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Wednesday
Aug012012

Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Aleppo --- This Does Not Look Like Regime "Victory"

See also Syria Feature: The Death of An Activist in a Damascus Suburb
Syria Opinion: Turkey's Leaders Face The Conundrum of History
Tuesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Gathering Fight In and Around Aleppo


2020 GMT: Bahrain. Speaking before a Congressional committee enquiring into human rights in the kingdom, US Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner has called on the regime to take three steps to implement the "reform" sought by last November's report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry:

First, there are several hundred pending criminal cases related to the events of February and March 2011. Many individuals have been in detention for over a year. The government continues to prosecute 20 political activists and appeals cases are ongoing in the prosecution of respected medical professionals. In addition to the ongoing cases against doctors and nurses, we are discouraged by the Court of Appeals’ decision to issue a gag-order banning the media from reporting on trials for the 20 high-profile activists. We urge the Government of Bahrain to ensure fair and expeditious trials in appeals cases and to drop charges against all persons accused of offenses involving political expression and freedom of assembly....

Second, we call on the Government of Bahrain to hold accountable those officials responsible for the violations described in the BICI report....

Third,...further efforts need to be made to enhance the professionalization of the police. Ongoing violence in the streets between police and protesters points to the need for professional, integrated police and security forces that reflect the diversity of the communities they serve and that adopt a community policing approach.

However, activists have noticed the limits in Posner's call for change --- for example, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain has noted this exchange between Representative James McGovern and the Assistant Secretary of State:

1820 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees of Syriia has said that 117 people have been killed by security forces today.

The total includes 70 casualties in Damascus and its suburbs, including 50 in a mass killing in Artouz, and 14 in Aleppo Province.

The LCCS do not give figures on casualties among regime forces, and State media stopped publishing the information this spring.

1730 GMT: Syria. Back from a break to find the Syrian National Council has criticised Tuesday's executions by insurgents of members of the Barri clan in Aleppo.

Khalid Saleh, a member of the group's executive committee, said, "The persons executed were well known to be responsible for many deaths on Aleppo. Nonetheless, we firmly believe everyone deserves a just trial even in the case of field trials."

1340 GMT: Syria. Mona Mahmood, who spoke earlier with a the head of the Free Syrian Army's Military Council (see 1255 GMT), has now obtained parallel claims from Basheer al-Haji, the spokesman of the Tawheed ("Unification") Brigade in Aleppo.

Al-Haji said the Brigade, made up of 3500 fighters, was formed by the Free Syrian Army to fight in the city. He claimed insurgent advances:

We are in control of nine neighbourhoods which are at the eastern part of the city and three others at the western part of the city.

By controlling these neighbourhoods at the eastern side of the city, we are in full control of the civilian airport.

We extended our control of the western side of the city to al-Rawsa neighbourhood where the artillery college is. This is the base used by the regime to fire against the city.

On Tuesday's execution of members of the pro-regime Barri clan, reportedly carried out by the Brigade, al-Haji said:

We were in a truce with the Berri clan, which are shabiha clan. We asked them to stay at home and not to support any part of the fight but they did not comply to the truce.

We were attacking one of the police stations in the city and Berri clan began shooting against us from behind. They killed 15 members of the FSA. We were in big clashes with them and were able to kill 20 of them and arrest another 50.

Then we held a field trial for them. We have judges and lawyers who are in the opposition. They found that seven of the Berri clan were involved in killing and they decided to execute them. Others are kept for trial after the collapse of the regime.

We are keeping a lot of prisoners for trial after the collapse of the regime as long as their hands are clean of the Syrian people's blood, otherwise we kill them immediately.

1315 GMT: Turkey. The Turkish military has carried out a drill with about 25 tanks in the southeast of the country near the Syrian border.

The manoeuvres occur after Turkey has sent three convoys of tanks, weapons, and ground-to-air missile batteries to the border.

1312 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage of a house set ablaze by shelling of the Khamidiya section of Homs:

1255 GMT: Syria. Mustafa al-Sheikh, the head of the Free Syrian Army's Supreme Military Council, has spoken to The Guardian from "the Syrian-Turkish border". He claimed insurgents hold 70% of Aleppo, where the humanitarian situation is "a disaster": "There is no wheat at all, we live on lentils and groats stored by people at their homes, we get water from wells, power comes and goes."

Al-Sheikh not only defended Tuesday's execution of members of the pro-Assad Barri clan but predicted further incidents:

The Barri clan...have a long history of being pro-regime shabiha and they have been involved in a lot of killing in Aleppo.

The regime used to provide them with light weapons and knives and gather them in schools to go and launch their attacks against civilians. Just before they left one of the schools they were caught by the FSA and killed.

