issa al-Arab. They left him dead with two bullets in his head. Seventeen-year-old Issa Wahbeh was pulled from a shelter and beaten and killed. Four other males in their 20s were killed this way," opposition activist Abu Kais said by phone.

1730 GMT: Syria. Back from a break to find the insurgency declaring its offensive to remove the regime --- Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem al-Ahmad of the Free Syrian Army said at a meeting in Turkey, "Right now, Assad's inner circle has been dismantled and Assad has lost his balance. This war is now being waged in the heart of Syria in Damascus."

Earlier, Col. Abdul-Jabbar Mohammed Aqidi, the commander of the "Unity Brigade", said in a video posted on YouTube of the weekend attack in Syria's largest city: "We gave the orders for the march into Aleppo with the aim of liberating it"

Aqidi called on government troops to defect and join the opposition, and said rebels will protect members of Assad's Alawite minority sect, "Our war is not with you but with the Assad family."

Images of fighting today in Sakhour in Aleppo:

1440 GMT: Syria. The Anatolia News Agency claims Turkey has sent military reinforcements to the southeastern province of Mardin on the Syrian border.

The agency said the military deployed ground-to-air missiles to barracks in the Nusaybin district.

1415 GMT: Egypt. An attack on striking workers at the Al-Samoly Company for Spinning and Weaving in Mahalla on Saturday has killed one person and injured four.

The strikers caught one of the attackers and handed him to police.

Hundreds of striking workers had blocked the Mahalla-Mansoura road to demand the payment of late salaries, wage increases, and better incentives.

Egypt had been gripped by a series of protests in the textile industry, with employees of its largest firms walking out last week.

1215 GMT: Syria. Video of Free Syrian Army members moving towards Aleppo last night:

1123 GMT: Syria. State news agency SANA is saying nothing about fighting inside Aleppo, reporting instead that security forces fought "armed terrorist groups" in Qebtan al-Jabal and Hayyan to the north and the town of Hreitan.

1110 GMT: Syria. A Turkish diplomat said a 25th Syrian general crossed the border overnight.

Seven generals have reportedly defected since Monday.

1100 GMT: Syria. The Kurdish site Rudaw summarises Saturday's clashes in the Syrian Kurdish city of Qamishli, with the regime facing the Kurdish Popular Protection Forces, a combination of the Kurdish National Council and the Democratic Union Party.

Sami Derwish, a Kurdish activist and protest coordinator in Qamishli, said fighting started when security forces tried to disperse Kurdish protestors:

Actually, we didn’t want such clashes to happen in Qamishli,” he said. “We hoped that we would be able to liberate Qamishli peacefully, like other liberated Kurdish areas. But when the fight is imposed on us, we will do everything to liberate our city from the forces of this tyrannical regime.

Syrian Kurdish fighters have taken control of other towns in the area this week. According to Rudaw, they sent the message to the Free Syrian Army saying that it is not welcome. Derwish said, "We have already clarified that we don’t need the FSA’s support at the moment because we want to liberate our areas on our own.”

The fighters said the regime was sending reinforcements to Qamishli while giving up towns such as Kobani, Efrin, and Amoudia.

It had been reported that the Kurdish insurgents had also taken Derik, but the regime still appears to have control, with one protester slain on Saturday.

1053 GMT: Egypt. Protesters have occupied the Giza Governorate building over long-standing water shortages in the town of Saft el Laban.

Members of the people's committee of the town vowed to remain in the building and its grounds until their town has water.

1048 GMT: Syria. The Governor of Iraq's Nineveh Province has said that Syrian forces regained control of the Yarabiyah border crossing today.

Insurgents now control one of the three main border crossings between the two countries, with the other two in the hands of the Syrian army.

The Governor said of Yarabiyah, "The gunmen who were at the border crossing left at night, and in the morning, a Syrian force came and took control of the border again." He added that "the border will be open only to receive Iraqis from the other side."

1038 GMT: Syria. A series of messages from Alex Thomson of Britain's Channel 4:

1003 GMT: Syria. The State news agency SANA is back on-line, featuring the claim of the Governor of Damascus Province, Bashir al-Sabban, has said that "normal life" will return to the Midan section of Damascus within five days as "maintenance works will have been completed".

Midan was the site of six days of fighting between regime forces and the Free Syrian Army before insurgents withdrew on Friday.

0959 GMT: Syria. The US Ambassador to Jordan has said Washington has given $100 million in aid to the Kingdom to help host tens of thousands of Syrian refugees and to cope with cut-offs because unstable gas supplies from Egypt.

The latest aid is a supplement to the $660 million approved by Washington in December as military and economic aid to Jordan, which has received $2.4 billion from Washington in the past five years.

Jordan is hosting more than 140,000 Syrians, and the kingdom is building more camps to house the refugees.

