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Friday
Aug172012

Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Almost 25,000 Dead as the United Nations Departs

France 24 reports first-hand on fighting in Damascus, with insurgents building up their forces

See also Bahrain Special: 9 Reasons Why The Regime Gave Human Rights Activist Nabeel Rajab a 3-Year Sentence
Syria Feature: How to Get Reliable News from the Confusion of Conflict
Iraq Feature: Lawyers Risking Their Lives to Take on Sensitive Cases
Syria Audio Feature: "Assessing An Airstrike on Azaz" --- Scott Lucas with Monocle 24
Thursday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Bombings, Kidnappings, Iranian Drones, A Captured MANPAD....


1902 GMT: Syria. The must-watch video of the day. Sometimes, videos coming from Syria have an almost meditative element to them, as if so much can be learned from a single video. This is one of those instances.

This is Saleh el Dine, an upper-middle class commercial district in Aleppo. This is the kind of neighborhood you'd find near a major university in London, or Boston, filled with over-priced apartments, upper-class residents, students, coffee shops... the kind of place that ranges from peaceful to bustling depending on the time of day.

In this video it is neither peaceful or bustling. The neighborhood is more like hauntingly deserted, with the distant echo of war faintly heard in the background. The silence is stunning. Periodic gunfire can be heard, then a helicopter which is later seen overhead.

Suddenly, however, a massive explosion, as a bomb or a shell lands too close to the camera.

But after the excitement, the haunting stillness returns. This is what Aleppo has become.

1838 GMT: Syria. We have hundreds of videos of protests, but we'll share a few more of the larger ones. In the first the cameraman says this is Darayya, and he says today's date. Darayya is southwest of Damascus (map), has been fought over for weeks, and is one of the areas that some analysts believe the Free Syrian Army will eventually try to take in order to strike from there at the capital:

This is Kobani (Ayn al Arab in Arabic), a town in northern Aleppo province (map) which has a majority minority populace, with most people in the town being Kurdish. The Kurds have ceased control of the town, and it has been independent for several weeks. Both Kurdish and Syrian opposition flags can easily be seen in this scene:

This video is rather remarkable, as it was reportedly taken in the Al Furqan district of Aleppo (map), north of the embattled Saleh el Dine area and west of the University. The location is audible on the video, the date is not, but it was posted by the Sham News Network, a proven and reliable source:

1808 GMT: Syria. The death toll, according to the LCC, has reached 157. What's striking about the number is that there is little pattern - though obviously there are pockets of extreme violence, the numbers of deaths are fairly evenly spread across many provinces:

40 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs including 16 young men who were slaughtered in Douma; 36 martyrs were reported in Aleppo; including and entire family, 30 in Daraa; including 8 bodies who were burned in Nawa; 30 in Homs; including 10 in Deir Baalba and an entire family from Qosair, 12 in Idlib, 5 in Deir Ezzor and 4 in Hama; including a mother and her child.

This kind of violence is a good example of a day that falls through the media cracks - what's the headline if there's killing everywhere?

1746 GMT: Bahrain. An EA correspondent in Bahrain shares this video, showing the Quds day protests in Sitra village that took place today.

1634 GMT: Syria. The death toll continues to climb. According to the activist LCC, 133 people have been killed by regime forces thus far:

36 martyrs were reported in Aleppo; including and entire family,34 in Damascus and its Suburbs including 16 young men who were slaughtered in Douma, 29 in Daraa; including 8 bodies who were burned in Nawa; 20 in Homs; including 10 in Deir Baalba, 6 in Idlib, 5 in Deir Ezzor, 3 in Hama; including a mother and her child.

One of the hardest hit areas so far today in the Shaar district of Aleppo which has been heavily bombed by Assad air forces today. The Guardian has posted a more detailed report.

1530 GMT: Syria. Every Friday has protests, and a theme. Today's theme, translated by Hama Echo, is "Victory will be achieved with the unity of our free army." This signifies several significant points. First, it is a recognition that the Free Syrian Army need to unify internally to better coordinate attacks and to avoid some of the controversies that have rocked it in recent weeks. Secondly, it is a recognition that the Free Syrian Army and the civilian leaders of the uprising need to better coordinate and unify. Third, it is a recognition that the peaceful protesters, even if they are committed to peaceful resistance, need to support the insurgent fighters.

Protests in recent months have been far more subdued. For a while, the protests did not seem to shrink because of the violence, but that violence has escalated to extremes in many locations, putting a noticeable dent in the size of the crowds.

That's what makes the protests that we have seen so remarkable. Even near the violence, there have been some fairly significant protests in many areas. Below is just a small sample of the videos we've seen:

The LCC shares a video of a crowd at a mosque in Zahara, southern Damascus (map):

Another from the LCC, this from the embattled city of Ma'arrat al Nouman (map):

Douma, a key suburb of Damascus (map)

Saqba, another key suburbs of Damascus (map), where once protests were very large, but now they are confined to smaller allies and sidestreets, an attempt to shelter the crowd from gunfire and exploding shells. We saw similar transformations in Homs:

This is a small segment of the protests, but there have been demonstrations in Daraa and Idlib, Homs and Deir Ez Zor, Aleppo, Damascus, and Hama provinces.

1448 GMT: Syria. According to the LCC, 76 people have been killed by regime forces so far today:

18 martyrs were reported in Homs, 20 in Daraa, 14 in Damascus and its Suburbs, 14 in Aleppo, 6 in Idlib, 3 in Deir.

The tally put forth by the activist network, the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria, is a mix of insurgents and civilians, and does not include regime members or Assad military forces. Those numbers are also no longer included in reports from Syrian state media.

