Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Waiting for the Showdown in Aleppo
Saturday, July 28, 2012 at 8:20
Scott Lucas in Aleppo, EA Middle East and Turkey, Farouq Taha, Iraq, Middle East and Iran, Sergei Lavrov, Syria, Umm Huda

Claimed footage of fighting in Salaheddin section of Aleppo this morning

Bahrain Feature: Pushing A Deal with the Crown Prince
Friday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Aleppo --- Expecting the Regime Assault

1633 GMT: Syria. A 13-minute video of street fighting in Saleheddin in Aleppo today:

1619 GMT: Syria. A snapshot from Luke Harding of The Guardian from Anadan, 13 kilometres (8 miles), north of Aleppo:

Sadiq's rebels have taken over a florid Italian-style villa in Anadan, until recently occupied by regime officers. The Syrian army is encamped within jogging distance in the nearby Hraytan base; since pulling out it has targeted the building's new owners relentlessly.

Large chunks have been gnawed from the villa's yellow balustrades. The murky swimming pool round the back is untouched; two cats were mewling on Saturday in the ornate gardens.

Despite the unpromising facts on the ground, the rebels were upbeat. "The [regime] army is sick. It is destroyed from inside. There is no power inside it," Abu Ahmed, another commander, explained.

Striking a vivid analogy, he added: "They have plenty of weapons from Russia. But this is like an injection into the arm of a dying man."

One fighter then showed off a large mortar that had landed on the terrace. "Don't worry. It didn't explode," he said.

1613 GMT: Syria. An extract from a first-hand report by "A Special Correspondent" in Damascus for The Washington Post, "In Damascus, Losing Faith in Assad":

In the Midan neighborhood, where government forces took control after nearly a week of heavy fighting, “two whole families were slaughtered” in a public square, said a 30-year-old resident. Homes were demolished, shops looted and his house was broken into by security forces who went door-to-door after the fighting, the man said. “We can’t stay in Midan. There is no life anymore.”

The 30-year-old said he worked as a government servant and had been paid to break up anti-Assad protests by shocking demonstrators with electric prods. But he said any loyalty he felt to the government has disappeared. “How can you work for a government which shelled and destroyed your neighborhood?” he said.

These days, discussions of politics are routine, and many, especially the city’s older residents, are comparing Assad’s current tactics with those of the French occupation of Syria, from 1918 to 1936. Some here say the old occupiers showed more mercy.

The regime “ is like Nero who burned Rome,” said a retired civil servant and father of four.

1607 GMT: Syria. People fleeing the Meshehad area of Aleppo because of shelling since 6 a.m.:

1559 GMT: Yemen. Thousands protested earlier today in Sanaa, Yemen's capital, calling on the government "to release 117 protesters arrested during the yearlong popular uprising against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh", the Associated Press reports. The AP report continues:

Activist Fathi al-Baadani said the rally is also a protest against the government’s sluggishness to release the detainees despite an order to review their cases and set them free.

The delay is due to the fact that Saleh’s followers still hold influential security and military positions, Al-Baadani added.

Yemen’s Human Rights Minister Huriya Mashhour confirmed the number of detained protesters on Saturday, but added that others are being held in unofficial detention centers. Youth groups behind the uprising that led to Saleh’s ouster say that more than 80 people are detained in such unofficial centers.

1542 GMT: Syria. In one of the most strongly-worded statements yet, the French President, Francois Hollande, called for the UN Security Council to intervene in Syria "as quickly as possible" to pre-empt the threat of "civil war".

"The role of the countries of the Security Council is to intervene as quickly as possible," he said, specifically addressing Damascus allies Russia and China and warning that failure to do so would mean "chaos and civil war."

With fighting in every region except the sparsely-populated center of the country, and with nearly every major city under siege, we have to wonder how effective any statement seeking to "pre-empt" civil war could possibly be, especially since the Russians believe that at this point any action by the UNSC to stop the killing would likely mean backing the Free Syrian Army in a fight against the regime.

