Insurgents in Talbiseh, north of Homs, take control of a captured T-62 tank
90 martyrs were reported in Aleppo (most in Izzaz), 42 in Damascus and its Suburbs (including 6 who were executed in Douma, 6 in Qaboun neighborhood and 11 who were executed in Razi Orchids), 26 martyrs in Idlib, 29 in Homs (among them 6 martyrs from one family in Deir Baalbeh neighborhood), 7 in Daraa, 8 in Deir Ezzor, 2 in Hama and 1 in Quneitra.
This death toll includes insurgents and civilians, but does not include regime security forces or "shabiha," pro-Assad paramilitary militia. Syrian State media has long since stopped recording the regime's own deathtoll.
What is striking may be the high death toll from Azaz, which was hit by massive air raids earlier today, butthe deaths were widespread, with four provinces reporting deaths in double digits.
2145 GMT: Syria. The video claim of the day:
For the uninitiated, a "MANPAD" is a "Man-portable air-defense system" --- a weapon system capable of knocking helicopters and planes, possibly even Assad jet fighters, out of the sky. There has been another video of such a weapon in FSA possession, but that was an isolated case in Homs. This video claims to show a weapons depot in Dumair (map), a location east of Damascus where the Free Syrian Army is strong and is growing stronger. The capital city is most vulnerable from the east, and the southwest, so a weapons cache this large, especially one containing this kind of ordinance, could pose a significant threat.
The anti-aircraft guns are also valuable to the FSA. A lesser weapon was apparently responsible for shooting a MIG 23 out of the sky in Deir Ez Zor, so these weapons have proven to be effective. These guns would be even more effective at destroying the feared helicopters that Assad's military has so effectively used against FSA positions in the last several weeks. But these guns can also be used against ground targets, and even light armour.
Beyond this, the fact that the Free Syrian Army is capturing more and more ordnance from regime bases and arms depots is another sign that the FSA is growing stronger, and in many areas has the upper hand. Even if one MANPAD, 4 AA guns, many RPGs, dozens of small arms, and thousands of rounds of ammunition is not enough to fuel a whole war, it is enough to help resupply an insurgent fighting force whose largest limitation may be logistics. It is also enough to serve as a morale boost for the FSA, and serve the opposite purpose for the Assad military.
Another note --- earlier we posted video reportedly showing a helicopter firing flares near Talbiseh, Homs (see update 1725). We aare told by many with military experience that this is a sign that MANPADS have already been fired. If this is true, it's only a matter of time before some of these weapons start scoring direct hits on Assad helicopters, or maybe jet fighters. And while the regime has plenty of tanks, its airforce is noticeably smaller, and is stretched thin already. There are many reports that the destruction of one jet was already a large morale boost for the FSA.
One last note - These are also precisely the weapons that many in Washington have been trying to contain.
2038 GMT: Gaza. The crisis on the Sinai Peninsula has had obvious implications for the Egyptian and Israeli security forces who are fighting against the militant extremists operating there. Also obvious are the effects upon the Israeli populace which has occasionally come under attack by the extremists, and the Egyptian populace which is threatened by this renewed violence. However, Dr. Matt Sienkiewicz points out that the violence has a less obvious victim - the Palestinian people:
Just got off Skype w/Gaza.Electricity even worse since Egypt attack.Stench of sewage all day.Tunnel economy inflation like interwar Germany.— matt sienkiewicz (@mattsienkiewicz) August 15, 2012
1910 GMT: Syria/UAE/Lebanon. First Saudi Arabia, and now the United Arab Emirates:
UAE TELLS ITS CITIZENS TO LEAVE LEBANON IMMEDIATELY - STATE NEWS AGENCY— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) August 15, 2012
1902 GMT: Syria. Yesterday we reported that the FSA reportedly launched an attack against an Assad convoy near the border crossing in Baba al Hawa (map). Today, it is increasingly clear that the border crossing has again fallen to the Free Syrian Army, along with some military hardware:
It what we think is a separate incident, there are unconfirmed reports, including this video, that the FSA has also defeated a military convoy in Ma'arrat Misrin (map) that was headed to the Bab al Hawa crossing:
1825 GMT: Syria. A new video, reportedly filmed by members of the Free Syrian Army, claims to show the inside of an airforce research base in Aleppo that has been captured by the insurgents. What's interesting - inside the base there appear to be two Ghods Ababil unmanned aircraft, a model of Iranian made drones that has previously been given to Hezbollah.
