Children play on a destroyed tank in Aleppo as gunfire echoes in the distance.
See also Syria 1st-Hand: On the Ground in Zabadani --- "We are All Prepared to Die" (Kouddous) br>
Syria 1st-Hand: On the Ground in Zabadani --- "We are All Prepared to Die br>
Sunday's Bahrain, Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: A Surge in Protest, A Constant Shelling br>
Bahrain Special: The Killing of Hussam AlHaddad and the Unanswered Questions br>
Bahrain Interview: Activist Said Yousif on His Beating and Detention br>
2340 GMT: Syria. Since this morning, a rumor, pushed initially by Russian media RT, spread that a high ranking Syrian general had died in a Russian hospital. Syrian State Media denied the story, and there have been debates and rumors all day as to the identity of the dead general.
Now, an activist who has a great rack record lately posts this report:
BREAKING | The high ranking military person who died in a Moscow hospital is of Jamil Hassan, Head of Air Force Intelligence Directorate.— ♕The 47th♕ (@THE_47th) August 20, 2012
A German news agency is also carrying the report that Jamil Hassan has died.
We have to stress that this rumor is completely unconfirmed.
2320 GMT: Syria. A note on our last update - Bashar Fahmi, one of the missing journalists, apparently works for Alhurra, described as "a United States-based Arabic-language satellite TV channel funded by the U.S. Congress that broadcasts news and current affairs."
More information on what happened today (noted, this is still unconfirmed):
2304 GMT: Syria. Signs that a Bahraini journalist is among the missing in Aleppo tonight:
2220 GMT: Syria. According to multiple sources, a Japanese journalist has been killed in Aleppo, and at least 3 journalists are missing. The exact circumstances are not clear. The AFP reports:
[Syrian Observatory for Human Rights] added that one of two missing Arab reporters is a Lebanese woman and the other is a man working for a US media outlet. The third missing reporter is Turkish.
A video posted by militants on YouTube showed a female body lying in a room. It was presented as the corpse of the Japanese journalist, and said she was killed by militia allied to President Bashar al-Assad's troops.
Jenan Moussa confirms the death:
The video is graphic:
Zabadani, a city northwest of Damascus (map), has been completely surrounded for weeks, and is shelled nearly every single day. While the FSA once took control of the city, there has not been a strong insurgent presence in the city for many months.
Earlier, we posted a report from Zabadani:
See our separate feature, Syria 1st-Hand: On the Ground in Zabadani --- "We are All Prepared to Die
Now, the LCCs reports that a 6 year old girl was killed, and many injured, when the shelling restarted today:
Omaima Hijazi, 6 year old girl and one of the people displaced from Al-Tal, was martyred and more than 15 people were wounded as a result of regime forces intensely shelling the city.
1831 GMT: Syria. President Obama has given a press conference where he addressed, briefly, the crisis in Syria (among other topics). His statement condemned the violence, encouraged Assad to leave, and said that the probability of a "soft landing" for the regime was growing remote. However, there did not seem to be any zeal for foreign intervention.
Except under one condition:
Obama warned the regime of President Bashar Assad — and “other players on the ground” — that the use or movement of [chemical or biological] weapons would be a “red line” for the United States.
Perhaps Assad is wise enough to leave his chemical weapons where they are, and not deploy them in the field or attempt to otherwise move them. However, all of this raises a question - what if the bases that these weapons are stored in fall to the Syrian insurgents?
1606 GMT: Libya. Breaking news about the Egyptian ambassador to Libya:
Correction: Explosion hits car of Egyptian diplomat near his house in Benghazi (not Tripoli), no casualties - Libyan security officials— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) August 20, 2012
1554 GMT: Syria. The Guardian has interviewed a resident of Qaboun, in northern Damascus (map). In detail, he describes the moment when activists found a group of bodies dumped in the street, including the bodies of two children whom he knew.
We do not have any FSA men who are based in Al-Qaboun, but when the Syrian army break into the district in its tanks, the FSA brigades come to protect the people. All the FSA men are based at the outskirts of al-Qaboun ...