1522 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordinating Committees have just sent an email with an update on the latest situation on the ground:

The number of today's martyrs in Syria has reached 100, among them 6 women and more than 20 children as well as several defected soldiers. 30 martyrs fell in Aleppo, among them 3 martyrs that fell yesterday and whose bodies were found today, 22 martyrs fell in Damascus and its Suburbs, among them 9 martyrs in Moadhamiet Al-Sham, 19 martyrs fell in Idlib, 15 martyrs fell in Hama, 6 martyrs fell in Deir Ezzor, 5 martyrs fell in Daraa, 2 in Homs and 1 in Jableh...

Idlib: Hobait: 10 martyrs and more than 50 wounded fell so far due to fierce shelling from regime's army checkpoints towards the town. Among the martyrs one family; the wife of Khaled Qetaz, his son, and his brother.

The report which we've highlighted from Hobait (map) is particularly interesting. This is an area between Qa'alat al Madiq and Khan Skeikhoun, an important highway in northern Hama/southern Idlib that has been fought over for nearly a year. Still, the regime military does not seem to have the ability to place this area under its control, and in recent days fighting in southern Idlib has proven very costly, as it is the primary supply route between Idlib and Aleppo to the north and Hama, Homs, and Damascus to the south.

1513 GMT: Syria. Meanwhile, the Free Syrian Army appears to have attracted the attention of the Assad military in Al Bab, about 20 miles from the fighting in Saleh el Dine (map). Activists say that the town was bombed by jet fighters, and a video even shows a jet fighter streaking through the sky there. This video even shows a glowing red ball - reportedly a tank destroyed by the Free Syrian Army. It's not clear if these forces were on the way to Aleppo, or whether they had a different mission, but the fighting around Aleppo is proving an unwelcome, and costly, distraction for the Syrian regime:

1455 GMT: Syria. The Syrian military has apparently tried to enter the Salah el Dine area of Aleppo (map). The military appears to be making very slow process, and has been hindered by street fighting, snipers, and several destroyed armored vehicles. Though many have predicted that the Free Syrian Army would be incapable of defending against such force, videos prove that they are not as defenseless as many expect them to be.

An anti-aircraft gun fires at Assad's air power in Salah el Dine. As one might already suspect, such a weapon can also be used against ground targets:

Street fighting in Saleh el Dine:

1204 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees report 60 deaths, including 17 in Damascus and its suburbs, 12 in Aleppo Province --- including three bodies found of people slain on Friday --- and 11 in Hama Province.

1147 GMT: Syria. Sky News Arabia reports more than 50 regime tanks have entered the Salaheddin section of Aleppo.

Claimed footage of a regime attack repelled by insurgents --- there are bodies of soldiers in the sreets and a stricken armoured vehicle:

1037 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees report 51 deaths so far today at the hands of security forces.

1023 GMT: Bahrain. A report for the Gulf Daily News tours Jaw Prison, where many political detainees are held, "Five-Star Jail has a Humane Touch":

never mind the allegations that we so often hear about inmates being mistreated and tortured.

I can speak from experience and term this extraordinary facility as nothing short of five-star, with all conveniences possible for the inmates.

Flowing cold water, well-maintained toilets and washrooms, a recreation room with flat screen televisions and board games, as well as a football field by the Arabian Sea is not something I had ever imagined seeing in a prison.

1015 GMT: Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has commented about the situation in Aleppo, "We are persuading the government that they need to make some first gestures. But when the armed opposition are occupying cities like Aleppo, where yet another tragedy is brewing as I understand, is not realistic to expect that they (the government) will accept this."

Lavrov continued with criticism for the "West":

Pressure must be put on everyone. Unfortunately, our Western partners prefer to do something a bit different and essentially, along with some countries neighbouring Syria, encourage, support and direct the armed fight against the regime.

The price of all this is still more blood.

The Foreign Ministry also reported that it would not cooperate with a new round of European Union sanctions against Syria, commenting through a spokesperson and a statement on its website:

We do not plan to take any part in measures carrying out European Union decisions directed against Syria. Among other things we will not consider requests and give consent to the search of ships sailing under the Russian flag, nor to the use of other restrictive measures.

1010 GMT: Iraq. A standoff continues between the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces near the Syrian border.

On Friday the Ministry of Peshmerga said that the Iraqi government had sent troops to the border strip between Syria and the Kurdistan Region and that 3,000 Peshmerga fighters stationed in the area had stopped their advance.

