Fighting on Wednesday near Albu Kamal, in northeast Syria near the Iraq border
1944 GMT: Syria. Some of our readers and Twitter followers have been asking us about Austin Tice, an American journalist who was covering the conflict in Syria. Tice's Twitter account went dark last week, and while initially the lack of Tweets was unnoticed, in recent days it has caused concern.
His subsequent silence didn’t raise immediate alarm because he’d planned to leave that week, on a journey to the Lebanese border that often takes days because of the fighting en route. The Damascus suburb where he was last known to have been has faced heavy bombardment in recent days that has made communications difficult. Tice’s family and colleagues are concerned for his safety and are asking anyone with knowledge of his whereabouts to come forward.
"We understand Austin’s passion to report on the struggle in Syria, and are proud of the work he is doing there. We trust that he is safe, appreciate every effort being made to locate him, and look forward to hearing from him very soon,” Tice’s parents, Marc and Debra, said in a statement from Houston, his hometown.
Tice’s editors said they were working with U.S. government agencies and Syrian intermediaries to retrace his movements. Colleagues praised Tice’s work, saying his experience as a Marine gave him particular insight into the capabilities of both government and rebel forces as the uprising spiraled into a civil war.
1930 GMT: Syria. The violence in Damascus has reached into the night. Each of these videos was reportedly posted at dusk or after nightfall. While the videos have not been independently corroborated, each generally matches eyewitness reports:
A helicopter fires on the Al Asali district (map):
Shells fall and smoke billows in Nahr Eshe (map):
A fire burns in Darayya after shells fall (map):
"There are major clashes in many areas of Damascus and the province," said a Damascus resident and anti-regime activist who gave her name as Samara.
"Parts of Damascus look like Gaza, with the army deployed on the outside, setting up major checkpoints, but unable to get in," she told AFP via Skype.
"Fear is everywhere."
The LCC reports that battles are raging in parts of the city.
Heavy shelling by mortars and helicopters targeting Hujerah, and fierce clashes are reported in the area and nearby Ghurba and Shuhada streets between the Free Syrian Army and regime forces
Beyond the reports of fighting between the FSA and the military, the LCC reports shelling in, "Daraya, Mouadamiyeh Al-Sham, Hameh, Qudsaya and Fardous neighborhood" (map).
Sorting these reports, nearly all suburbs northwest and southwest of Damascus have reportedly been shelled, and there are reports of heavy fighting in south-central Damascus.
1823 GMT: Syria. Zabadani has been surrounded, and shelled nearly every day, for weeks on end. The city, some 20 kilometers northwest of Damascus (map), was one of the first areas that the Free Syrian Army controlled this past winter, but the FSA has not had a significant presence there for months.
The video shows heavy gunfire and shelling, reportedly today. It matches eyewitness reports:
1812 GMT: Syria. Back from a meeting to find this video, from Amnesty International's fact-finding mission in Aleppo city in the first half of August. The conclusion, the civilians are caught in the middle of a war, and the international community has failed to stop a humanitarian crisis in Syria:
1601 GMT: Syria. The Guardian has spoken to a resident of Damascus and reports that 11 more people may have been executed by the regime in Kafer Souseh, adding evidence to my earlier assessment that this may be the new pattern, at least in Damascus:
As usual today started with shelling, mortar shelling , tank shelling and helicopter shelling in several areas in Damascus and Damascus suburbs ...
Today it [Kafr Sousseh] was targeted with shelling, also a raid of the neighbourhood. Military and Shabiha (pro-Assad militia) raided the neighbourhood and started looking for activists, all kinds of activists, civil activists, media activists. Unfortunately, today 11 people were killed in Kafr Sousseh in extra-judicial executions ...They are being killed and executed on the ground in front of their families ...
We are witnessing an escalation here in the number of casualties. So many people are dying under shelling, in extra-judicial executions .....
1546 GMT: Syria. The blogger Brown Moses, who has been very busy today, has written about an interesting Tweet sent from Al Mayadeen News, what many consider to be a pro-regime news group.
The Tweet was immediately deleted, but not before one of his followers took a screenshot. It apparently reads "There's a water tank above, I just want them to tell the plane about it so he/they [rebels] won't hit it. They've got anti-aircraft too. Maskaneh, Aleppo countryside". THE_47th and other opposition activists claim this is evidence that Al Mayadeen journalists are providing details of the FSA positions to the Syrian Air Force, with the Al Mayadeen network putting out a Tweet claiming they were hacked...
This seems to imply the reported on the ground was trying to send a private message, and accidentally Tweeted it on the main Al Mayadeen Twitter account, which he must have access to.
