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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: A No-Fly Zone?

See also Turkey Special: Iran, Syria, and Ankara's Kurdish Problem
Syria and Iran Opinion: Organization of "Islamic Cooperation"? You Must Be Kidding Me
Egypt Analysis: The President's Move Against the Military
Sunday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The US and Turkey Make Plans --- But What are They?

1924 GMT: Syria. According to the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria, 100 people have been killed today by regime forces:

56 were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs; 17 in Homs; 14 in Daraa; 7 in Deir Ezzor (6 of them were martyred yesterday and their bodies were discovered today); 3 in Idlib; 2 in Hama; and 1 in Lattakia.

That number does not differentiate between civilians and insurgents, and does not include regime casualties. Syrian State media has also stopped reporting number of security forces killed in this conflict.

1900 GMT: Syria. This afternoon there are reports of unusually high levels of regime shelling in Daraa province. So far, there are reliable reports from Busra al Sham to the east of Daraa, (map), Al Harak to the north east (map), Tafas to the north (map, see update below), and perhaps most interesting Ghabagheb, between Daraa and Damascus (map). Furthermore, the LCC reports extremely intense shelling in Darayya, a town southwest of Damascus on the road to Daraa (map). As is probably obvious from looking at these locations, nearly the entire road from Daraa to Darayya is reportedly being shelled. As we see from the reports from Tafas (below), that may not be a coincidence, but may be a response to the Free Syrian Army being increasingly active.

Where there is smoke (regime strikes) there is often fire (FSA presence, or at least large-scale protests). Combine this with rumors of fresh defections and an renewed FSA activity near Damascus and in Daraa, and it certainly seems like things are intensifying around the capital and to the south.

1745 GMT: Syria. We've often spoken about how the Free Syrian Army has had troubles establishing a foothold in Daraa province, largely because of the massive military presence there. But today, for the first time in recent memories, there is evidence of a fairly significant FSA victory.

In Tafas, a town just north of Daraa on the road to Damascus (map), a regime convoy stormed the town and reportedly met heavy resistance. At least one armored vehicle was captured:

It's too early to see if this is the beginning of a trend, but Daraa, the birthplace of the revolution, is strategically located near the border with Jordan, and is a relatively short distance to the capital, Damascus.

1731 GMT: Syria. For weeks the Free Syrian Army has been on the offense in Homs province, and particularly over the last week or so the FSA has been launching successful ambushes, destroying armored vehicles and tanks, and killing and capturing Assad soldiers.

Now, a brigade of the FSA has announced that the campaign to retake Homs is underway:

1721 GMT: Syria. Zilal sends us another version of the video that claims to show the captured pilot recovered from the MIG shot down near Deir Ez Zor - ensure that "CC" is on for Englkish subtitles(see update 1456 for full translation)"

1705 GMT: Syria. The Guardian has two witness reports from where the MIG fighter was shot down by the Free Syrian Army, one from the commander of the brigade which brought the plane down, and the other, excerpted below, from Ziyad al-Ameer, an activist and resident of Mohassan (map):

The warplanes kept flying for an hour and a half. It was almost 7:30am when a battalion named Othman Ben Affan which is part of Ahfad Muhammad brigade was able to shoot down the warplane and arrest its pilot.

The FSA are organising themselves here in big brigades and battalions. The Othman Ben Affan battalion was one of the first to be formed here by defected officers in Deir Ezzor province.

The man who shot down the warplane is Muhamed Allawi. When I told him "Congratulations!" he answered: "Congratulations to all of us!"

The pilot tried to lift the plane up to be able to eject with his parachute close to the military airport but the young men of the FSA from Bu Omer village were able to capture him. At the same time, four warplanes were flying overhead and trying to prevent his capture. They shot against the FSA and killed one of the men and wounded another.

The pilot has some bruises on his chin owing to the parachute ropes. The pilot is a colonel and his name is Mufeed Muhammed Salman, from Homs city. We brought a doctor to check him at once.

None of the FSA men touched him or said any bad words to him. He refused to have any food or drink and the doctor advised us to leave him to rest. We issued a statement afterwards confirming that we will comply with the Geneva conventions regarding prisoners of war. The pilot is in good health; we will treat him as a prisoner of war.

