Free Syrian Army members show off a captured haul of regime weaponry, including a portable anti-aircraft system
See also Syria Audio Feature: "Assessing An Airstrike on Azaz" --- Scott Lucas with Monocle 24 br>
Syria 1st-Hand: From Student and Gap Salesman to Insurgent in Aleppo br>
Wednesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Wearing Down the Regime?
1910 GMT: Syria. Contrary to popular opinion, there is still plenty of fighting in the Salleh el Dine district of Aleppo:
The battle lines have not changed very much in recent days. In places like Saleh el Dine, the FSA is not making an effort to establish permanent control, as they were last week, but because of this they are still able to enter the district, conduct ambush or "hit and run" style attacks, and prevent further Assad military incursions.
Also, despite all the violence in the city, primarily characterized by intense bombing and shelling campaigns, the majority of the city is still in partial or total FSA control, and there are almost no areas where the regime has been able to effectively send in tanks.
1850 GMT: Syria. The LCC has now raised their death toll to 197. At least 60 of those deaths were reported in Qatana (map), where 60-65 bodies have reportedly been found, some of them burning, in the local landfill. A low-quality video claims to show some of the bodies.
1820 GMT: Syria. The town of Dumayr, in rural Damascus (map), was heavily shelled today. We suspect that the reason was a major attack on the town by the Free Syrian Army. Yesterday we posted a video claiming to show FSA fighters having captured a military arsenal that included 4 anti-aircraft machine guns, many RPGs and rifles, a huge amount of ammunition - and a MANDPADS air defense system.
We're told that the fighters came from Harasta and Ghouta, eastern suburbs of Damascus that are also heavily attacked today.
Now, we have another video showing the arms in the control of the FSA:
We also have video that claims to show FSA soldiers returning from the raid. It's hard to verify, except that in the bottom of some of the trucks, the soldiers appear to be sitting on some of the ammo boxes and weapons crates:
86 were reported in Damascus and its suburbs (including 60 unidentified martyrs from the Qatana massacre and 8 in Hajar Aswad); 69 in Aleppo (inluding 40 in Qadi Askar and 8 in Shaar); 14 in Idlib; 5 in Deir Ezzor; 2 in Hama; 1 in Homs; and 1 in Daraa who was actually martyred in Damascus.
As this number notes, however, the 60 bodies found in Qatana were not killed today, but the bodies were discovered today.
1614 GMT: Syria. It appears that the UN mission in Syria may be over once Kofi Annan steps down:
1555 GMT: Syria. The death toll in Syria has jumped to 158, according to the LCC, with most of that number made up of the 86 deaths in Damascus. Some of that number appears to be made up of victims of a mortar attack in Dumayr (map):
Dozens of martyrs and wounded were reported as a result of the heavy mortar shelling and missile attacks in the town.
Intense fighting between the Free Syrian Army and regime forces in the eastern suburb of Harasta (map), and there are reports that Irbin (map) has also been shelled. In other words, there is a steep escalation of violence in the eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus. It's too early to tell, but this could be a significant renewal of armed conflict there.
1514 GMT: Syria. Snap-Analysis - Ignoring the confusing headlines, the news that the another general, the brother of the Syrian Vice President no less, has defected is another major blow to the credibility of the regime.
But this episode says something deeper. There are two major reasons for most defections. The first, a sense that the policies of the regime are objectionable. The second reason, however, is the fear that the regime will collapse and those responsible for those policies may be held accountable. General Shara's defection likely puts his cousin n a precarious spot, so one has to wonder whether the General would put his cousin in jeopardy, this late in the game, for ideological reasons. Surely, the regime is not doing anything today that it did not do months ago. This raises the possibility that General Shara is fleeing the regime because his life, and his cousin the Vice President's, are already at risk. But that risk is not from a possible regime reaction. That risk is the possible fall of the regime. If a high-ranking General like Shara believes that the regime is so weak that he needs to flee it, that is a significant development in and of itself.
One also has to wonder if yesterday's bombing in Damascus is related to Shara's defection. There's no evidence that General Shara was responsible, but this is the second blow to the heart of the regime's security leadership in the capital. One has to seriously question the loyalty of many members of the regime, as attacks persist that look like inside jobs, and defections persist at even the highest levels.
An activist is maintaining a list (with Youtube videos) of all the Generals who have defected from the military. So far, more than 50 have fled the regime. Perhaps General Shara's defection is not a military blow to the regime, but a high-profile defection of this kind is another psychological blow, to say nothing of the information that Shara likely has that will help the Free Syrian Army in their continued fight to topple Assad.
