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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Has the Regime Lost Aleppo?

View Syria - 2012 August 3 - EA Worldview in a larger map

A map showing insurgent control of areas in northern Syria

See also Syria Feature: The Files Exposing the Regime's Spies
UAE Feature: Nervous Leaders Crack Down on Dissidents
Friday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Annan Quits, The Mass Killings Do Not

2152 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees claim that 125 people died at the hands of security forces today, including 44 in Damascus and its suburbs, 20 martyrs in Deir Ez Zor Province, and 19 in Aleppo Province.

2130 GMT: Bahrain. A demonstration in Barbar tonight calling for freedom for activist Nabeel Rajab and other political prisoners:

1644 GMT: Syria. Martin Chulov of The Guardian reports from Aleppo:

Rebel forces have advanced from the north-east and were on Saturday trying to dislodge loyalists who were fighting them on the approaches to the ­Maysaloon district.

Capturing this would open access roads to the city ­centre, where the fighting flared on Saturday.

It would also, potentially, open a way for rebels, who maintain a foothold in the south-west of the city, to link up with the new arrivals.

Rebel groups say they plan to target the air force intelligence headquarters, among the most feared authorities in Syria's extensive security apparatus.

1644 GMT: Iraq. Hamed al-Mutlak, an MP and brother to of a Deputy Prime Minister, has reportedly survived a roadside bomb attack.

Al-Mutlak said the explosion occurred while his convoy was passing by the main road of the Abu Gharib area, west of Baghdad.

1427 GMT: Syria. The International Committee of the Red Cross has appealed to "all parties involved in the fighting to fulfill their obligations under international humanitarian law".

The Red Cross said it has already shared its concerns with the Syrian authorities and some opposition groups, but it was making "an urgent public appeal so that it will reach the warring sides on the ground without delay".

1420 GMT: Syria. The New York Times produces a different image of insurgents in Aleppo:

Just before sunrise, a select group of Syrian rebel fighters steps away from the front lines here for a task their commanders now consider a vital and urgent part of the war effort: baking bread.

The floppy moons that they produce, pita to Americans, usually go quickly to hungry residents and rebels. Bread is a mainstay of the Syrian diet — it accompanies every meal — and in a city paralyzed by two weeks of war, the bakery lines show that basic commerce has become a battleground of its own.

“The regime has tried to deprive our supporters of water and gas, and now they are using bread,” said Basheer al-Hajeh, a member of Al Tawheed Brigade, one of the main rebel militias in Aleppo. But he said the rebels had learned how to fight back against the government’s attempts to keep bread and other resources out of opposition-controlled areas.

“We took control of the wheat warehouses in Aleppo’s suburbs,” he said. “We have many of them, in several areas, and they might keep us supplied for weeks.”

1418 GMT: Egypt. The acting head of the Coptic Christian church has complained about the new Cabinet, saying one seat among 35 members is not enough to reflect a community that is 1/10th of the population.

Bishop Bakhomious, who replaced Pope Shenouda following his death in March, said, "I will not congratulate the new prime minister on the formation of the government because it is unfair....We had expected an increase in the representation of Copts especially after the number of ministries increased to 35 ministry. But the formation ignored all the known rights and concepts of citizenship.It is not right that Copts get treated in this way.

1412 GMT: Syria. Sounds of fighting in the Salaheddin section of Aleppo today:

1352 GMT: Bahrain. Leading activist Zainab AlKhawaja, arrested Thursday night following a solitary protest on a roundabout, has been charged with tearing a portrait of the King belonging to the Ministry of Interior, according to Said Yousif of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR). Zainab will reportedly be held under investigation for 7 days.

Yesterday, BCHR along with the Gulf Center for Human Rights put out an urgent appeal for her release, allegding mistreatment by police during her arrest and interrogation.

1328 GMT: Syria. Mustafa Al Sheikh, the head of the Free Syrian Army's Military Council, visits Anadan in Aleppo Province today:

1320 GMT: Syria. An Iranian diplomat in Damascus has told State TV that 48 Iranian pilgrims have been kidnapped from a bus in the Syrian capital en route to the airport.

Majid Kamjou said, "There are no reports about the fate of the pilgrims. The embassy and Syrian officials are trying to trace the kidnappers."

1313 GMT: Saudi Arabia. The protester killed last night by security forces in Qatif has been named as 18-year-old Hussain Yousef al-Qallaf by Press TV (see 1007 GMT entry). Al-Qallaf was reportedly shot in the chest, dying of his wounds earlier this morning. Activists have announced a protest tonight in "rage and condemnation of the killing of the youth", beginning at 9:30 p.m. local time.

A policeman was also killed in last night's clashes.

1239 GMT: Bahrain. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights have called on authorities to release Nabeel Rajab, the President of the BCHR, immediately and to free other political prisoners.

The Higher Appeal Court will rule on Sunday on the challenge by Rajab’s lawyers against a three-month prison sentence, imposed for the activist's messages on Twitter alleging corruption by the Prime Minster and calling on him to step down after more than 40 years in power.

Rajab is currently held in Jaw Central Prison, allegedly in a cell with no air conditioning. Activists also claim he is prohibited from talking to other prisoners apart from his two cellmates and is being denied access to required medical treatment.

1122 GMT: Syria. Reuters is reporting, from witnesses, tht regime forces are using artillery shells, tanks, and helicopters to attack insurgents in the Salaheddine district of Aleppo.

"There is one helicopter and we're hearing two explosions every minute," a Reuters reporter said.

1039 GMT: Syria. Activists and insurgents have reported intense fighting this morning near the television and radio station in Aleppo.

"The Free Syria Army pushed from Salaheddine to al-Adhamiya where they clashed this morning with Syrian troops. But they had to retreat," activist Barraa al-Halabi said.