All the bodies are buried in mosques, public parks and homes' gardens. No one dares to get closer to the cemetery, he will be shot by the sniper. These 12 bodies will be taken to the house of the mayor of Qaboun to be identify by people and then to be buried. Funerals have become an impossible thing to do here as mourners will be targeted for sure and you end with more bodies. Life is so difficult here, it is Eid today but you can rarely see one man out, few shops are open, hospitals are closed after the shelling of the Red Crescent headquarter in al-Qaboun. Fuels, gas and bread are completely missing in the districts, wheat, meat and otter food stuff are available but the prices are so high to be afford by the families here.
The identities of these bodies, who killed them (the activists assume "shabiha") or why they were killed, remains largely unknown. But in many of the videos we've seen today, most of the people were killed by shelling, and most of the dead (maybe all of the dead today) are not insurgents but are civilians.
This illustrates the central moral quandary haunting the Free Syrian Army. Is their presence in these areas hurting the Assad regime, or simply inviting a more violent response from the Syrian regime, a price paid nearly exclusively by civilians?
As far as we can tell, the answer is both. One could argue that these attacks quicken the fall of the regime, which in the long run will save lives. However, in the short run, the civilians are dying at unparalleled rates - perhaps moral "quagmire" is a more appropriate description.
Then again, the shells landing on the capital and its suburbs, like the shells landing on Aleppo, and many other cities, are all coming from one side - the Assad military. Much of this conflict exists in a moral "grey" zone, but some things are still black and white.
1518 GMT: Syria. More evidence that things are escalating in Damascus - Al Jazeera reports that there are clashes between the Free Syrian Army and the regime military in the Mezzeh district of Damascus (map). Other activists on Twitter have similar reports.
Mezzeh is the closest neighborhood to the heart of the Assad regime. Like Kafer Souseh, any violence here is automatically important because it is so close to the center of the capital. There are also fresh reports of violence in the Ghouta suburbs immediately east of the capital.
Making predictions at 4 in the morning is usually risky business, but it appears that our prediction came true - what we are seeing is an escalation of the violence in and around the capital, fueled by what appears to be more insurgent activity.
The FSA's movements are very different, however, than they were at the "battle for Damascus" more than a month ago. The FSA has not made any attempt to actually hold any territory. The result is that the Syrian military is extremely active, but is usually only finding FSA elements when the insurgents launch an ambush.
Many of the areas where fighting is reported are, hypothetically, securely in the hands of the Assad army. If this fighting continues, the Assad army may have to move additional forces into the capital, a move which could have consequences in other areas - like Aleppo, Deir Ez Zor, and Daraa.
Smoke rises from the military air base between Mezzeh and Darayya (map):
Assad helicopters pound Darayya:
1420 GMT: Syria. This one comes from one of our loyal readers.
The Syrian military has dropped leaflets from helicopters over the city of Aleppo, encouraging insurgents to surrender and citizens to turn them in:
"The holder of this pass is allowed to cross security forces checkpoints to surrender. The holder of this pass will be well treated and reunited with his family after verifications are conducted," the leaflet read.
Other more basic leaflets printed on pink or white paper urged the rebels to put down their weapons.
"Your last chance to stay alive is to give up your weapons because there is nothing you can do against the Syrian army. Don't miss that opportunity, go back to your family and stop fueling hatred around you," one said.
The article ends with members of the Free Syrian Army laughing at the notion of surrender.
It should be noted that the regime has already launched 3 large-scale assaults on the city, and has yet to fully capture any neighborhoods. Today, the AP reports that skirmishes continue, the city is being shelled, but the deadlock remains.
The number of martyrs has risen to 11; including a female child, and dozens of people were injured; some are in a critical condition, due to rocked shelling from the air at the city by regime forces.
A graphic video claims to show the chaos as the wounded are evacuated in Darayya:
1203 GMT: Syria. The CFDPC has posted two important updates - the first, a graphic video of victims of the shelling in Moudamyah (map). They have also shared several videos of shelling in Darayyah (map), indicating that the violence southwest of the capital is more widespread than initial reports.