1450 GMT: Syria. As anyone who has been following the news knows, sometimes, especially when translations get involved, the news turns into a giant game of telephone, and everybody gets the wrong information. Reuters officially clarifies the news reported earlier:
ADVISORY - Al-Arabiya TV says relative of Syrian vice president has defected, not the vice president— Reuters India (@ReutersIndia) August 16, 2012
1443 GMT: Syria. Previous news appears to be a translation issue - according to people who saw the Al Arabiya broadcast, the relative of the Vice President, General Yuaarab al-Sharaa, has defected himself - the General does not say that the VP defected.
1438 GMT: Syria. Now Lebanon, associated with the AFP, reports that the Vice Presiden't claimed relative is a General in the regime:
— NOW Syria (@NOW_Syria) August 16, 2012
#Syrian General Yuaarab al-Sharaa, cousin of Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa, has defected -New TV
A Twitter account with a focus on Syria suggests that Vice President Shara has already been under house arrest, and this is likely a rumor. We can't confirm that Shara was under house arrest, however:
1430 GMT: Syria. BREAKING - an incredible claim coming from Al-Arabiya (not the most trusted name in news) - According to a relative of Syria's Vice President Farouq al-Shara, Shara has defected and joined the Syrian uprisings:
In the statement, read by a man Al-Arabiya identified as a relative of the Sunni Muslim vice president, Shara called on the army to join "the revolution" against Assad's rule. Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the statement.
Obviously, this is breaking news with more details to follow. We are heavily skeptical of the report, especially since we don't yet know who this man who read the story was, whether he is actually a relative of Shara's, and whether Shara is being represented by this man.
I was driving in the street close to Zayed City when I was stopped by traffic police, in the middle of the highway. I was told that I was wanted after being identified at the checkpoint in A’ali. A police car then arrived and four officers punched and slapped me in front of my daughters....
A traffic policeman forcibly took my phone from me, whilst another was inspecting my car. They found a banner with a picture of Nabeel Rajab and asked me who it was. I told them it was Nabeel and they told me to say "no, this is our whore". When I refused to speak such language, especially in front of my children, I was punched twice in the head.
Yousif said he was held for three hours and released only when he signed a pledge that he would return to the police station when summoned, again without a lawyer.
1219 GMT: Syria. The violence is once again rippling through Aleppo province today. The most noteworthy reports so far are from Al Bab to the east (map), which was shelled today, and Taqad, to the west (map), where the Free Syrian Army has clashed with regime forces. There aren't many details to go off of yet, but the areas west of Aleppo have been militarily disastrous for the regime army in the past. This could be a skirmish of little significance, or a sign that the military is trying to cut Aleppo off from northern Idlib province.
1142 GMT: Syria. That said, Azaz is a horrible scene. The Guardian has posted a gallery of graphic videos taken from the ground there - the amount of affected children is very disturbing. Al Jazeera also notes that journalists are allowed by the Turkish government to pass freely in and out of the border near Azaz, which means we're likely to see more coverage of the horrific event soon.
1122 GMT: Syria. Of the four headlines that Scott Lucas picked today (the most important developments yesterday, though as the ellipsis indicates, not the only headlines), the media seems to have only covered one - the bombing in Azaz - and the analysis of that story is completely off the mark. Take this example:
HRW said two opposition Free Syrian Army facilities in the vicinity of the attack might have been targets of the Syrian aircraft.One was the headquarters of the local Free Syrian Army brigade two streets away from the block that was hit. The other was a detention facility where the Free Syrian Army held "security detainees" government military personnel and members of pro-government shabiha militia.
Neither of these facilities was damaged in the attack.
The bombing of Azaz, some 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Aleppo, shattered the sense of control rebels have sought to project since they took the area from President Bashar Assad's army last month. Azaz is also the town where rebels have been holding 11 Lebanese Shia they captured in May.
First of all, nearly a dozen towns north of Aleppo are bombed every day. The only reason Human Rights Watch, or most of the media, is noting this now is that this time the bombs were more effective than usual, basically an accident of happenstance. Secondly, the Free Syrian Army headquarters, blocks away and untouched, was not the target. Most of those killed in all of these bomb strikes and shelling campaigns are civilians. The FSA hardly ever receives large-scale casualties as the result of air strikes - with a few notable exceptions. The Assad regime has no intelligence on the ground, but it does not need intel. This bombing, like all the other daily bombing and shelling attacks, is blindly-fired aggression aimed at stressing the civilian populace into breaking. Thirdly, Azaz is being bombed precisely because the Free Syrian Army continues to win victories south and west of Azaz, and the regime has no real recourse at this point.
1100 GMT: Syria. Yesterday saw one of the highest death tolls in recent weeks, but today is on pace to potentially surpass it. The Local Coordinating Committees already report that 62 people have been killed today by Assad forces:
39 martyrs were reported in Aleppo (most of them were killed in the massacre of Qadi Askar neighborhood), 10 in Damascus and its Suburbs, 5 in Idlib, 5 in Deir Ezzor, 2 in Hama and 1 in Homs.