The Tweet was quickly deleted by Al Mayadeen, because they claim they were hacked. Who you believe seems to hinge on the debate about how quickly Al Mayadeen could be hacked and then recover in time to delete the Tweet.
1442 GMT: Syria. A quick rundown of the headlines:
The AFP reports that the Syrian Army has recaptured 3 predominantly Christian neighborhoods in Aleppo, all three of which fell to the Free Syrian Army over the weekend.
Syrians insurgents have captured a series of security bases and police stations in Albukamal, in Deir Ez Zor province, and have at least partial access to many of the border crossings with Iraq. As we've been discussing, the Free Syrian Army has won a series of victories in the region, and recently repelled a regime counterattack on FSA positions Deir Ez Zor. The FSA may be close to taking Albukamal, which may be a precursor to an more gains in the east.
The LCC reports that 115 have been killed by regime forces so far today:
62 martyrs were reported in Damascus and it's suburbs including "21 in Mouadamiyeh, 15 in Daraya, 10 in Kafarsoseh and 6 in Barzeh", 17 in Aleppo, 13 in Daraa, 6 in Homs, 5 in Hama, 5 in Deir Ezzor, 4 in Idlib, 2 in Safeta in Tartous, and 1 in Hasakeh.
The number is a mix of insurgents and civilians, and does not include regime losses. Syrian state media has also stopped running reports of regime casualties.
This number is also striking for 3 reasons. It suggests that the battle for Aleppo may be heating again, the numbers in Daraa fit the pattern of escalation we've been describing for days, and most of the casualties in Damascus, the epicenter of the latest violence, is on the western edge of the city - Kafer Souseh, Mouadamyah, and Darayya.
This number is also very high for this hour of the day.
1430 GMT: Syria. An ugly video...
An anti-opposition Youtube account posts this video (really two clips edited together), claiming to show the Free Syrian Army having executed 16 prisoners in Douma, an embattled suburb of Damascus. The first clip shows the Free Syrian Army in possession of the prisoners, and the second clip shows them dead. Warning - graphic.
We've contacted Dsyrer who has helped provide this context:
The group in the video is the "Brigade Of The Capital's Shield" لواء درع العاصمة, which is based in the Damascus suburbs.
I can at least identify the first part - note that they're defined as security officers here, not government supporters.
The bodies in the second clip appear real (notice whole chunks of flesh missing) and some of the men appear to be the same across the two videos (the man in the "Coca Cola" shirt, and the man in the light blue being two that we identified.
In other words, it's very possible that this accusation is accurate.
The oldest date of the prisoners of all the videos we linked to above was reportedly taken on August 14th, and the oldest video of the bodies was uploaded on August 18th. There may also be some confusion about exactly where these were reportedly taken, though "near Damascus" is consistent from all the videos.
We shared the video with the spokesperson for the Local Coordination Committees, Rafif Jouejati, who had not seen it. While she maintained that this accusation, ""could just as easily be regime disinformation," she also stated that the LCC "condemns crimes against humanity and appeals to all Free Syrian Army Battalions to sign and adhere to the code of conduct."
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for writing so much this morning.
1120 GMT: Egypt. A Cairo court has ordered the detention of the chief editor of the daily newspaper el-Dustour, Islam Afifi, pending trial in mid-September on charges of insulting President Morsi and “spreading lies".
1059 GMT: Syria. Reporters Without Borders summarises the reports of the death of Mosaab Mohamed Saeed Al-Odaallah, a journalist working for the arts and culture section of the Government newspaper Tishreen. The opposition claims that the reporter was killed by regime soldiers after they entered his home in the southern Damascus district of Nahar Aisha. A relative said the murder was targeted reprisal for Al-Odaallah's supposed support for the challenge to President Assad.
Al-Odaallah reportedly used a pseudonym for his independent accounts that were critical of the regime crackdown.
Al-Odaallah is the tenth professional journalist killed since the start of the conflict in March 2011 and the second in three days, following the shooting of Japanese reporter Mika Yamamoto in Aleppo.
1045 GMT: Syria. Burning regime vehicles near Albukamal in the northeast, where battles reportedly were waged on Wednesday for control of a military base and airfield:
1025 GMT: Bahrain. Nabeel Rajab, the head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, has appeared before an appeals court again today. After repeated delays in issuing a verdict, the court dropped the charge of “libeling the citizens of the town of Muharraq over Twitter”, for which Rajab was serving a three-month sentence.
Rajab has served most of that term, however, and last week he was given three years in prison on charges of participation in illegal marches.
