A mass rally on Wednesday night in al-Hamdania in Aleppo in Syria
See also, Syria Feature: US Promoting General Tlass as "Transitional Leader"? (Solomon/Dagher) br>
Bahrain Feature: Not So United --- The Regime v. Sunni Political Groups (Al Hasan) br>
Turkey Analysis: Facing The Complications of Syria, Iraq, and Kurdistan br>
Wednesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: What Next in Aleppo...and Elsewhere? br>
2100 GMT: Saudi Arabia. Footage of a protest tonight in Qatif in Saudi Arabia, calling for the release of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr --- shot and detained earlier this month --- and other political prisoners. The demonstration follows protests in Jeddah and Riyadh on Wednesday.
40 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its suburbs; 30 in Daraa, including 22 martyrs from Wadi Al-Ajmi; 22 in Aleppo; 27 in Idlib; 15 in Homs; 8 in Deir Ezzor; 6 in Hama; 4 in Raqqa; and 1 in Quneitra.
A second report shows the protest before the incident.
2008 GMT: Syria. Sometimes news sneaks up on you in Syria...
Over the last few days, the FSA has made significant gains in Al Raqqah, a major city on halfway between Aleppo and Deir Ez Zor (map). Fierce fighting has been happening today, the latest in a string of violence there, and now there is a report, and an accompanying video, that the FSA has captured a police station in the city.
In other under-reported news, Krak Des Chevaliers, an ancient castle west of Homs (map) has once again been the heavily targeted by regime forces. It is likely suspected that the FSA is using the castle as a major smuggling hub, as it is between FSA controlled areas near Homs, and the rural border with Lebanon.
1936 GMT: Syria/Turkey. Former Syrian General Manaf Tlas has traveled to Ankara, Turkey, and has had dinner and a closed-door meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu. Pictures were also taken, though it's not clear what was discussed:
This will surely fan the rumors that Tlass is being set up as the West's go-to transitional leader in the post-Assad Syria.
1932 GMT: Bahrain. EA's John Horne reports:
A video of a dramatic confrontation in Bilad AlQadeem between youth demonstrators and police on Monday evening has been uploaded to YouTube. A source told EA that the police had begun arriving in order break up a protest, however, "this time the [protesters] were prepared". The youths are captured breaking through fences to the main road , before attacking an armoured vehicle with Molotov cocktails. The officers with the APV flee and the youths surround the vehicle, until police backup arrives and clear the scene. "They could have got in the APV and drove it if they wanted," EA's source commented. "Instead they took some pictures and left.
The incident - given the name "Breaking the Siege" by the "Rebels of Bilad" - reportedly followed an increased police crackdown in the village since the start of Ramadan. Late night house raids have taken place, and on Tuesday a 15-year old boy, Ebrahim AlMoqdad, was taken from his home. Ebrahim's family were not informed where he had been taken and allegedly only found out when he called from police detention late on Wednesday Wednesday. Maryam AlKhawaja, Vice President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights tweeted earlier today that Public Prosecution has announced they will be holding Ebrahim "for 60 days according to 'terrorism law'."
Many activists are reporting an increasing police presence in certain villages over recent days, particilarly Sitra, Duraz, AlDair and Bilad AlQadeem, with an escalation in injuries from shotguns firing birdshot and late night house raids. The "Breaking the Siege" video has received nearly 40,000 hits since its upload yesterday, suggesting significant support for the actions it captures.
Activists from Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus reported that at least five civilians were killed and 25 injured after regime forces attacked the camp with tanks and helicopter gunships this morning.
Activist Muhammad told Avaaz: "The regime forces shelled the neighbourhoods of Orouba and Thalathin, and stormed into the camp with tanks and military vehicles. Deir Yassine clinics were also hit in the shelling." Snipers were positioned rooftops and were taking pot-shots at "anyone moving in the street" according to another resident.
Security forces stormed into the Palestinian ICRC hospital, dragging away at least 10 wounded civilians. Activists confirmed that FSA groups are in the neighbourhoods of Tadamon and Hajar al Aswad next to Yarmouk camp, but not inside the camp itself, due to an agreement to keep it as a safe area for displaced civilians.
Palestinian families the camp are hosting around 20,000 displaced people – either in their houses or in makeshift shelters inside schools. They are mainly residents who fled the neighbourhoods of Midan and Tadamon and the city of Douma in Damascus suburbs.
1755 GMT: Syria. The LCCS reports that the Fardous, Ansari Al-Sharqi, and Zabida districts have been host to heavy fighting between soldiers of the Free Syrian Army and the regime's security forces. This report comes after Salah el Dine district, a key area of west-central Aleppo, was shelled for many hours (see those locations on our map).