The FSA also provided Guardian with this picture of Muhamed Allawi, the man who shot down the jet:

1617 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordinating Committees are now saying that the video that we have posted below does in fact show the pilot of the Syrian jet fighter shot down near Deir Ez Zor.

As far as the information-clearinghouse of the Syrian opposition is concerned, this story has been confirmed.

1456 GMT: Syria. An important video, claiming to show the pilot of the MIG 23 that was shot down near Deir Ez Zor earlier today (see updates below). The video is translated by super-activist Zilal below:

The member of the Free Syria Army says:

  • "I'm captain Abu al-Laith, commander of Ahfad Mohammad Brigade, a MIG 23 fighter jet was shot down by Ahfad Mohammad Brigade in Mohasan town in Deir Ezzor province on monday 13-8-2012. The fighter jet was shot down by hero Abu Allawi, a member of Othman Bin Affan Brigade (he indicates him), and the commander first lieutenant Abu Abbas al-Sab'awi (he indicates him). The Ahrar al-Furati Brigade under the command of Abu Ali al-Omri (he indicates him) captured the pilot". Then he says that the commander Abu Kutaiba al-Hakeem died and he pays respect to all the martyrs.

Then he asks the pilot to talk about himself.

  • The pilot:"I'm the colonel pilot Mohammad Sleiman"
  • .
  • Captain Abu Laith of FSA: "What was your task?"
  • Pilot: "My task was to bombard Deir Moazar (or, possibly Deir al Muhassan, the audio is hard to make out)"
  • Captain Abu Laith: "What do you say to the officers of Assad's army?"
  • Pilot: "I tell them to defect from this gang"
  • Captain Abu Laith: "Why do you have this mark on your face?"
  • Pilot: "Due to my fall from the fighter jet...(he says something I can;t understand)"
  • Captain Abu Laith: "How was revolutionaries's behaviour towards you?"
  • Pilot: "They treated me, gave me the first aid...(don't understand the last few words).
  • Captain Abu Laith: "We will treat this prisoner as it's imposed by our religion, our consciousness and by the Geneva Convention regarding prisoners of war...The victory for our revolution, God is the Greatest."

1436 GMT: Syria. According to the latest USAID report, more than 2 million people in Syria are in urgent need of humanitarian aid, with more than 1 million people internally dispersed due to the violence. Their figures put the amount of refugees who have fled to neighboring countries at more than 140,000.

However, if that number is not already out of date, it will be soon, as Turkey alone is seeing a massive influx of refugees:

The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey has reached around 60,000 Monday after some 7,000 people fled across the border in a three-day mass exodus, according to official Turkish data.

As of Monday, the number of Syrian citizens who have fled violence in their homeland and crossed into Turkey has reached 59,710, read an online statement from the country's Disaster and Emergency Administration (AFAD).

1427 GMT: Bahrain. EA's John Horne reports:

Video has been posted of Jaffer Salman celebrating his release from prison yesterday with family, friends and his twin daughters. Jaffer, sentenced for two years by a military court last year on charges of "illegal gathering", was found innocent yesterday by an appeals court following a 17 month ordeal behind bars.

On March 15th last year, Jaffer was returning home in Sitra when he was attacked by police, who shot him in the face. He was taken to Salminaya Medical Complex for urgent treatment on his eye injuries. The following day, the Bahrain military took over Salminaya and Jaffer was arrested from his hospital bed. He was allegedly tortured before being sentenced to two years. As a consequence of his injuries, he lost one eye completely and is almost blind in the other.

Jaffer was released alongside fellow prisoner Ali Humaidan, photographed here back in his family home. Ali was also shot and blinded by police last March, and similarly arrested from Salminaya hospital and sentenced to two years by a military court.

1409 GMT: Syria. Al Jazeera English reports from Qamishli, the largest Kurdish city in the northeast, where the regime is still in control but checkpoints have been removed, troops are in barracks, and the Kurds fly their flag and hold local elections.

1400 GMT: Egypt. The Egyptian Print Censorship Authority has banned the import of A History of the Modern Middle East, now in its 12th edition.