IS the video real? Many long maintained that the Assad regime was using unmanned drones in Syria. Mysterious drones that match Iranian made aircraft have been seen before, and Hezbollah is also known to have possession of several of these vehicles, given to them during the 2006 war against Israel. It's certainly possible that these drones were in the hands of the Assad regime.
It is still not known why Yousif, who was with his young daughters, was seized by police.
1725 GMT: Syria. Some may remember that an activist who has predicted many things right in the last few weeks recently said that the Free Syrian Army would be deploying heat-seeking missiles into the field very soon. As our readers may also remember, the FSA is launching a campaign to liberate Homs and the towns around it from the Syrian army. Now, an activist sends along a video that claims to show, for the first time that we've seen, an Assad helicopter taking precautions against heat-seeking missiles over Talbiseh:
90 were reported in Aleppo (most of them in Izzaz), 32 in Damascus and its Suburbs (including 6 who were field-executed in Douma, 11 who were also field- executed in the orchards of Razi and 6 in Qaboun), 26 in Idlib, 21 in Homs (including 6 members of the same family in Deir Baalba), 5 in Daraa, 2 in Hama, 1 in Deir Ezzor and 1 in Quneitra.
This number includes civilians and insurgents in the Free Syrian Army, but does not include the regime's military or shabiha loses. Those numbers are also no longer reported by state run media.
The obvious headline is the bombing in Azaz (map, see update 1408), where massive air strikes have rocked the city all day. It's also worth reiterating that it was in Azaz that the FSA was holding 11 Lebanese prisoners, reportedly members of Hezbollah, some of whom were killed in the bombings.
Azaz is also a key town because it is so close to the Turkish border, and it is on a key highway on the road to Aleppo. Azaz, like most of the towns north of Aleppo, is securely in FSA hands.
1645 GMT: Syria/Lebanon/Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has warned that its citizens should leave Lebanon immediately, after concerns over security issues. With the news that a prominent Lebanese family has kidnapped more than 20 suspected FSA members, the Saudi government is afraid that violence could break out in Lebanon (see update 1125).
1543 GMT: Bahrain. EA's John Horne reports:
Said Yousif, Head of Monitoring for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), is reportedly being arrested at a checkpoint in Aa'li. In the last 10 minutes, his Twitter account tweeted the following:
— S.YousifAlmuhafda (@SAIDYOUSIF) August 15, 2012
@saidyousif and his two little kids being held at Aa'li in a Checkpoint they r arresting him as they called his wife 2 pick up the kids
— S.YousifAlmuhafda (@SAIDYOUSIF) August 15, 2012
@saidyousif is being arrested in A'ali in a checkpoint
Nabeel Rajab, the head of the BCHR, is currently serving a three month sentence for tweeting. He is due in court tomorrow for the verdict in his appeal cases.
Maryam AlKhawaja, acting President of the BCHR tweeted that the "Bahrain regime is trying to silence all public human rights defenders, [and] stifle BCHR's work. It won't work. Work will continue no matter how many [they] arrest".
1448 GMT: Syria. Earlier we received information that Azaz, north of Aleppo (map), was heavily shelled today. Now, Al Jazeera has published a claim that this shelling may have a much larger impact on the geopolitical and regional implications for this conflict:
Four of the 11 Lebanese citizens who have been held hostage in Syria since May have been killed by shelling in Azaz, the town near Aleppo where they were held, according to members of the local FSA brigade. A number of other people were killed and wounded in the shelling, as well.
The hostages, all of them Shia Muslims, were abducted by rebels in May while traveling back from a pilgrimage to Iran. Lebanese and Turkish authorities have tried repeatedly to secure their release - at one point, a deal seemed to be finalised - but the rebels refused to release them.
An activist provides video from the town:
1418 GMT: Syria. This explosion in Damascus does not appear to be a random act, or the work of a rogue group. Not only have members of the Free Syrian Army taken credit for the attack, but there appear to have been coordinated attacks across many areas of Damascus today. The opposition news network ANA shares a roundup of the news, including several videos. The report is excerpted below:
Smoke rises from mezzeh of central Damascus as a result of clashes which occurred there at 1pm this afternoon between regime forces and free Syrian army elements.