In this war in which we left alone to fight such a vicious regime, everything is possible and legitimate and as long as the international community keeps looking at Syria in such carelessness, you will see more of that and even worse.

Al-Sheikh also said the Free Syrian Army could accept the presence of foreign fighters in Syria:

Al-Qaida are now in different places in Syria, they work separately, they are even in Aleppo. We do not work with them. They have Syrian and Arab fighters and they have their own targets and weapons.

They are different hardline groups. We do not deal with them but we do not mind their work anywhere in Syria.

1245 GMT: Syria. Activist "The_47th" has an ominous assessment of the aftermath of Tuesday's execution of members of the pro-Assad Barri clan in Aleppo:

1225 GMT: Iraq. Official figures released today indicate 325 people died in Iraq in July, making it the "deadliest month in almost two years".

A further 697 citizens were wounded in a series of near-daily attacks across the country. July 23rd was especially deadly, with some 19 cities attacked culminating in 113 killed, the highest 24-hour death toll since December 2009.

The Islamic State of Iraq, a group linked to alQaeda, claimed responsibility for the violence on 23 July, stating "the war ministry has sent its sons and the mujahedeen on a sacred offensive during the month of Ramadan".

1125 GMT: Libya. A bomb has shaken the Department of Military Intelligence in Benghazi early Wednesday, damaging the building.

There were no injuries. The identity of the attackers is unknown.

A bomb was defused outside the iconic Tibesti hotel on Sunday, while a hand grenade hit the appeals court and a rocket punctured the outside wall of the main prison last Friday.

1025 GMT: Syria. The United Nations mission in Syria says its observers have witnessed regime fighter jets opening fire on insurgents in Aleppo.

Spokeswoman Sausan Ghosheh also said the UN had confirmation that the insurgents now have heavy weapons of their own, including tanks.

0959 GMT: Syria. CNN's Ivan Watson and Raja Razek report from a school converted into an insurgent-run prison in Aleppo Province. They say there were signs that captured shabiha militia were beaten, while regular regime military were treated better.

0954 GMT: Syria. Al Jazeera English's Jane Ferguson reports on the Free Syrian Army's announcement that it will re-use regime land mines against President Assad's forces:

0948 GMT: Syria. In a written statement for Armed Forces Day, President Assad has commented on the insurgency, "The fate of our people and our nation, past, present and future, depends on this battle," as he praised the "heroic" armed forces as "heroic" as the defender of "just causes".

0913 GMT: Syria. Amnesty International has posted a report, based on the observations of one of its staff in Aleppo in May, which harshly criticises the regime:

Scores of demonstrators and bystanders, most of them young men and boys but including several children and older men, have been shot dead and hundreds injured in the city by security forces and the notorious shabiha, the armed militias working alongside government forces. Some of the victims were bystanders who were not taking part in the demonstrations.

Families of demonstrators and bystanders shot dead by security forces have been pressured to sign statements saying that their loved ones were killed by “armed terrorist gangs”.

Wounded people risk arrest and torture if they go to hospital. Doctors, nurses and first-aiders who provide life-saving medical treatment to injured demonstrators in makeshift secret “field hospitals” have themselves been arrested, tortured and even killed by government security forces.

Activists organizing protests and those suspected of participating in demonstrations, making or distributing anti-government leaflets or opposition flags, or otherwise supporting protesters are often arrested and detained arbitrarily without access to their families or lawyers. Detainees are routinely tortured, in some cases to death. Some have been subjected to enforced disappearance; their families have been unable to obtain any information about their fate and whereabouts since their arrest.

0908 GMT: Syria. US NBC News has reported that insurgents have acquired a small supply of surface-to-air missiles for the first time.

A Western official did not dispute the claim.

NBC said the Free Syrian Army had obtained nearly two dozen missiles, also known as man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADs) delivered via Turkey.

0816 GMT: Syria. An opposition website has posted this explanation of Tuesday's execution of captured members of the Barri clan (see 0642 GMT):

When the uprising began, the Barris started to show off their “patriotism”. The regime provided them with a list of prisoners the Barris had asked for to help them in attacking protesters. Their leaders financed Aleppo’s Shabiha [pro-regime militia]....

Al Barris would go to mosques to attack protesters using knifes etc. The majority of Aleppo’s martyers were killed by Al Barris.

When the FSA [Free Syrian Army] arrived in Bab Al Nairab and besieged it, the two sides agreed a truce on Monday. Al Barris had proposed it. One of the Al Barris’ conditions was to keep the picture of Bashar al Assad posted on their premises. The rebels agreed, although they had the upper hand to avoid clashes.