Khaled Fahmy, chair of history at the American University in Cairo (AUC), said that he received an e-mail from the university informing him that the book he had requested for his modern Arab history course had been banned from entering the country. The e-mail did not give any reasons for the ban.

Fahmy said that he has no idea of why the book was banned, especially it does not contain anything that is particularly contentious: "It's an excellent simple book for the freshmen students of the modern history of the Mideast. I've been using this book for almost 10 years, for its simple smooth presentation of the modern Arab history."

1355 GMT: Syria. The Syrian envoy to the United Nations Human Rights Council has said he defected because "when I felt I could not help my people any more, I had to move on".

Danny Baaj continued, "When I was involved in any negotiations (on Syria) my concern was to protect the country not the government."

Baaj said he had been in contact with the opposition Democratic Forum, based in Paris.

1234 GMT: Syria. Confirmation that a Syrian airforce fighter jet crashed today:

Michael Weiss also notes, from looking at the video, that he's figured out what the "technical problem" was - machinegun fire.

1148 GMT: Syria. Earlier we posted video of a significant claim, that the Free Syrian Army had shot down a fighter jet over Deir Ez Zor. We've yet to see that news emerge from a credible opposition force, however.

The Guardian has posted a second video which they say shows a clearer image of the fighter being hit by (presumably) an anti-aircraft gun, as heavy machine gun fire can be heard:

Guardian also shares a statement from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights:

Rami Abdul-Rahman, from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AP he could not confirm the video but that he was told by locals that the rebels captured the pilot, a colonel, alive.From the footage it is difficult to see how someone would have survived.

Abdul-Rahman said he is waiting for another video that either shows the body of the plane or the pilot.

Analysis - the Youtube channels posting these two videos appear to have just aggregated the video from a different Youtube channel, RYE. RYE is a new channel, only two weeks old, and has posted exclusively videos from the Deir Ez Zor region. All the videos appear to have similar quality, indicating that they may have been taken with the same camera, or several cameras of the same quality or model. Several videos have narration, and they appear to have the same voice.

In this video, the clearer video appears to be partially narrated by that voice - presumably the narrator. In the background of both videos you hear a much louder voice (louder in the 1st video) who may be the second cameraman. Both videos appear to be taken from nearly the same angle at nearly the same time, and show the same event.

We know that there has been a sudden influx of new communications equipment coming from the US, the UK, and other European nations, which presumably includes high quality cameras. The quality of many amateur videos in Syria has exploded in recent months, likely a reflection of this better equipment. As Deir Ez Zor is a relatively new battleground, and Mohassen, where these videos reportedly happened (map), is even a fresher area of conflict, it makes sense that new Youtube channels, and new cameras, are being deployed there.

Also, assuming that this channel is genuine, it does appear that RYE has coordinated with the FSA in the past, as there is behind the scenes video claiming to show FSA fighters in the heat of combat. If the FSA was deploying AA guns to potentially ambush bombing raids, it makes sense that a camera crew was present.

Unfortunately, this is not "new" evidence. Both cameras could have coordinated their efforts. Also, that flame shooting out the plane could potentially be an afterburner, as the jet tries to avoid incoming fire. Still, this is impressive video, and we have not seen it before. We will also continue to call this unconfirmed until there is actually evidence that a jet has crashed, however.

1113 GMT: Syria. EA has just been contacted by Fares Mohamed, a spokesperson for the Local Coordination Committee in Zabadani, northwest of Damascus (map). He says that the city is under heavy bombardment, and has been for several hours.

The city has been shelled for weeks on end, and last week the LCCs declared the city a disaster area. In late January and early February, the Free Syrian Army briefly liberated the city from Assad forces, declaring victory once they successfully negotiated a truce with the local military commanders. In late February, the ceasefire was broken and the city stormed by the military. However, the military has withdrawn from the bulk of the city, and since the fighting in Damascus and Aleppo has escalated, Zabadani has been routinely shelled. Fares Mohamed has previously stated that he believes there is no military reason for the military to shell the city, but it is an opportunity for the military to get revenge for the FSA's recent gains.

Fares reports that today the situation is growing quite urgent. He passes along several videos reportedly showing today's shelling, and its effects on the city.

James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for his excellent work over the weekend and this morning.

