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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Is Aleppo Out of Control?

People grieve over some of the dozens killed on Wednesday in Jdeidet Artouz near Damascus (see 0515, 0625, and 0705 GMT)

See also Bahrain Opinion: US Needs More Than Words About the Regime
Syria Revealed: Inside the Obama Administration's Discussions About the Insurgency
Syria and Turkey Analysis: Ankara Looks to Iraq's Barzani Amid the "Kurdish Spring"
Wednesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Aleppo --- This Does Not Look Like Regime "Victory"

2042 GMT: Syria. Martin Chulov of The Guardian writes:

2037 GMT: Bahrain. Footage of police gathering and arresting people in Bilad Qadeem tonight:

2016 GMT: Syria. According to the LCC's latest tally, which is likely obsolete by now, at least 130 people have been killed today by the Assad regime:

50 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its suburbs, 25 in Daraa, 16 in Homs, 12 in Hama, 12 in Idlib, 8 in Deir Ezzor and 7 in Aleppo.

With the death tolls rapidly rising in Rif Dimashq, Daraa, and Homs, it appears that the conflict will rage far closer to the capital, even as the Assad regime struggles to recapture Aleppo from the Free Syrian Army.

2005 GMT: Bahrain. It has been a long night of clashes between protesters and police. According to activists, many rallies were disrupted by police this evening:

The Bahraini government has also reported clashes:

1953 GMT: Syria. Speaking again to Fares Mohamed, an LCC member working with the committee in Zabadani, Fares says that many civilian neighborhoods are shelled every day, and it is hard for civilians to leave the city because it is nearly surrounded by the military. Fares says that while there are Free Syrian Army fighters in the city, they are local fighters and this is not the cause of the shelling. According to Fares, the city is a symbol of the uprising, and the military wants "revenge against the civilians."

Another video tells the tale - a shell falls, while the speakers of evening prayer can be heard rising above the city:

1927 GMT: Syria. We're trying to get more information on Zabadani, but it seems that the internet connection is not good and we've been unable to find much. Checking with Zilal, she has had the same problem. but notes that injuries are reported. She also notes that the shelling started around sunset - as people are breaking their Ramadan fast. Yesterday Zabadani was also shelled, starting right around sunset.

We're not sure why Zabadani is being targeted for this level of aggression. While the FSA has previously had a heavy presence there, there are no reports of clashes or battles at the current moment.

1918 GMT: Syria. Fares Mohameda, spokesman for the Local Coordinating Committee in Zabadani, has sent me an urgent Skype message that Zabadani, 20 kilometers northwest of Damascus (map), has been heavily shelled, and many areas are on fire, including a major Catholic church. Zilal, an activist associated with the CFDPC, and a reliable source, has video of the shelling:

1805 GMT: Syria. There are many reports that Jobar, east of Damascus, was heavily shelled today (map). There are even reports that as many as 10 civilians died there from the shelling. The CFDPC posts this video which they say shows "gunfire on people who are trying to extinguish the fire in a house hit by mortar shelling in the Jobar area of Damascus."

1721 GMT: Syria. According to the activist organization, the Local Coordinating Committees, 85 people have been killed so far today:

31 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its suburbs, 17 in Daraa, 15 in Homs, 7 in Hama, 7 in Aleppo, 5 in Idlib and 3 in Deir Ezzor.

We'd note that the LCC does not make a clear distinction between insurgent fighters and civilians.

Answering a reader's question, the LCC does not always specify that their death toll is exclusive to those killed by the regime or its supporters, but that is usually inferred unless stated otherwise. In other words, the LCC claims that 85 have been killed by Assad's regime, and makes no mention of those killed by the opposition. As Syrian state media no longer reports numbers of dead civilians or soldiers/security forces killed in action, there is no reliable or verifiable source for these numbers.

Examining the numbers, most of those killed so far are in and around Damascus, Daraa, and Homs, indicating that while the focus of the media remains on Aleppo, there is a significant amount of development far closer to the heart of the Assad regime. In Homs, the FSA is making a power play for some of the areas that have been controlled by the Assad regime. In Daraa, the regime appears concerned, and has been attacking many towns and cities with increased voracity over the last few weeks. It appears that the Assad military has also taken damage from insurgent fighters there as well, though the FSA is far less centralized or organized in the province. We've already talked about Damascus, but it appears that both the FSA and the regime are engaged in an increasingly hot battle for the capital and the two key provinces, Daraa and Homs, that are closest to it.