Today could be considered the calm before the storm. Members of the Free Syrian Army report the arrival of many regime reinforcements, mostly units that have been pulled out of the fight in Idlib, Hama, and northern Aleppo provinces. Both the FSA and the regime are expecting the fight for the insurgent-controlled areas of Syria's largest city to start tomorrow:
A Syrian security source was quoted by AFP news agency as saying that special forces had begun arriving on the edges of Aleppo in readiness for a "generalised counter-offensive on Friday or Saturday"...
Reporter Laurent Van der Stockt from French newspaper Le Monde told the BBC that Free Syrian Army (FSA) commanders in Aleppo were full of confidence but were lacking weapons.
"A commander told me this morning they attacked a convoy and destroyed 10 armoured vehicles."
Luke Harding of the Guardian newspaper, 50km (30mi) west of Aleppo, told the BBC that much of the rest of Aleppo province was in rebel hands but it was an exaggeration to say they were in control of half of the city.
"It's true they're in the southern part of the city and the northeast. Tactically, they're doing guerrilla-style attacks and they can melt away quite quickly."
Our assessment - the regime was as surprised as the rest of the media that the FSA took this much territory inside Aleppo. Many have been even more surprised by their ability to hold the areas despite repeated efforts by the regime to retake the city. The fight for Aleppo is less likely to resemble the fight for Midan, a key part of Damascus virtually abandoned by the FSA in a tactical retreat, and is more likely to resemble the fight for Douma and Irbeen that took place weeks ago - a fight that left a huge amount of Assad's soldiers dead or injured, and cost him dozens of armored vehicles. Furthermore, the regime can only afford so many losses - FSA reinforcements are also on the move towards the city. Ultimately, the regime's helicopters are likely to have more of an impact than its tanks.
One thing is certain - large parts of Syria's largest and wealthiest city will be left in ruin by the end of this fight. One has to wonder if any Assad victory, no matter how one-sided, could possibly make up for the economic damage to the country as a whole as a result of this fact. One also has to wonder what such devastation could have on further defections, both within the military's ranks and within Assad's own regime.
1530 GMT: Syria. Usually, news revolving around Twitter, or a news agency, revolves around what they write. Today, however, the news is about what hasn't been written.
SANA, the Syrian government's news agency and favorite mouthpiece, hasn't had their website working in days, and it was down several times last week as well. What's even more interesting is that their Twitter account has also been silent.
We could only begin to speculate as to why this is the case, but EA's John Horne suddenly remembered an item posted by activist Rami al Jarrah on Facebook last week:
This is very significant: Syrian State TV is repeating a warning message to its viewers cautioning them "there is an attempt in the process to create a replica of the Syrian Satellite channel and this replica will be on the same frequency and the presenters or journalists on this replica channel might be the same as of the official channel because they might be forced to but this is a conspiracy and if this occurs do not worry this is fake".
can we not officially say that the Syrian regime is expecting a coup?
25 martyrs were reported in Daraa; including 22 in Al-A'ajamy Valley, 19 in Aleppo, 16 in Idlib, 12 in Damascus and its Suburbs, 9 in Homs, 4 in Hama, 5 in Deir Ezzor, and 1 in Qunaitra.
The death toll in Daraa is a forgotten headline, but we've been saying for days that the increased violence there is a symbol of the struggle of the military to control an area that could pose a direct threat to Damascus should it fall into insurgent hands.
1500 GMT: Syria. Channel 4's Alex Thomson is in Damascus, and he reports that the Syrian government is not allowing him to film much of what he sees. Among the things he's seen - entire neighborhoods being bulldozed by the Assad regime in and around the capital. This report is from Harasta (map), but similar reports have come from many neighborhoods, in both the north and the south of the capital, as well as the suburbs to the east.
@agitpapa no. For one very good reason. The rubble is not being cleared. They just leave it piled up everywhere and move on.— alex thomson (@alextomo) July 26, 2012
Bashar al Assad seems to believe that he can save his capital city by bulldozing it.
1449 GMT: Syria. Winning the hearts and minds? Certainly, it's a sign of how much control the FSA has over the center of Aleppo that they are cleaning the streets today:
Dozens were martyred and others wounded in Mashtal district when regime forces detonated bombes and heavily fired on Mansoor street.
Beyond the locations we've already talked about, we've already seen reports of shelling in Yalda, Hjiera, and Moadamya (map). This level of violence suggests that the Syrian capital is nowhere near as secure as the regime says it is.
A map shows locations of today's reports:
View Syria - 2012 July 26 - EA worldview in a larger map
1318 GMT: Syria. Libyan fighters heading to Turkey to fight the Syrian regime? Mary Fitzgerald of the Irish Times has an anecdotal report:
Lots of bearded shabab speaking Arabic on this flight to Turkish town near #Syria border. Some carrying Libyan passports— Mary Fitzgerald (@MaryFitzgerldIT) July 26, 2012
1259 GMT: Syria. An activist working with a network of contacts in and around Damascus, Zilal, both Dumair, northeast of Damascus (map) and Daraya, southwest of Damascus not far from other fighting (map), have been heavily shelled today. Compiling reports from many sources, it appears that elements of the Free Syrian Army who scored many hits on Assad's tanks in Al Asali (map) yesterday have pulled back to Hajar al Aswad (map), where heavy fighting continues.