Today, the Barris killed one of the rebels in Al Marjah district. The FSA then entered the Barri's stronghold. They captured the clan’s leaders. They killed some of those who resisted, families and children were allowed to leave the neighbourhood.

0757 GMT: Bahrain. The regime's recent efforts to promote their reform of police and consideration of allegations of abuse (see 0741 GMT) may have to be taken farther to win over media and activists.

The New York Times highlights a report by Physicians for Human Rights, "Weaponizing Tear Gas". Based on dozens of interviews with victims and forensic evidence, the report asserts that abnormally prolonged exposure to the gas has led to a notable increase in miscarriages, respiratory ailments, and other illnesses. It also documents the serious injuries caused by tear gas canisters, sometimes fired at close distance, hitting skulls and limbs.

And Cole Bockenfeld of the Project on Middle East Democracy argues:

As the government of Bahrain moves to eliminate any space for peaceful political protest, the opposition is tasked with an impossible order: in the face of excessive force by police, maintain an environment of total nonviolence while awaiting reforms from the government. For a frustrated population accustomed to weekly protests and violent crackdowns in the absence of meaningful political reform, this approach has little appeal....

The United States needs to publicly convey to our Gulf ally that peaceful assembly is a universal right and that policies that prohibit it represent a red line in the bilateral relationship. U.S. silence in this regard will be perceived as continued support for government actions which are marginalizing moderates and undermining peaceful voices for reform. Sidelining such moderates would fulfill the hard-liners' image of violent protesters bent on the overthrow of the regime and justify a vicious crackdown. The United States must clearly and unequivocally take a stand in support of the universal right to peaceful assembly, or else be seen as complicit in the bloodshed that would follow.

0750 GMT: Bahrain. Justin Elliott of ProPublica raises questions over the April trip of US Congressman Dan Burton to the kingdom, noting the $20,966 was covered by the Bahrain American Council, "created last year by the lobbying and public relations firm Policy Impact Communications". Elliott continues:

Members of Congress are not allowed to accept travel funds from any entity that “employs or retains” a lobbyist. The rule was instituted in 2007 after the Jack Abramoff scandal, which involved the corrupt lobbyist paying for luxury junkets for members of Congress and other officials.

Given the prohibition, how could a lobbyist-connected group finance Burton’s trip?

Because the Bahrain American Council says it doesn’t have any lobbyists on its staff.

But it sure is close to them.

Burton's speech on the floor of the House of Representatives upon his return from Bahrain:

0741 GMT: Bahrain. There has been a notable campaign over the past week by Bahraini authorities to declare reform of the security services, with promises of an investigation of abuses and Crown Prince Salman declaring that the equality of all Bahrainis must be upheld.

The latest announcement is that the regime has allocated BD90,000 ($240,000) as compensation for people whose property was damaged during police investigations.

Minister of Interior Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa added that 14 policemen were already being investigated for violations.

Major-General Tariq Al Hassan, the head of Public Security, said, "Everybody should know that we are a responsible body committed to protect the country and people. Any nature of violation where policemen have abused their power is taken seriously and proper procedures will be taken."

0642 GMT: Syria. The Brown Moses blog summarises Tuesday's capture and execution of members of the Barri clan, accused by activists of drug and gun dealing and of the killing of Free Syrian Army members. In this video in Arabic, a Free Syrian Army commander puts forward the circumstances of the execution of the Barri men:

0635 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees report 87 people were killed on Tuesday by security forces, with 22 of the deaths in Aleppo Province.

0530 GMT: Syria. In its only brief reference to Aleppo this morning, State news agency SANA declares, "Armed forces continued chasing the fleeing terrorist groups in the area of Ard al-Sabbagh in Salah Eddin neighborhood in Aleppo, killing and injuring a large number of terrorists, some of them holding Arab and African nationalities."

The website does not attempt the line, as it did days ago, that regime forces had cleared the insurgents out of Syria's largest city. That's understandable --- information and video from other sources indicated that, far from pushing the insurgents out of neighbourhoods like Salaheddin and Sakhour, President Assad's forces were facing continued resistance and that the Free Syrian Army was able to bring in reinforcements.

Indeed, there were two dramatic episodes  that pointed to the ascendancy of the insurgents in parts of the city. The Free Syrian Army attacked three police stations, occupying them for part of the day and reportedly causing dozens of casualties. Then last night footage emerged of the capture of the Barri clan, well-known supporters of the Assad regime and --- according to their critics --- renowned for their violent, criminal activity. Further video testified that the head of the family, Zaino Barri, and other members were executed.

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