1629 GMT: Syria. The Guardian provides a partial transcript of a press conference by Kofi Annan. Annan appeared somewhat defensive, and reiterated his belief that a political process was possible, but too many have interfered to make the situation worse:

"But a political process is difficult, if not impossible, while all sides – within and without Syria – see opportunity to advance their narrow agendas by military means. International division means support for proxy agendas and the fuelling of violent competition on the ground...

"It is clear that President Bashar al-Assad must leave office. The greater focus, however, must be on measures and structures to secure a peaceful long-term transition to avoid a chaotic collapse ...

"None of this is possible, however, without genuine compromise on all sides. The stalemate means that everyone must shift: the government, opposition, international as well as regional powers ...

"Syria can still be saved from the worst calamity. But this requires courage and leadership, most of all from the permanent members of the security council, including from Presidents Putin and Obama.

"Is ours an international community that will act in defence of the most vulnerable of our world, and make the necessary sacrifices to help? The coming weeks in Syria will tell."

Perhaps it's not worth doing a point-by-point analysis of his assessment, especially since we predicted the failure of the Annan plan when it was new. Needless to say, however, the basic failure of Annan's plan is routed in the fact that he underestimates Assad's brutality, and therefore has underestimated the resolve of the opposition to oppose Assad's brutality, and Annan also underestimated, as most have, the strength of the Free Syrian Army. While Annan was looking for a political end to civil strife, the opposition had already given the Assad government a chance, had already raised an army, and was already making moves to decisively topple the regime. Until the Assad government was willing to totally stop its killing, or until the opposition believed it could not win, there was never any hope of a negotiated settlement.

1555 GMT: Syria. Kofi Annan has resigned and Aleppo is still in the headlines, but the most significant news today appears to be what's happening inside Damascus. Widespread violence is rocking parts of the capital, and activists are now reporting that snipers are claiming many lives.

Southern districts of Damascus, like Yalda, Tadamon, Daf shouk, and the areas around the Palestinian refugee camps in Yarmouk (map), have been ravaged by sniper fire. Many have died in the area, according to the Local Coordinating Committees.

Southwest of Darayya, which is southwest of the capital, clashes continue at this hour in Jdaidat Artouz (map), area of a reported "massacre," (see earlier updates), as the Free Syrian Army and the regime military are now battling for control of access to the south of the capital.

These developments could be significant. While the Free Syrian Army has yet to establish a strong foothold inside Damascus, the FSA still has many members in the suburbs. If the FSA can obtain a military foothold in Jdaidet Artouz or Darayya, it will have the ability to launch attacks on the military bases just south of the capital, the real heart of Assad's military stranglehold on Damascus. So far, it's very hard to tell if these developments are militarily significant, so we'll have to monitor closely any developments in this area.

1540 GMT: Syria. The buzz on Twitter is all about the Kofi Annan resignation, but this just about wraps up our take on it:

1504 GMT: Syria. The UN envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, has quit his post, and after August 31st will no longer be the envoy to Syria. A statement from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced the resignation and thanked Annan for his service, but did not give more details as to the reason for the sudden resignation:

My consultations with the League of Arab States Secretary-General are under way with a view to the prompt appointment of a successor who can carry on this crucial peacemaking effort. I remain convinced that yet more bloodshed is not the answer; each day of it will only make the solution more difficult while bringing deeper suffering to the country and greater peril to the region.

Tragically, the spiral of violence in Syria is continuing. The hand extended to turn away from violence in favour of dialogue and diplomacy - as spelled out in the Six-Point Plan - has not been not taken, even though it still remains the best hope for the people of Syria. Both the Government and the opposition forces continue to demonstrate their determination to rely on ever-increasing violence. In addition, the persistent divisions within the Security Council have themselves become an obstacle to diplomacy, making the work of any mediator vastly more difficult.