The Guardian has spoken to someone in Moudamyah, a member of the Revolutionary Leadership Council of Damascus, who says that though there were more people on the streets than usual, this does not look like Eid al Fitr, as most of the celebratory elements, and the crowds, associated with the holiday are nowhere to be found.
Also interesting, he notes that the FSA has scored some victories against the Assad regime:
"Since the early morning ...the groups of military vehicles and troops [moved to] Mu’adameyt Asham, which is about 5km from Mezzeh]. The town was surrounded by road blocks from all the axes and the bombardment started early in the morning, indiscriminate bombardment for civilians ...Footage out now shows the carnage of people in the streets and some of the really horrible casualties (WARNING: graphic) ...There is news that the Free Syrian Army was able to destory one tank and hit other thanks and we have got reports of some defectors there and fierce clashes between the new defectors and the regular troops that were there."
1147 GMT: Syria. The CFDPC, a coalition of activists reporting from Damascus and its suburbs, report that 45 people were killed in the area yesterday. They have released the names of 45 dead, along with the locations where they were killed. Many of the areas we've talked about today were attacked yesterday, however yesterday there were also a notable amount of deaths in Jdaydet Artouz, near Moudamyah which was shelled today (map), in the Kadam district in the south of the capital (map), and in Al Tal, a suburb north of the capital that is still largely controlled by the FSA (map).
What's the significance? It appears that today's violence is part of a wider escalation, potentially fueled by a resurgent Free Syrian Army operating in the area, and almost definitely fueled by the large amount of protests that have occurred in the area associated with the Eid al Fitr religious holiday. Today is the second day of Eid.
1125 GMT: Syria. Damascus appears to be the epicenter for some intense violence today. As Scott Lucas reported at 1005 GMT, the Damascus suburb of Mouadamyah (map) is beinbg heavily shelled today. That shelling has reportedly continued, with a hospital and a field hospital having been directly hit by shells.
On the other side of the capital, 10 bodies have been found (graphic video), two of them children (graphic), in Qaboun (map), and two bodies have been found in the middle of the road in Douma (map), according to the LCCs.
As of an hour ago, 25 people had already reportedly been killed in Damascus and its suburbs. Based on the most recent reports, that number will almost assuredly rise.
1106 GMT: Syria. The Guardian has posted a video collection distributed by an activist on Twitter. The collection claims to show various Free Syrian Army commanders announcing the formation of larger regional organizations. Many of the FSA commanders are also see agreeing to the Code of Conduct, produced by the civilian activist network LCCs, that binds the Free Syrian Army to the rules of warfare laid out by the Geneva Conventions.
Both the Code of Conduct and the efforts to unify were both predicted by an activist on Twitter called "the 47th." He claimed that these moves were part of an agenda of a meeting held with the highest ranking members of the Syrian opposition in Turkey. "The 47th" also predicted that Hillary Clinton would meet with members of the Free Syrian Army to ensure that this organizational meeting went well - the meeting happened about a week after the prediction was made. Not coincidentally, "the 47th" is also the account that shared these videos, though it's worth noting that each was originally posted by the individual Youtube channels of the specific units.
1015 GMT: Syria. Al Jazeera English's Anita McNaught reports from Aleppo Province on the insurgent Tawhid Brigade, amid fears of division within the movement:
1005 GMT: Syria. Activists have been reporting regime shelling of Damascus suburbs. Specific claims have been made about Mouadamiyeh, with seven people killed and at least 70 wounded by tank fire and mortars.
One activist said the defection on Sunday by about 30 troops along with a tank may have been behind Monday's assault.
1000 GMT: Syria. More images juxtaposing war and play (see top of entry) --- children in Homs celebrate Eid by swinging from the barrel of a captured tank in Homs:
0945 GMT: Bahrain. There have been marches since early morning in Sitra, commemorating teenager Ali Ashaik, who was killed by security forces at the end of Ramadan last year. An EA correspondent reports, "The protests were heavily attacked by police, with extensive use of shotguns leading to injuries."