1020 GMT: Syria. Insurgents have released footage claiming the downing of a regime warplane --- said by the cameraman to be a Russian-supplied MiG --- in Muhhasin in Deir Ez Zor Province:

1017 GMT: Bahrain. A march in Sitra on Sunday night, one of a series of village demonstrations calling for freedom for political prisoners:

0921 GMT: Syria. Joshua Landis offers a gloomy prognosis:

If [President] Assad surrenders, hundreds of regime leaders will be executed or tried for crimes against their fellow countrymen. The broader Alawite community fears the possibility of aimless retribution. To avoid this, Assad is likely to pursue the Lebanon option: turn Syria into a swamp and create chaos out of Syria’s sects and factions.

0902 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees claim 33 people have been killed by security forces today. The activists assert that 11 people were slain at a checkpoint in the Damascus suburb of Jdaidet Artouz.

0837 GMT: UAE. The Cabinet has declared that dissidents arrested for conspiring against the State have links with “external elements” and worked in an “organised” manner.

About 50 activists have been detained since March.

0747 GMT: Syria. State news agency SANA reports that the funeral of its head of Internal News, Ali Abbas, has been held in Latakia.

SANA claims Abbas was assassinated by an "armed terrorist group" at his home in Jdeidet Artouz near Damascus.

0627 GMT: Turkey. An opposition MP has been kidnapped, allegedly by the insurgent Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Huseyin Aygun of the Republican People's Party (CHP), was abducted on Sunday evening at a roadblock between the town of Ovacik and Tunceli, party spokesman Haluk Koc said: "For the first time, a lawmaker has been kidnapped by the terrorist organisation."

0621 GMT: Bahrain. The leading opposition society Al Wefaq has declared that political prisoners are "hostages" held "to put pressure on the opposition". Claiming there are more than 1400 behind bars, Al Wefaq contends:

The regime has been arresting citizens on daily basis. There has not been a day passing without arbitrary arrests accompanied with stories of torturing and vast violations against different areas in Bahrain. The regime forces always force detainees to confess and sign their confessions of equivocal and sham cases without even reading them paving the way towards wrongful verdicts against them at the court.

Meanwhile, a court has sentenced an unnamed man to two years in prison for making insulting comments about one of the Prophet Mohammad’s wives, according to Bahraini newspapers: “The accused entered a website and made comments that were so morally filthy and depraved that the tongue could not pronounce them, and they slandered Aisha."

0615 GMT: Bahrain. The Kingdom has reinstated its ambassador in Iran, Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid al-Khalifa announced on Sunday.

It is unclear why Bahrain, which withdrew its envoy in March 2011 to protest at Iranian criticism of the crackdown on protesters, is sending the ambassador back at this moment.

0600 GMT: Kuwait. The opposition has warned that Government proposals to change the electoral law before a Parliamentary vote expected this year amount to a “coup” and have called for political reform with a constitutional monarchy and full parliamentary democracy.

“The majority bloc views what is happening as a real coup by the political authority against the constitutional system, a coup aimed at seizing the rights of the nation through the constitutional court,” opposition politicians said on Sunday.

In June, the Constitutional Court effectively dissolved a Parliament in which the opposition held a majority and reinstated the previous assembly, seen as more amenable to the Government. Last week the Government referred the electoral system to the constitutional court.

The reinstated parliament has failed twice in the past two weeks to swear in a new government as lawmakers boycotted the sessions, increasing the chances of a new election being called.

0530 GMT: Syria. As fighting continued in Aleppo this weekend, the prospect of a no-fly zone has moved up the political and military agenda. Responding to a question during her trip to Turkey, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said only, "It is one thing to talk about all kinds of potential actions, but you cannot make reasoned decisions without doing intense analysis and operational planning."

That was enough, however, for international media to highlight the prospect of the zone. Then on Sunday, the leader of the opposition Syrian National Council, Abdulbaset Sieda, said the initiative was "an essential thing that would confirm to the regime that its power is diminishing bit by bit".

In Aleppo, there was fighting in the Saif al-Dawla and Salah Ed Dine districts on Sunday. State news agency SANA said only that regime forces killed "a number of terrorists" in an ambush near Aghiour Roundabout in Aleppo.

The Local Coordination Committees said 120 people had been killed by security forces across the country, 

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