“The Iraqi forces have not yet withdrawn from the Fishkkapur region,” Anwar Hajji Osman, ministry of Peshmerga’s chief of staff told Rudaw. “But the Americans are in dialogue with Kurdish and Iraqi leaders to solve the problem.”

0955 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees report that 41 people have died at the hands of security forces today. Despite the news of regime attacks in Aleppo, only six fatalities so far are reported from the city.

0925 GMT: Syria. Reuters' report from Aleppo this morning:

More images and sounds, from distance, of shelling and gunfire:

0910 GMT: Syria. Back from a Saturday break to find a report from BBC's Ian Pannell:

From first light, the sound of a heavy artillery bombardment reverberated across this city. The rebels say tanks and armoured vehicles have started to advance towards Salah al-Din, one of the most restive neighbourhoods in Aleppo, where they have apparently met fierce resistance.

Many casualties are being reported and an emergency call has gone out to doctors to help. Pro-government forces are said to have entered another area too, and the sound of heavy skirmishing can be heard all around.

Cars and trucks packed with families are heading out to the countryside, fearing there will be a massacre in the city. Both sides are determined to control this place, but the overwhelming firepower belongs to President Assad's men, and they are prepared to use it to retake Aleppo.

Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor is also reporting from the city:

Evidence of need is everywhere. On one street, the tail fins of a 120mm mortar shell have buried themselves in the asphalt. Shrapnel smashed the windows of a car nearby and struck at least one person, who left a trail of blood splashes on the sidewalk for a full city block.

“We can’t do anything but sometimes only watch them die,” says Umm Huda, the female doctor who runs this makeshift emergency ward. “There are children, ten or three years old, they have done nothing and you see them die. They are angels.”

She says the lack of international help has been a mixed blessing.

The US “can do a lot of things; they know how to end it,” she says in between treating casualties. At the same time, the Russian and Chinese vetoes of intervention “is a good thing... we want to win, but we want it ourselves, with no help from anybody.”

0725 GMT: Syria. The Syrian Ambassador to Belarus, Farouq Taha, has announced his defection.

In an interview with Al Jazeera on Friday night, Taha said that the regime did not refrain “from threatening to attack the families and properties of the officials who want to defect". He continued, “I could only announce my defection recently since the regime practices its oppression on the inside and outside the country.....Silence is not an option anymore, but rather treason.”

Taha, who has been in Government service for 44 years with 26 as a diplomat, is the 4th Ambassador to defect.

0720 GMT: Syria. Activists are reporting a regime attack to push into the Salaheddin section of Aleppo, the area first taken by insurgents this week --- an image and sounds of shelling this morning:

0550 GMT: Syria. In another sign of the growing --- if not necessarily overt --- US Government support for the insurgency, the Treasury has given the Syrian Support Group a waiver to provide logistical and financial backing to the Free Syrian Army.

The waiver allows the SSG to put money towards FSA salaries and provisions, as well as --- according to an SSG official --- “communications equipment, satellite imagery, paying for satellite imagery, logistical support for transport, which could mean everything from buying a 4x4 to supporting someone’s travel to Turkey". Soon, there could be "intelligence support, drone support, eyes in the sky, an intelligence platform".

Articles this week in outlets like The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have outlined the US Administration's involvement --- along with European partners, Arab States, and Turkey --- in covert support for the insurgency. The effort is being coordinated from Adana in Turkey, near the Syrian border, with US operations "through a middlemen" and supervision by the CIA.

0515 GMT: Syria. Having entered Friday with the expectation of widespread conflict in Aleppo, the day was a relatively quiet one --- if 795 protests and 100 deaths at the hands of security forces, according to the Local Coordination Committees, can be called "relatively quiet".

There were big rallies in Aleppo, despite shelling of some areas and news of regime reinforcements moving towards Syria's largest city, and across the country. It appears that the Assad military has conceded control of much of the north, at least for the foreseeable future, to deal with the crisis. Conversely, the insurgents have released pressure --- because they were defeated, according to regime supporters; because they made their point, according to the opposition --- on Damascus.

Loud rally in the al-Hamdania section of Aleppo in Syria on Friday night

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