The UN remains committed to pursue through diplomacy an end to the violence and a Syrian-led solution that meets the legitimate democratic aspirations of its people. This can only succeed – indeed any peacemaking effort can only prosper – when the parties to the violence make a firm commitment to dialogue, and when the international community is strongly united in support.

James Miller, back from vacation, takes over today's live coverage. A major thank you to Scott Lucas for getting us to the afternoon, and for, with the help of EA's other writers, writing the Syria coverage while I was gone.

1257 GMT: Syria. State news agency SANA is still not referring to events in Aleppo, although it is promoting "Heavy Losses Inflicted upon Terrorists" in Aleppo Province, with operations in al-Atareb and al-Hajeb killing "terrorists of foreign nationalities".

1124 GMT: Syria. Al Arabiya tells the story of the summary execution of a regime sniper by insurgents near Izaz on the Turkish border.

1059 GMT: Egypt. At least 16 people have been wounded after Muslims attacked a church and Christian homes in the village of Dahshur, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Cairo.

The unrest started after a bystander was hit by an object and died of wounds during a local dispute.

An EA correspondent notes, "The point is that there was no security to prevent this."

1050 GMT: Syria. Reuters notes in an overview of four State-owned banks and 14 privately owned institutions, "There is little corporate lending or trade finance, but deposits and withdrawals continue....[They have] largely been cut off from the global financial system by international sanctions against Assad's regime."

1010 GMT: Syria. United Nations agencies, after consultations with the regime, report that up to 3 million people are in need of food, crop and livestock assistance over the coming year. Of that number, "around 1.5 million people need urgent and immediate food assistance over the next 3 to 6 months".

1000 GMT: Syria. Reports since yesterday have indicated that communications in Aleppo have been cut. French consultant Jean Pierre Duthion reports:

Fadi Salem, who was recently in the city:

Activist Rami Jarrah:

Iran's Press TV, which supports the Syrian regime's line, frames the story this way: "Syrian Army Destroys Insurgents' Telecom Systems".

0955 GMT: Syria. Two Turkish journalists, abducted on Wednesday by members of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), have been released.

Cihat Arpacık of Milli Gazete and Kemal Gümüş of Star were covering clashes in and near Aleppo when they were held.

0930 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage of Free Syrian Army fighters inspecting a captured tank in Abu Kamal in the east:

0912 GMT: UAE. Human Rights Watch has called on US and British officials to press the United Arab Emirates to release 50 dissidents detained since March.

Since 16 July, when it declared a plot to undermine the State, the regime has seized 36 Emirati civil society and human rights activists, including two prominent human rights lawyers.

The whereabouts of 38 of the detained men remain unknown.

0828 GMT: Syria. US outlets are claiming that President Obama has signed a secret finding which confirms covert support to insurgents.

A US Government source acknowledged that, under provisions of the finding, Washington was collaborating with Turkish, European, and Arab States in a secret command center inside Turkey on the Syrian border.

The covert US aid of the insurgency, including finance, logistics, and supervision of supplies of weapons, has gradually been revealed this spring.

0818 GMT: Syria. Insurgents have bombarded the Menagh air base that was being used by regime helicopter gunships and other warplanes to attack Aleppo.

An AFP reporter who heard and saw the bombardment, 30 kilometres (about 19 miles) northwest of Syria's largest city (see map).

0813 GMT: Egypt. The Salafist Nour Party has refused any role in the new Cabinet led by Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, claiming the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) had "failed to fulfil its promises" to the ultra-conservative party.

Leading member Ahmed Khalil said Nour had rejected a proposal by Qandil to appoint Khaled Alim Eddin as Minister of Environment.

The Salafists finished second to the FJP in Parliamentary voting this winter, taking more than 20% of ballots.

On Tuesday, Qandil met with President Mohamed Morsi to review the final list of new Cabinet appointees. They are expected to be sworn into their offices before Morsi on Thursday.

0710 GMT: Syria. A boy amid the damage in Syria's Deir Ez Zor:

0705 GMT: Syria. Lebanon deported 14 Syrians on Wednesday.

Lebanese authorities said the reasons for the expulsions were not political, but a Human Rights Watch representative in Beirut said, "Fourteen men were deported to Syria today, despite the fact that four of them had asked not to be deported for fear of persecution if handed over to the Syrian authorities."