A few things to keep in mind - it's relatively early in Syria (about 2 PM), but also the LCC's confirmed death toll lags many hours behind. It's very rare to see this number this high this early.
This number is a mix of civilians and insurgents, but does not include Assad forces. Syrian state media also does not tally regime losses.
Aleppo is once again the focus today. Many of the northern suburbs are once again being heavily shelled and bombed from the sky. This "massacre" in Aleppo hasn't been flushed out with details yet, though, but we'll keep our eyes open.
The last note - this LCC number does not include the 15 who, according to Al Jazeera, were injured in Azaz yesterday but died today in Turkey.
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started today.
Between 3.15 and 3.30 [p.m.] two bombs hit the town --- one in the middle of a cluster of houses, leaving a circle which is just a big empty space. Around it are collapsed buildings and others that are half-collapsed.
When I arrived, there was a heavy stench of death and they were pulling a body out, but it was only the head. They kept digging. Kids were lifting big boulders and finding bits of flesh and bones.
One of the houses was the home of Fadhel Danoun. Twenty-five of his family were killed. One daughter, Umma Ahmad, survived.
It was a poor section of town. Sixty-four houses have collapsed or fallen apart. People are still retrieving blankets, carpets and plastic shoes. A hundred metres away there are homes with parsley and mint still growing in their gardens.
Another guy, Ahmad al-Aboud, who is 57, was standing on piles of concrete that were his home. He said he didn't hear a plane. There was a big explosion like an earthquake.
He said: "We're all poor workers' families. We don't even have a gun in this area."
The injured have been taken to Turkey. People say they don't blame the Syrian regime so much as the Saudis, Qataris, Turks and Americans for failing to help them.
Human Rights Watch ponders if the airstrike was errant targeting:
One [possible target] was the headquarters of the local Free Syrian Army brigade two streets away from the block that was hit. The other was a detention facility where the Free Syrian Army held "security detainees" government military personnel and members of pro-government shabiha militia.
Neither of these facilities was damaged in the attack.
However, as the Associated Press notes, the objective may not have been military but psychological: "The bombing of Azaz, some 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Aleppo, shattered the sense of control rebels have sought to project since they took the area from President Bashar Assad's army last month."
0855 GMT: Bahrain. Reports are coming in that Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, has been given a three-year prison sentence this morning for participation in illegal protests.
Rajab was already serving a three-month term for Twitter messages which allegedly insulted the Prime Minister.
A Turkish official said Thursday that many of the injured suffered severe burns in the attack by a Syrian regime MiG fighter jet, which killed more than 30 people instantly and left more than 200 injured.
A statement issued at the end of an OIC summit meeting in Mecca, Saudi Arabia said participants had agreed on "the need to end immediately the acts of violence in Syria and to suspend that country from the OIC", expressing "deep concern at the massacres and inhuman acts suffered by the Syrian people".
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the head of the OIC, said, "This world can no longer accept a regime that massacres its people using planes, tanks and heavy artillery....[This is] also a message to the international community stating that the Muslim world backs a peaceful solution , wants an end to the bloodshed and refuses to let the problem degenerate into a religious conflict and spill over" into the wider region."
0510 GMT: Syria. Closing Wednesday's Live Coverage, James Miller sent the message: "205 dead, Iran drones unearthed, kidnappings, bombings, Free Syrian Army victories --- and MANPADS".
While the note had the virtue of being concise, it could not begin to capture a day that rushed from one dramatic and violent incident to another, most of which pointed to the growing pressure on the Assad regime:
1. The Local Coordinating Committees reported that at least 205 people were killed by security forces. Of the dead, 90 were in Aleppo Province, many of them in Izaz on the Turkish border --- it was hit by fighter jets that flattened at least 10 houses.
2. The morning had begun with the drama of a Free Syrian Army attempt to kill high-ranking regime military officers with explosives attached to gas canisters. One was set off near a building where the Command Council was supposed to be meeting, but did not appear to hit its target --- three people were reportedly wounded.
There were clashes throughout the day in parts of Damascus and in its suburbs.
3. The conflict spilled over into Lebanon, as the al-Moqdad family claimed to have seized at least 20 members of the Free Syrian Army in retaliation for the abduction of Hassad al-Moqdad inside Syria.
Insurgents had shown the detained al-Moqdad in a video, claiming he was a member of Hezbollah.
5. And last night, the claim --- again with video --- emerged that the Free Syrian Army had captured four anti-aircraft guns, hundreds of boxes of ammunition, and a MANPAD (Man-Portable Air-Defense System) in Dumair near Damascus. Miller summarised:
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 to opposite purpose for the Assad military.