Meanwhile, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights reports that 13 leading activists, sentenced in June 2011 to terms up to life in prison, have informed authorities that they will start a series of protest actions including a hunger strike if increased restrictions are not removed by Thursday.
The prisoners, who include figures such as Ebrahim Sharif and former BCHR President Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, claim that calls to families and lawyers, access to newspapers, and exercise in open air have been curbed.
1022 GMT: Turkey. Amid increasing violence in Hakkari Province in the southeast, officials say Turkish troops have killed 16 members of the Kurdish insurgency PKK, in an operation targeting fighters who launched a bomb attack on a military convoy that killed five soldiers.
Most of the blame for the 30 attacks recorded is placed on regime forces, who "have often failed to distinguish between opposition fighters and civilian residents [in attacks which] appeared to have been randomly directed at neighbourhoods which are under the de facto control of opposition fighters and/or where opposition fighters are based or operate from, rather than at specific military objectives".
Amnesty claims a "sharp increase in extrajudicial and summary executions of civilians not involved in the conflict by government forces", citing the dumping of bodies, usually handcuffed and shot in the head, near the headquarters of Air Force Intelligence.
The organisation also expresses "growing concern about increased abuses, including unlawful killings and ill-treatment of captives, by opposition fighters belonging to a plethora of armed opposition groups, including the Free Syrian Army".
Amnesty has posted a video summarising the report, including incidents such as the slaying of 10 members of a single family.
0409 GMT: Syria. Al Jazeera English's Zeina Khodr reports from Aleppo city, where "the line between rebel and government has blurred", "the fabric of society has been torn apart", and some foreign fighters have appeared in the insurgency:
The battle lines have not shifted much this week, at least not in Aleppo, Idlib, or Damascus, but the Free Syrian Army has held its ground in many areas, has gained territory in Deir Ez Zor, and is beginning to show the first signs of a potential threat to the military in Daraa Province. The regime's brutal response to this growing threat is, perhaps, the most desperate strategy that we have seen yet, perhaps evidence that the regime is nervous that it is losing momentum.
The shelling against Kafarsouseh started at 6 in the morning today. The shelling was coming from tanks based at Damascus highway called al-Mutahelq al-Janoubi. The tanks were shooting also at Nahr Aisha, which is a neighbouring district and al-Qadam district.
The shooting lasted for almost two hours, it included mortars which were coming from Mezzeh airport. Soon afterwards, the Syrian army started a big campaign of raids against the house in Kfar Sousseh. As a result of the raids, people in Kafarsouseh found 24 bodies.
All these bodies were executed by gunshots to the head from close distance. We still have some missing people whom we can't find. We were targeted by the Syrian army because Kafarsouseh is the front for Darayya and al-Mouadamiyeh districts. These two districts are the base for the FSA. When they want to do any attack against the Syrian army in the heart of Damascus, they come to Kafarsouseh to launch their attack and then pull out soon after to the groves al-Bassateen. The Syrian army is taking revenge on us but I can assure you all these people who have been executed today are civilians, none of them are FSA.
Yesterday morning the Syrian army began its campaign against al-Herak in Deraa. They launched a vicious raid against the people who were still in their houses, though most of the people had left the town earlier.
The Syrian army executed any men they found in these houses soon after arresting them. Most of the men who were executed were found in deserted houses. From yesterday until now, fires are still burning --- there is not enough water to put them out.
After three days of fierce battles here, the FSA had to leave its positions as it had run out of ammunition. As soon as the FSA pulled out, field executions were carried out and houses were burned and destroyed. The FSA was able to keep only the southern part of Deraa under its control after long battles that lasted from dawn to the evening – almost 16 hours.
After that, the FSA got more ammunition from neighbouring towns and was able to attack some of the armoured vehicles of the Syrian army. Battles continued till 12 midday today in which the FSA was able to recover some other parts of the town that had been taken by the Syrian army....
We have had 107 martyrs in the last three days, Most of them are civilians. Forty-five of the bodies were executed. There were 13 bodies which were charred completely and today we found another nine charred bodies. We could not identify them at all. They were in the districts which were under the control of the Syrian army yesterday. Most of the executed bodies were slain by knives, and luckiest ones executed by gunshot....<=
Originally there were 40,000 people in al-Herak but now only 4,000 people are left here. They have been under a tough siege for three months so far --- they can't flee the town....
People now are eating a local sweet named Hallawa. Bread is missing completely. Al-Herak is an agricultural town but the Syrian army is blocking the way to get to the farms. The farmers themselves do not dare to come inside the town.