See also Syria Snapshot: As Refugees Surge, Jordan Turns Some Away

0950 GMT: Syria. Claimed video of the Free Syrian Army trying, unsuccessfully, to take the Police Academy in Aleppo earlier this week:

Pro-regime footage celebrating the defeat of the attack:

Free Syrian Army insurgents celebrate the capture of the Al-Salam checkpoint, near the town of Izaz, on the Turkish-Syrian border:

0920 GMT: Syria. Witnesses say insurgents and regime forces have fought near the main intelligence base in the northern city of Aleppo today.

"Sounds of explosions from different areas are shaking the whole city. A heavy exchange of gunfire has been going on near the State Security Headquarters in al-Mouhafaza (district) since the morning," a housewife.

In and around Damascus, witnesses report helicopter gunships have bombarded the Mezze district, with insurgents withdrawing, the areas of Rukn al-Din and Qaboun, and the suburb of Barzeh.

0835 GMT: Syria. Questions over the insurgent takeover of Bab al-Hawa, on the Turkish border, escalated on Saturday with Turkish drivers accusing insurgents of burning and looting their trucks.

"We barely escaped when the rebel fighters took full control of the Bab al-Hawa border post in Syria," said Hasan Abbasoglu, who retrieved his vehicle from Syria after the looting. While the truck was not damaged, Abbasoglu said its cargo had been ransacked and he had to pay $700 in bribes to get the truck back.

The governor of Hatay province in southern Turkey blamed "independent groups" for the looting.

AFP claims that by Saturday evening, a group of about 150 "Islamist" foreign fighters --- who were not present when the post was taken on Friday --- were present. Some of the fighters said they belonged to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), while others claimed allegiance to the Shura Taliban. They said they had come from Algeria, France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Russian republic of Chechnya.

0815 GMT: Syria. A protest in Kafarsita in Hama Province last night:

0805 GMT: Syria. A few days ago, we noted the line being put out by US officials --- through journalists for the The New York Times and The Washington Post --- that they were "work[ing] on contingency plans Wednesday for a collapse of the Syrian government".

More signals this morning in the Times:

The Obama administration has for now abandoned efforts for a diplomatic settlement to the conflict in Syria, and instead it is increasing aid to the rebels and redoubling efforts to rally a coalition of like-minded countries to forcibly bring down the government of President Bashar al-Assad, American officials say....

Administration officials insist they will not provide arms to the rebel forces. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are already financing those efforts. But American officials said that the United States would provide more communications training and equipment to help improve the combat effectiveness of disparate opposition forces in their widening, sustained fight against Syrian Army troops. It’s also possible the rebels would receive some intelligence support, the officials said.

By enhancing the command-and-control of the rebel formations, largely by improving their ability to communicate with one another and their superiors and to coordinate combat operations, American officials say they are seeking to build on and fuel the momentum of the rebels’ recent battlefield successes.

“You’ll notice in the last couple of months, the opposition has been strengthened,” a senior Obama administration official said Friday. “Now we’re ready to accelerate that.” The official said that the hope was that support for the Syrian opposition from the United States, Arab governments and Turkey would tip the balance in the conflict....

Administration officials said the United States is also working with Syrian rebels to establish a transition process for the day that Mr. Assad’s government falls, including trying to set up a provisional government that would include representatives from opposing Sects — Alawites, Sunnis and Christians. “We need to make sure that what comes next has Alawite representation,” one administration official said Saturday....

But as last week’s unexpected turn of events indicate, planning for the end of the Assad government, which administration officials insist will happen without saying precisely when, is virtually impossible. “What is the end? That’s the dilemma,” said one senior defense official. “No one knows what the end is. So it’s all about mitigating the risks.”

0755 GMT: Syria. CNN's Arwa Damon removes on a movement by residents of Yabroud, near Damascus, to forge a movement for change beyond ethnicity and religious denomination:

0710 GMT: Syria. After days of attention on fighting and the high-profile bombing in Damascus --- alongside the equally significant news of insurgent advances throughout the country --- another significant story emerged on Saturday.

The Free Syrian Army is on the streets of Aleppo, Syria's largest city.

There had been skirmishes this week in the Salaheddin neighbourhood, but it became clear yesterday --- even as regime troops and armour tried to clear the fighters there --- that this was not an isolated incident. The FSA claimed that its commanders were planning operations in other parts of Aleppo, a claim backed up by video and news of fighting in Sakhour.

So far this is a story of clashes rather than an offensive by the insurgents --- of the 140 deaths reported by the Local Coordinating Committees on Saturday, only 18 were in Aleppo Province --- but the symbolism of the challenge to the regime reaching its biggest city and the seat of its economic power is significant.

Can symbolism turn into a campaign, possibly one that will win the war against President Assad? James Miller offers an analysis in a separate entry.

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