A 19-year-old fighter named Mu'awiya al-Halabi said Syrian snipers surrounded the station and targeted the insurgents: "We were inside it for a few hours after clashes with the Syrian army but the Syrian army sent snipers and surrounded the TV station and as soon as morning came, the army started shooting. One of our fighters was martyred and four were wounded," he said.

State news agency SANA, citing "an official source", said "armed terrorist groups" had been killed in the radio and TV station but denied that the insurgents had taken control of the facility.

1007 GMT: Saudi Arabia. The Ministry of Interior has announced a policeman and a protester were killed in overnight clashes in the Eastern Province.

"A security patrol came under heavy gunfire from four armed rioters on motorbikes" in the district of Qatif, ministry spokesman Mansur al-Turki said. "Security forces hunted down the armed rioters who were on motorbikes and exchanged fire with them. One of the four caught was wounded and he died while on the way to the hospital."

Witnesses said the attackers were participating in a protest that took place in Qatif late on Friday.

0955 GMT: Syria. The militant group Al-Nusra has claimed the kidnapping and execution of Syrian television presenter Mohammed al-Saeed.

"The heroes of western Ghouta [in Damascus Province] imprisoned the shabih [pro-regime militia] presenter on July 19," Al-Nusra said in a statement, a photograph of Saeed with his back against a wall in an unknown location. "He was then killed after he had been interrogated."

The statement warned, "May this be a lesson to all those who support the regime."

State TV director Maan Saleh said: "We have no material proof of this killing."

0949 GMT: Lebanon and Syria. An-Nahar reports that the Government has decided against deporting Syrians, even if there were judicial cases allowing their expulsion.

According to the daily, the decision was made after consultations between President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Speaker Nabih Berri, and other political parties in the Cabinet.

On Wednesday, Lebanon deported 14 Syrians, drawing criticism from human rights activists.

0937 GMT: Syria. The Associated Press claims "a string of...incidents in recent months that have raised fears among Syrian refugees that Assad’s regime is extending its crackdown across the border into neighboring Jordan". It asserts, Refugees and Jordanian officials believe Syrian regime agents are operating in the kingdom on a campaign to hunt down opponent and intimidate those who have fled."

0930 GMT: Syria. Writing in The New York Times, Kapil Komireddi warns of "civil disintegration and ethnic cleansing":

A churchgoing Syrian told me that he used to see himself primarily as “Syrian” and that religious identity, in political terms, was an idea that never occurred to him — until an opposition gang attacked his family earlier this year in Homs. “It’s a label they pinned on us,” he said. “If their revolution is for everyone, as they keep insisting it is, why are Christians being targeted? It is because what they are waging is not a struggle for freedom, and it’s certainly not for everyone.”

As Saudi Arabian arms and money bolster the opposition, the 80,000 Christians who’ve been “cleansed” from their homes in Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan in Homs Province in March by the Free Syrian Army have gradually given up the prospect of ever returning home.

The rebels’ conduct has prompted at least some Sunnis who had supported the rebels and once-wavering Syrians to pledge renewed loyalty to Assad. Many who once regarded the regime as a kleptocracy now view it as the best guarantor of Syria’s endangered pluralism.

A Sunni shopkeeper in the impoverished suburb of Set Zaynab, which was partly destroyed in the clashes last week, no longer supports the rebellion. “I wanted Assad to go because he is corrupt,” he said. “But what happened here, what they did, it scared me. It made me angry. I cannot support the murder of my neighbors in the name of change. You cannot bring democracy by killing innocent people or by burning the shrines of Shiites. Syrians don’t do that. This is the work of the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia,” he added, referring to the ultra conservative Sunni sect.

0710 GMT: Libya. For the first time since the fall of the Qaddafi regime, a car bomb has exploded in the capital Tripoli.

The explosion near the offices of the military police slightly wounded a Tunisian national.

0620 GMT: Syria. Russia has agreed to purchase crude oil from Damascus in exchange for refined oil products, providing Syria with much-needed fuel.

The deal was struck as high-level Syrian officials visited Moscow.

0550 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria claim 137 deaths on Friday at the hands of security forces, with about half of them in the mass killing in Arbaeen in Hama. Twenty-one people died in Damascus and its suburbs and 18 in Aleppo.

The LCCS focus on civilian casualties, so the level of insurgent deaths is unknown. The regime has stopped posting figures about its forces.

0530 GMT: Syria. We begin Saturday with the provocative analysis put forward by James Miller to close last night's Live Coverage:

The Free Syrian Amry has more and more weapons, and has proven it can beat Assad's armour. Those fighters have been hit hard by the helicopters and jet fighters, but have proven that they are strong enough to take those hits. We have now gone many days without a regime victory in the area, and the FSA continues to advance. Perhaps as much of 70% of Aleppo is under some degree of FSA control, while the insurgents are closing in on Assad's military bases south of Salaheddin.

Common knowledge says that the regime will strike soon, but common knowledge said that the regime would retake the city last Saturday. It didn't happen. The FSA won the battles. In fact, there is no available empirical evidence that suggests the Assad regime can win the future battles inside Aleppo.

The regime could make a significant military assault in a bid to take Aleppo back, but it would likely have to be much larger than anything we have seen so far.

Without being alarmist, the most likely scenario may not be a regime assault on the city. Soon, the Free Syrian Army could be poised to take Aleppo --- all of it.

The regime did claim a victory elsewhere on Friday, sending in thousands of troops to clear the last insurgent-held area of Damascus, Tadamon. Outside the biggest cities, however, opposition forces have consolidated their control of territory, especially in the north.

Doing so, they have effectively surrounded Aleppo, as the map at the top of the entry indicates. So the question grows: will the fall of Syria's largest city seal the fate of the Assad regime?

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