0900 GMT: Syria. The Jordanian Government has summoned the Syrian Ambassador to complain about artillery shelling on its northern border that wounded a Jordanian girl and sent four other civilians to hospital with panic attacks.
Four shells landed in Jordan on Sunday during clashes between the Syrian military and insurgents on the Syrian side of the border.
A spokesperson said the Government protested what took place and "will ensure this does not happen again".
Davutoglu told the newspaper Hurriyet, "If the number of refugees increases to 100,000, we will not be able to shelter them in Turkey. We have to welcome them in Syrian territory", in refugee camps "within the borders of Syria" under UN auspices.
There are now close to 70,000 refugees in camps in southeastern Turkey, and the number has risen sharply in recent weeks.
Davutoglu said Ankara would take part in a ministerial meeting of the UN Security Council on 30 August to study the humanitarian situation in Syria and neighbouring countries, hoping a decision will be taken then.
0805 GMT: Turkey. The Cihan news agency reported on Sunday night that at least 15 members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) were killed in an operation by Turkish security forces in Hakkari Province on the Iraq border, following a land mine blast that killed one soldier.
Video of an attack on Minister of Interior İdris Naim Şahin by PKK supporters on Saturday in Hakkari --- the group threw stones at the minister, who was uninjured, before it was dispersed by pepper spray:
0400 GMT: Syria. Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, was bloody. According to the Local Coordinating Committees, a network of activists, 4685 people were killed nationwide, "including 445 children and 342 women". Interestingly, for all the focus on Aleppo, the largest amount of deaths occurred in Damascus and its suburbs, where 1540 were reportedly killed. Aleppo Province was the next deadliest, with 943 deaths.
This trend is important. First of all, these numbers do not include regime casualties. What this means is that despite the heaviest fighting occurring in the north, in Idlib and Aleppo, and in the east in Deir Ez Zor, the cumulative effect of smaller-scale violence in Damascus brings a significantly larger number of deaths.
This trend continued on Sunday. The LCC claimed 170 people were killed nationwide:
51 of them were in Daraa including 20 charred bodies in Herak, 51 martyrs in Damascus and suburbs, 22 in Aleppo, 15 in Idlib, 13 in Homs, 7 in Deir Ezzor including 6 of FSA in Kharita village, 4 in Latakia, 3 in Hama and 2 martyrs in Hassaka.
Again, the sharp increase in violence was in Daraa and Damascus Provinces, not in Aleppo.
The battle lines have not changed in over a week. However, the Free Syrian Army beat back a major offensive against Deir Ez Zor over the weekend, leaving perhaps as many as seven destroyed tanks. In Daraa province, yesterday the FSA made several surprise attacks. While small in scale, for now, the FSA is growing better organised and more effective there.
An established Free Syrian Army in Daraa, with the capability to strike at Assad's forces, poses a significant threat, and could easily divert further Syrian army resources away from Deir Ez Zor, Aleppo, or even in Damascus. In Idlib, the regime has not responded to the series of defeats it suffered last week, and in Homs the FSA appears to be whittling away, slowly but steadily, at the Syrian army. In short, while the headlines remain focused on Aleppo, some significant shifts have been occurring elsewhere, away from the media, and often away from the major cities.
Free Syrian Army fighters establish a rooftop sniper nest in Talbiseh, Homs, and fire heavy machine guns and a recoilless rifle at Assad forces below:
FSA fighters fire on an Assad patrol in the Saleh el Dine District of Aleppo:
Shells fall on Al Maleeha, Daraa Province --- clashes between the FSA and the army were reported earlier:
The FSA captures two tanks in Mayadeen, south of Deir Ez Zor:
On Saturday, Free Syrian Army fighters pose in front of burning tanks on the road leading into Deir Ez Zor:
The LCC also posts their summary of the day, along with a video gallery showing many post-prayer protests and some of Sunday's violence.