0655 GMT: Syria. Reuters has detail on one of Wednesday's claimed mass killings (see 0515 and 0625 GMT):

"The tanks and troops left around 4 p.m. When the streets were clear we found the bodies of at least 35 men," a resident, who gave his name as Fares, said by phone from Jdeidet Artouz, southwest of Damascus.

"Almost all of them were executed with bullets to their face, head and neck in homes, gardens and basements," he added....

Syrian state television said "dozens of terrorists and mercenaries surrendered or were killed" when the army raided Jdeidet Artouz and its surrounding farmlands.

"We launched a raid on a farm and we were surprised by the number of armed men who clashed with us --- from up on the roof and from down here," an army officer said from the area, adding his troops had seized bombs, mines, guns and uniforms.

Fares, who did not give his last name for fear of retribution, said soldiers from the Fourth Division, a praetorian guard unit under the command of Assad's brother Maher, came into his house.

"They examined my ID and let me go. They seem to have been looking for activists or young men with a certain profile to execute," he said.

He said the bodies were collected at the Omar bin al-Khattab mosque and buried in a mass grave dug by a bulldozer volunteered by the owner of nearby farmland.

"There are more bodies in al-Sahl area but we could not reach them because there is an army roadblock there," he said.

Another resident of the suburb said the total number of dead was at least 50.

0645 GMT: Bahrain. Matar Matar, former MP and leading member of the opposition society Al Wefaq, has declared readiness to enter talks with the regime over political, legal, and social issues.

Testifying before a US Congressional hearing, Matar criticised the lack of an effective Parliament, the prison sentences imposed on teachers and medics, and failure to implement reforms. However, he then said:

If they're not going to invite us, we're inviting them and we're ready to talk to hard liners as well as moderates. I am here to announce that the opposition is ready for dialogue. We invite the Crown Prince [Salman, seen as the "moderate" in the regime] to [meet] Al Wefaq.

0640 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees have put out a statement declaring, "As more and more areas slip out of the regime’s control in Syria, and as the regime nears its collapse, the need for a national transitional government has become paramount."

At the same time, the Committees criticised "hasty attempts by certain individuals and committees to form this much-needed government....On occasion...these hasty attempts have crossed the line over the values of our great revolution and have insulted the martyrs and sacrifices the Syrian people have made over the last year and a half, in addition to the sacrifices made over the past decades of dictatorship."

0625 GMT: Syria. There is nothing in State news agency SANA this morning about developments in Aleppo.

The site does refer to the Damascus suburbs Jdaidat Artouz and Yalda, both claimed as sites of "massacres" by the Local Coordination Committees on Wednesday (see 0515 GMT):

An Army unit today stormed dens used by armed terrorist groups in Yalda and Babila, Damascus countryside, clashing with their members, killing a number of terrorists and arresting others.

In Jdaidat Artouz, Damascus countryside, a unit from the Syrian Army pursued vanquished armed groups, clashing with them and killing, injuring a number of them.

Scores of the terrorists have surrendered and handed their weapons to the authorities.

0515 GMT: Syria. Almost since the start of the fighting in Aleppo last week, both the regime and the insurgents have claimed control. Yesterday, the head of the Free Syrian Army's Military Council and the spokesman for the insurgents in Aleppo each said that their fighters had taken most of the neighbourhoods, occupying 70% of the territory of Syria's largest city.

However, the real question may be whether anyone has "control". Beyond Wednesday's headlines about the execution of members of a prominent pro-Assad clan by insurgents was the recognition that the Free Syrian Army --- far from being vanquished --- could not only hold out against regime attacks but take the offensive in the battle. At the same time, those killings --- accompanied by the blunt statement of the head of the insurgent Military Council that there will be many more --- pointed to a phase in which there will be no semblance of order.

Beyond Aleppo, the opposition brought news of "massacres" near Damascus. Of the 180 deaths claimed by the Local Coordination Committees on Wednesday, 104 were in and around the capital, including mass killing of 50 in Jdeidet Artouz and 27 in Yalda.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed the death of  74 civilians, 43 soldiers and 18 insurgents on Wednesday. The regime does not post news of casualties in its forces.

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