James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us through to the afternoon.

1314 GMT: Syria. Resident Al-Deen al-Yousif has given Mona Mahmood of The Guardian an account of the third consecutive day of shelling of Jerjanaz (see footage at 0936 GMT) and attacks on other parts of Idlib Province.

Al-Yousif claimed 10 children were among the dead in Taftanaz and Sermien:

We have a huge number of FSA men here who are organised in many brigades like "Suqur Belad Al-Sham", "Martyrs of Zawiyia Mountain", and many other brigades, but they are equipped with light weapons only. These weapons can't stand in the face of tanks, artillery and warplanes....

The humanitarian situation here is very dire, thanks God it is a countryside where you can have some vegetables to feed yourself and your family, as the Syrian army is not allowing a piece of wheat to get into Idlib. You can forget about fuel, as one litre of gas has soared to $3 and it is not available anyway.

1301 GMT: Syria. The demonstration in Kafranbel in Idlib Province today:

And in Binnish:

1252 GMT: Syria. More than 2200 Syrians, including a general, crossed into Turkey on Thursday after a Syrian air strike on the town of Azaz, a Turkish diplomat said today.

The diplomat said there are more than 62,000 refugees in Turkey.

The strike on Azaz on Wednesday killed at least 45 people. Many of the wounded have been treated in Turkey.

1126 GMT: Syria. The AP, via The Guardian, reports that a battle has been fought over the Aleppo airport. This is the second time that State media has reported such a battle, though this appears to be much wider in scale than the first:

Syria's official Sana news agency said "armed terrorist groups" the regime's phrase for rebels had been pushed out from areas on both sides of the airport, which is located about 15km (9 miles) southeast of Aleppo's historical centre.

The report did not make it clear whether the fighting was closer to the international airport or the adjacent military airfield, a hub for air strike missions on rebel sites in the north.

This airport is the primary weapon inflicting damage on the civilian populace of Aleppo, and has been instrumental in the regime's fight against insurgents in the city. One of the identified goals of the Free Syrian Army was to take the air base, though that will be a hard goal to accomplish. Still, the fact that the FSA was able to strike at the airport is significant in and of itself. It will be important to see if the regime reacts by trying to attack the neighborhoods around the airport.

1045 GMT: Bahrain. Protests have been taking place across the country on Quds (Palestine) Day --- halfway through this footage from Nuwaidrat, security forces arrive in speeding vehicles to scatter demonstrators:

0936 GMT: Syria. Journalist Jenan Moussa has been sending Twitter messages this morning of regime shelling in Idlib Province, "Planes are hitting again. Pray for us." Claimed footage of an attack on the town of Jerjanaz:

0933 GMT: Syria. Photograph of the day --- a man sits amidst the damage in Azaz, the town hit on Wednesday by a regime warplane, killing at least 45 people and wounding many others:

0929 GMT: Egypt. Writing for Ahram Online, Bassem Sabry sets out a comprehensive guide to "The Challenges Egypt and the Morsi Administration Must Face", from the economy to food security to freedoms for women and religious minorities.

0922 GMT: Yemen. Trials will be held for 62 members of the Republican Guard for alleged roles in Tuesday's assault on the Ministry of Defense in the capital Sanaa, which killed five and wounded 16.

General Ali al-Obaidi of the High Security Committee said, "Political motives of certain factions in Yemen are behind the attack."

The forces were reportedly supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his son, who was head of the Republican Guard. However,the Guard has denied its soldiers were involved, saying the attack was conducted by troops not under its command.

0833 GMT: Syria. Air France has said that the crew of its plane re-routed via Damascus on Wednesday asked passengers to find cash for payment after Syrian authorities refused a credit card to refuel the aircraft.

The plane was scheduled to arrive in Beirut late Wednesday but was diverted due to unrest in the Lebanese capital. Air France stopped its flights to Damascus in March.

The airline was eventually able to pay the bill without taking money from passengers. It took off two hours after landing for an overnight stop in Cyprus.

0742 GMT: Bahrain. The Information Affairs Authority has posted four videos claiming show the guilt of leading activist Nabeel Rajab, sentenced on Thursday to three years in prison for participation in illegal marches:

0735 GMT: Syria. Al Jazeera English reports on the injured, treated in hospitals in Turkey near the border, from this week's aerial attack on Azaz:

0705 GMT: Iraq. In the most violent day in three weeks, more than 70 people were killed in a wave of attacks by insurgents on Thursday.

Sources reported that as many as 27 people were slain outside a cafe in the Zafraniya district of Baghdad. At least 16 people reportedly died outside an ice-cream shop in the Sadr City neighbourhood of the capital.

0505 GMT: Syria. In its latest report on deaths from violence, Syria Tracker claims 24,456 people were slain between 18 March 2011, the start of the uprising against the Assad regime, and 9 August 2012.

Meanwhile, even as the United Nations discussed a replacement for departed envoy Kofi Annan --- with Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi reportedly accepting the mediator's role ----  the end of its mission neared, as the organisation announced that it was halting its monitoring and withdrawing staff in the next few days.

Edmond Mulet of the UN Peacekeeping Department told reporters that the mission would "come to an end" at midnight on Sunday.

This spring, the UN authorised sending up to 300 unarmed military observers to Syria to monitor a supposed ceasefire that Annan negotiated. However, the monitors have been largely confined to hotels for several weeks amid hostilities. There are now 101 observers and 72 civilian staff in the country.

Vitaly Churkin, the Russian Ambassador at the UN, chided, "We believe that those members of the council who insisted that the UNSMIS can't continue did not really show a commitment to ending hostilities." 

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