12:30 Heavy shelling began in the #Qadam area of #Damascus reports of numbers of wounded civilians. Regime forces reported to have used Military Tanks in addition to armed forces on 4x4 vehicles with PKC attached and under fire.
The Qadam district (map) and the Al Asali district (map) are two areas in southern Damascus where the regime has not been able to establish full control. Southwest of these districts there have routinely been clashes with FSA and regime forces, and analysis of the history of the fighting in the area suggests that the Free Syrian Army would like to move freely from Daraa province and the southwestern city of Darayya right into the capital city by use of these districts.
The fighting in Damascus appears to be similar to what was seen before the "battle for Damascus," in that the FSA does not appear to have attempted to secure any territory. So far, this looks like a series of ambush-style attacks, mainly designed to send a message in the wake of today's bombings.
But to be clear, the areas that the regime is shelling are not military positions, but civilian neighborhoods. Pictures and videos show children, and others, wounded and being treated in field hospitals. This series of attacks has angered the Syrian military, and the civilians of some areas of Damascus will be retaliated against as a result.
The earlier bombing near the Dama Rose hotel blew up a fuel lorry in the car park of a military compound, state TV reported. The hotel and a Labour Union building across the road were both damaged.
The rebel Free Syrian Army said it had targeted a meeting between army officers and members of the Shabiha, a pro-government militia.
None of the injured were believed to be members of the UN mission sent to Syria to monitor former special envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan aimed at ending the uprising against President Bashar al Assad's regime.
As you can see by looking at the map, the explosions were in the very heart of the Assad military complex - the Dama Rose hotel, where the UN observers are staying, is right near the Ministry of Defense complexes that were targeted by this attack (map). A picture of the smoke rising over Damascus after this morning's bombing:
1140 GMT: Syria. There have been more explosions, followed by gunfire, in Damascus. The opposition news agency ANA has released this statement:
Bombing went off just by Omayyad Square of central Damascus in-front of the Military Air force intelligence. The explosion was heard in most of the capital including some suburban areas. There was an hour and a half’s worth of silence soon followed by heavy gunfire heard in numerous areas such as Barzeh, Qaboun and Rukn al Din. A Military aircraft was reported to have been clearly seen opening fire above the city.
Al Jazeera reported that 6 additional explosions were also heard, though the source of the sounds remain unknown.
1125 GMT: Syria. A prominent Lebanese family, the Al-Meqdad clan, have abducted at least 20 members of the Free Syrian Army in retaliation for the kidnapping of their own son inside Syria on suspicion that he is a member of Hezbollah:
“The family’s military wing kidnapped several Syrians. We are not afraid of anyone,” Abu Ali al-Meqdad said on behalf of the family.
He said the tribes of the eastern Bekaa valley such as Shamas, Zoaiter, Nasreddine and Dandash are all working together and will reveal their “big catch” on Thursday morning.
This decision is already be praised by some Lebanese officials:
MP Ghazi Zeayter told LBCI that he is “here in solidarity with al-Meqdad family and because it is my duty, as an MP, to stand by tribes. In our tradition, kidnappings are unacceptable, but this was a reaction”. He said that there is a plot against Syria and our reaction will be limited to the Free Syrian Army.
Zeayter called on the Lebanese government to assume its responsibility in the case of the kidnapped Hassan al-Meqdad.
The family has openly condemned the Lebanese failure to intervene in Syria:
“So long as the Lebanese state does not act, we will act”, the family said.
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started today.
1015 GMT: Syria. Three Syrians have reportedly been abducted this morning in Beirut by the Al-Moqdad family, after one of its members, Hassan Al-Moqdad, was held in Syria by the Free Syrian Army as an alleged Hezbollah fighter.
Hezbollah said the man was not part of the resistance moment, while his family said it would retaliate to secure his release. It claimed that one of the three men it seized "had the rank of captain" in the Free Syrian Army.
1005 GMT: Syria. Human Rights Watch reports that rockets fired by regime fighter planes struck the main emergency hospital in an opposition-controlled area of Aleppo on Tuesday, wounding two civilians and causing significant damage.
HRW staff, visiting the Dar al Shifaa Hospital in the Sha’ar neighbourhood, also reported that a rocket attack on Sunday apparently killed four civilians and wounded three.