Yesterday there were reports that somewhere between 2 and 6 tanks were destroyed in Al Asali (with rumors of 6 more damaged) by the FSA. Today, partially because of the withdrawal, there does not appear to be videos of the tanks themselves. But there are other videos. Zilal explains:
There are no videos showing the destroyed tanks; there are only these 2 videos on a youtube channel of the Islam battalion and according to the description the Omayyad Brigade (belonging to the Islam Battalion) targets 2 different tanks:
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us to the afternoon.
1222 GMT: Syria. The inspiration for the rush of articles, such as in The Guardian (see 1115 GMT), pushing General Manaf Tlass as a leader of the opposition? Step forward, Wall Street Journal, which has been fed with the line by US, European, and Arab officials that Tlass, who defected last month, could be "at the center of a political transition">
We post the article in a separate feature.
Meanwhile, The Guardian profits from all sides of the speculation, also putting out a question mark over Tlass:
In an article posted on the Jadaliyya website, Bassam Haddad describes some scary meetings with Manaf Tlass while researching the development of capitalism in Syria (and the related corruption):
"On reform, he asserted the importance of gradualism, a Hafez al-Asad mantra, one that suits the reformers' timetable, not that of the purported beneficiaries. But he was also unabashed in asserting the need for top-down control, which to him transcended questions of right and wrong, or democracy and authoritarianism.
The regime had to guide the reform process based on a holistic view, one that takes into account local and regional variables. I interjected that this approach is the norm for regimes like Syria's because reform is not the goal. He did not correct me, and reasserted the need for control.
While the regime has restored control of parts of the capital, Nassar said clashes continue across south of the city.
Nassar mentioned civilian casualties that he had seen, such as a man working on the tyres of his car when he was killed by a tank shell and another man shot by a sniper while shopping for bread. He claimed that regime forces were using heavy machine guns to attack an area that included a Palestinian hospital and that helicopters were firing machine guns and rockets at an area to the south of Hajar Aswad that includes a military base
Nasser suggested that the insurgents were trying to create a safe haven in the Yarmouk camp, where most Palestinians supported the opposition.
1115 GMT: Syria. The Guardian claims, from "Syrian National Council officials and foreign diplomats", that Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, the confidante of President Assad who defected last month, is being promoted as the "head of an Egyptian-style supreme military council".
The only source cited by The Guardian is General Mustafa al-Sheikh, one of the first generals to join the Free Syrian Army, as it claims "immediate objections that the Republican Guard officer is too closely associated with the regime".
Meanwhile, Tlass has told the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat, after a visit to Saudi Arabia, "I am discussing with ..people outside Syria to reach a consensus with those inside. I left...to try to help the best I can to unite the honourable people inside and outside Syria to set out a road map to get Syria out of this crisis.
I realise this is a difficult phase...It's difficult for one person to bear the responsibility of such a phase. A group (including opposition) from inside and outside Syria should cooperate to accomplish this phase.
1105 GMT: Syria. Back from an academic break to find video of a declaration by defecting official Talal Houshan, who was the head of the regime-appointed commission to investigate the mass killing in al-Qubair last month.
Reading a prepared statement, Houshan accuses the Syrian government and its shabiha supporters of killing women and children:
0650 GMT: Syria. A demonstration in the Waer section of Homs on Wednesday night
0630 GMT: Syria. Zeina Khodr of Al Jazeera English reports on Syrians returning from Lebanon, having fled during fighting in the capital:
Some undoubtedly couldn't afford to stay in Lebanon for a long time but many put on a brave face.
They said that their relatives and friends informed them that it was now safe to return to their neighborhoods. But you could feel their fear and anxiety because they know the conflict in their country is far from over. The battle for Syria will have to be won in Damascus.
CNN's Ivan Watson is in northwest Syria, amid insurgents and their families:
0515 GMT: Syria. Amid reports of regime troops being pulled back from other fronts to deal with insurgents in Aleppo, clashes continued in Syria's largest city on Wednesday. There were reports that the Free Syrian Army had captured and/or destroyed a police station, and insurgents showed off what they claimed was a large haul of weapons from regime forces.
Damascus, where insurgents had supposedly been cleared, also saw fighting yesterday in the al-Asali district, and we are keeping an eye on Deir Ez Zor in the northeast, where the Free Syrian Army --- if it can co-ordinate its units --- may make a move on the city.
The Local Coordinating Committees reports that 129 people died at the hands of security forces on Wednesday: 27 in Damascus and its suburbs, 22 in Aleppo Province, 21 in Homs Province, 15 in Hasakeh Province, 12 in Hama Province, 12 in Idlib Province, 11 in Deir Ez Zor Province, and 9 in Daraa Province.