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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Insurgents Seize the Initiative

Today's demonstration in Kafrouma in Idlib Province, Syria

See also Iran, Syria, and the Non-Aligned Summit: 5 Questions and Answers
Iran Special: Regime Show Collapses as Morsi Gives Tehran an "Islamic Awakening" on Syria
Thursday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Assad Says, "The Situation on the Ground is Better"

2035 GMT: The perfect illustration of the dangers of being a cameraman in Syria - claimed video from Al Bab, north of Aleppo:

1910 GMT: Syria. Activist Hama Echo reports that fighting continues to intensify in Deir Ez Zor:

The Free Syrian Army appears to be gradually (even painstakingly) advancing. Despite the superior firepower of the Assad army, the regular army does not appear to have the manpower or the will to successfully defend the eastern provinces. The question is whether the FSA's lack of logistical support will force it to retreat before they finally break through Assad's line. Time will tell, but this news may be sign that a new offensive is under way, and it's worth monitoring in the next few days.

1832 GMT: Syria. While we've yet to find video of a downed helicopter in Sarmeen (see updates below), we've found several reports of protests there. This video, and another, reportedly show today's crowds:

1810 GMT: syria. The Syrian National Council has announced they will reorganize and expand its membership. As Reuters reportsAbdulbaset Sieda, leader of the Syrian National Council, says the goal is to include a broader cross section of activists:

"Sometimes things don't work as one wants, but we are trying via a restructuring of the SNC to improve the situation," Sieda told Reuters in an interview during a meeting of the leadership of the SNC in Stockholm.

"It will be bigger and the number of groups will rise ... It will be more representative," he said.

1730 GMT: syria. According to the Local Coordination Committees, another military helicopter has been shot down by Free syrian Army insurgents in Idlib province, specifically in Sarmeen (map). As you can see from the map, this is not far from both the Abu ad Duhur air base, as well as the Taftanaz helicopter base, both of which have been attacked this week.

So far we have not found footage of the event or the wreckage, but the LCC is typically reticent to post such news if they have not verified it.

If true, this means that the regime continues to struggle to strike back at FSA positions in the area. From the evidence we've seen over the last few days, it appears that the FSA has won a series of one-sided victories, destroying at least 1 MIG jet fighter and perhaps 11 or more helicopters. As the regime is only reported to have 71 attack helicopters and perhaps 100-150 transport helicopters, so this is a fairly significant blow.

1444 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees have posted this video, which shows the building hit by a shell in the Yarmouk camp, a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus (see previous updates). They have also posted several gruesome videos of two dead children, reportedly the result of the shelling.

1426 GMT: Syria. Dramatic footage of an Assad plane crashing on August 23rd.

Why are we just getting around to posting it now? Because we saw it days ago, but thought it was fake, and now The Guardian (who said that they had doubts about the video) cites The Aviationist as saying that, despite the fact that they were initially fooled by it, the video is likely fake.

It's worth noting that Wired also cited the video.

Why didn't EA post it? For starters, the Youtube account uploading the video has been flagged by EA as being of questionable reliability. Secondly, there were no eyewitness reports that could triangulate the video. The glaring problem, which we caught even before all that, is that there is a noticeable edit between the plane flying, and crashing, and the smoke. Beyond this, the physics seemed... off.

EA encounters an incredible amount of citizen journalism n the form of hundreds of Facebook pages and blogs, thousands of videos, and tens of thousands of Tweets, every day. The overwhelming majority of that information never makes it to EA's coverage, for a variety of reasons. When we do post videos, we try to ensure that they are real, and we try to relay to our readers exactly how credible we believe the information we post to be. In this case, we never thought the video was real, and additional research could not produce any confirming details. It's a perfect illustration of how hard this work is, and it's also a good example of how that hard work has paid off.

1252 GMT: Syria. Protesting in Syria is dangerous, but just being in Syria is dangerous. Today, there are multiple reports that mortars and tanks have shelled several districts in southern Damascus. The LCC reports that in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp (map), some of those shells have killed children:

Two children were martyred and many people were injured; one of them is in a critical condition, due to another mortar shells that landed near Palestine Hospital.

We have not yet been able to verify the report.

1240 GMT: Syria. Today is Friday. In Islamic tradition, large crowds attend mosques at the same times, meaning that the streets are always bustling on a Friday. In the tradition of the Arab Uprisings, this makes it the ideal time to protest, and in the tradition of the Syrian Uprising, protesting is a dangerous decision.

Only months ago the protests were growing huge, as massive crowds braved the chance that security forces would turn on them. Now, there are gun battles in every region, open revolution is in many cities, the violence has escalated and the protests, as a result, greatly diminished.

That said, we've already received hundreds of videos of protests today, in many dozens of locations. Many people are chanting today for Darayya and Moudamyah, locations where the regime killed hundreds in reprisal attacks. The message is clear - the people on the streets are united against the regime, no matter what, and the violence has not deterred the protesters.

Below is a small sample of the videos we've seen:

Binnish, Idlib, a town that has been rocked by reprisal attacks and bombing runs for weeks, but a town that has hosted both large protests and death since the start of the uprisings:

Ash Sheikh Mustafa, southern Idlib (map):

Mare, Aleppo (map)

Jisr al Shughour, Idlib (map):

Nasib, just outside of Daraa (map):

Harasta, one of the most embattled suburbs of Damascus (map):

1215 GMT: Syria. The Associated Press reports that the Free Syrian Army has launched a major offensive in Aleppo last night, the preparations for which have been evident for a few days. The AP's assessment - this is a testament to the regime's failure to dislodge the fighters after more than a month of massive bombing and shelling campaigns.