Hospital medical staff told Human Rights Watch that aircraft attacked the hospital and a nearby school at about 3 p.m. on 14 August, with three or four rockets hit the upper floors of the seven-story hospital. Two days earlier, aircraft hit the hospital with six rockets in a similar attack.
On the fourth floor of the hospital, HRW stff saw the tail remnants from about a dozen S-5 rockets.
0840 GMT: Syria. Abu Al Noor, a spokesperson for the Ahfad Al Rasoul Brigade, has told Al Jazeera that the Free Syrian Army planned this morning's Damascus bomb over the last month: "The operation was targeting the central security command in response to murders perpetrated by the security forces nationwide. We will continue to carry out similar operations in the capital until we reach [Bashar al-Assad] in the Presidential palace."
Eight explosive canisters were placed in the vicinity of the Syrian military's Central Security Command, timed to explode during their daily meeting. Al Noor said the FSA had intelligence suggesting some 150 high-ranking officers would be attending the meeting.
0710 GMT: Syria. State TV claims a bomb attached to a gas canister has exploded in Damascus near the Dama Rose Hotel, wounding three people.
0636 GMT: Turkey. More on Tuesday's release of a Turkish MP by the Kurdish insurgency PKK....
Appearing before reporters last night, Huseyin Aygun of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) said, "My two-day adventure in the mountains ended tonight. The people who carried this out said they were doing it to spread their political message."
0627 GMT: Bahrain. The establishment continues to step back from last week's mission by four leading politicians, including two MPs, to the Syrian opposition.
The video of the meeting presented a quandary for the Bahraini regime, given that it has condemned "foreign intervention" in its own political affairs.
This morning Shaikh Adel Al Ma'awada, Parliament's second vice-chairman, denies that the group provided millions of dollars for the purchase of weapons:
We didn't go to Syria to take cash to rebels and our meeting with them was not scheduled and was just one of those things that happened while we were there
Our mission was humanitarian and we travelled to Syria as individuals and not representatives of parliament, any political or charitable society or parliamentary bloc, and had no intention of making donations towards arms.
We have gone to present collected cash of around BD150,000 to the needy in hospitals and shelters and for the rebuilding of vital facilities that have been completely or partially damaged by the regime.
Rumours that we had millions of dollars are baseless because if we did, then the Syrians would call us to run the government rather than the tyrant they have now because we would have done them a huge favour.
0625 GMT: Bahrain. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights summarises the "lottery" of verdicts handed down by an appeals court in cases against 56 defendants. Some of the sentences were reduced or set aside, but others --- notably that of 13 high-profile political activists given terms of up to life in prison --- were adjourned.
0545 GMT: Syria. James Miller starts our Live Coverage with a checklist of possible stories today, beyond the continued fighting in Aleppo:
Watch the border crossings near Turkey, particularly in Idlib Province. The Free Syrian Army reportedly ambushed a convoy near Bab al Hawa, so this could be the start of something more.
Then there is Homs. The FSA says it is trying to liberate Homs, so if you see videos of shelling or gunfights there, pay close attention.
There was more shelling Tuesday in Daraa Province, particularly Tafas, which was heavily attacked by regime forces on Monday. This could be a sign that the battle with the FSA is heating up in Daraa, which would be significant.
Meanwhile, Jeffrey White, a defense analyst at the Washington Institute, posts this wider assessment: "Last month was the most violent of the war, with some 552 clashes reported and an estimated 1,100 regime personnel killed or wounded. Although the armed rebels also took casualties (estimated at 624 in July), their strength in men and combat formations appeared to grow."
White concludes: "The regime's recent difficulties highlight a number of processes whose cumulative effects are wearing it down":
- Escalating clashes in nine of fourteen provinces in July
- Growing attrition in personnel and equipment from combat, defection, and assassination
- Signs that its forces are losing the will to fight (surrenders, abandoning of positions, failure to press attacks)
- Operational and tactical failures, including the loss of territory and positions
- Loss of the infrastructure of control due to seemingly well-conceptualized rebel attacks (e.g., on police stations, checkpoints, border posts, intelligence and security offices, the headquarters of the Baath Party and the regime's "Popular Army" militia)
- Improving rebel military capabilities in terms of organization, numbers, and weapons
- Attacks on state-run or associated media facilities and personnel, undermining Assad's ability to control people and territory