He said the first attacks began shortly before midnight Thursday and lasted until Friday, when the "Brigade of Free Syrians" launched coordinated strikes on several security compounds in Aleppo.

"The new operations aim to strike at regime forces' centers and air bases throughout Aleppo (province)," Saeed said via Skype...

Saeed said rebels attacked four security buildings around Aleppo, using tanks, rocket launchers and machine guns.

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

1149 GMT: Yemen. Al Monitor reports an escalation in youth protest after an attempt to assassinate Yassin Saeed Noman, secretary-general of the Socialist Party and an adviser to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi:

Hundreds of youth, especially youth members of the Socialist Party and independents, marched through the streets of the capital Sanaa, warning political leaders of the Joint Meeting Parties about the potential for a series of assassinations carried out against these leaders.

Youth protesters in Sanaa and a number of other cities demanded that authorities reveal details of the assassination attempt and arrest and hold accountable the perpetrators and those who support them.

1052 GMT: Syria. Harriet Sherwood of The Guardian reports on a divided community in the village of Majdal Shams, about 40 miles from Damascus in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights:

Support for President Bashar al-Assad is conspicuous.

A Syrian flag flutters above the main square. Demonstrations backing the current regime have attracted up to 5,000 people, drawn from a local Druze population of around 20,000. Portraits of the Syrian president hang in the homes of pro-Assad activists.

But under the surface, there is uncertainty and dismay at what is happening in what most call "the homeland". A small minority of residents of the four villages populated by Syrian Druze high in the Golan have been open in their support for the uprising. But, they say, intimidation has stopped others speaking out.

1022 GMT: Syria. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has appealed to the United Nations Security Council to establish a buffer zone within Syria for refugees:

How long are we going to sit and watch while an entire generation is being wiped out by random bombardment and deliberate mass targeting? Let's not forget that if we do not act against such a crime against humanity happening in front of our eyes, we become accomplices to the crime.

However, Davutoğlu expresssed pessimism that he would be heeded: "Apparently, I was wrong about my expectations. This meeting will not even end with a presidential or press statement, let alone a robust resolution."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said after Thursday's meeting that France and Turkey had identified areas in the north and south that had escaped President Assad's control: "Maybe in these liberated zones Syrians who want to flee the regime will find refuge which in turn makes it less necessary to cross the border whether in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan or Iraq."

0948 GMT: Syria. Aleppo-based activist Mohammed Saeed has claimed that insurgents are attacking four security buildings this morning around the city, using rocket launchers and machine guns.

0918 GMT: Syria. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, has issued a statement of concern about the "humanitarian emergency":

As of yesterday, 229,000 people had left the country and sought registration as refugees in neighboring states. Their number is rapidly growing.

Household assets are quickly being used up. Social support networks are fragmenting. For many, becoming a refugee is the only way to survive.

The number of Syrians arriving each day in Turkey continues to increase dramatically. Thanks to the Turkish government, more than 80,000 Syrians are now hosted in camps and public buildings in the south-east of the country.

Guterres said Turkey had constructed new camps to increase capacity to 130,000 refugees. Meanwhile, , more than 5,000 people had arrived in Jordan in 30 hours, bringing the total of displaced to about 72,000. More than 57,000 are in Lebanon.

0838 GMT: Bahrain. The Information Affairs Authority reports that Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Mubarak Al Khalifa has met with members of the leading opposition society Al Wefaq "upon their request and in an effort to encourage all parties to engage in dialogue in order to allow the nation to progress".

0751 GMT: Bahrain. Reports overnight suggest that leading human rights campaigner and political prisoner Mohammed Hasan Mohamed Jawad ("Parweez") is in critical condition after vomiting blood and falling unconscious. Parweez, who is 65, has been arrested multiple times over decades of activism, and is one of 13 political and human rights leaders whose appeal verdict is expected on Tuesday. He is currently serving a 15-year sentence, charged with plotting to overthrow the regime.

In January, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights reported that Parweez's "family has raised concerns over his health". At a court appearance in June, he spoke of the suffering and pain he still experiences as a consequence of the abuses he experienced last year. His case was examined by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (Case No. 2). The forensic team found which found that he was "tortured on a daily basis", had "fainted as a result of the beatings" and was "taken to a medical facility". Subsequently, "he became weak and lost 20 kilograms".

0745 GMT: Bahrain. A child runs in front of advancing riot police:

0545 GMT: Syria. Over the last 48 hours, there has been a series of political statements grabbing the headlines, from President Assad's "The Situation is Better" to the British and French foreign ministers playing for time on a "buffer zone" inside Syria. There have been the continued bloody stalemates in Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs. 

But the most significant events may have been the insurgent attacks on President Assad's air force, from the destruction of about 10 helicopters in a ground assault on a military base to the downing of a fighter jet. While these episodes do not turn the course of the war, they dent the regime's supremacy in the air. 

And that in turn bolsters the expanding presence of the insurgency across large areas of Syria from the northwest to the northeast to the south. Of course, Assad's forces will not accept this without response --- the Free Syrian Army and civilians alike have been pounded in Daraa Province --- but there is no prospect of control to back up the President's declaration of his better situation.

The Local Coordination Committees report the deaths of 164 people at the hands of security forces on Thursday, including 72 in Idlib Province.

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