See also Syria 1st-Hand: Deaths by the Schoolhouse --- Awaiting Regime Attack in Aleppo br>
Syria 1st-Hand: Fleeing Aleppo br>
Syria Snap Analysis: What the Prime Minister's Defection Might Say About State of the Conflict br>
Monday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Rumour and Reality in Aleppo
2038 GMT: Syria. Zabadani, northwest of Damascus (map), has been shelled every day for weeks, mostly starting at around sundown each day, the time when people break their fasts, the time when people are most vulnerable. Today, the LCC has a desperate claim:
Intense shelling by artillery, tanks, and rocket launchers in Housh area of the city. More than 50 martyrs have been reported thus far.
However, there appears as though there has been a translation issue. Fares Mohamed, with the LCC in Zabadani, says that 50 shells have fallen, rather than there being 50 martyrs.
This is breaking news, so sources are scarce, but two disturbing (and unverified) videos claim to show the explosions. It's night, making the videos even harder to verify, but Fares Mohamed says that the video appears to have been taken in Zabadani:
In a second video you can hear what sounds like distant gunfire.
1938 GMT: Syria. The Al Farouk brigade, arguably the most battle-hardened, ruthless, and some might say unscrupulous brigade of the Free Syrian Army, has won a significant battle near Al Qusayr, south of Homs (map). Armed with AK-47s, sniper rifles, RPGs, and their favorite anti-tank cannon, the brigade destroyed at least 2 tanks today, according to multiple sources.
It's worth noting the Islamist slogans on the caps and shirts of some of the men.
1915 GMT: Syria. Normally, we try to avoid posting rumors, but for several days activists have been talking about an impending meeting to reorganize the Free Syrian Army. Most of the chatter, however, has been in Arabic.
A prominent online activist, "The 47th," offers a summary in a series of English Tweets. While this should probably be treated as unconfirmed rumor, The 47th has been right before, and the information will give us something to look for over the next few weeks.
We've condensed the Tweets for space purposes and edited them for clarity:
Big meetings in Turkey next week betwn newly defected Generals & representatives from all FSA factions, including loose ones in Jebel Azzawiya & Deir Ezzor. Part of Hilary Clinton's visit to Turkey next week is to be briefed on the success of this meeting & to make sure the objectives are met.
During the meetings, chains of command will further be implemented, inluding factions that have been fighting on their own. Again, most FSA is somehow linked, and coordinated, except in some areas of the Governorate of Homs, Jabal Azzawya & Deir Ezzor.
- Introducing the brigades that have been training on heat seeking missiles, assigning them to official brigades.
- Possibly renaming the Free Syrian Army to the National Free Syrian Army - Joining small brigades into big ones... just like the Tawheed Brigade (Unity Brigade).
- Training on Geneva Human Rights Conventions - Overhaul of structure of the command - Intel meetings.
Manaf Tlass will also be present in next weeks meetings, including the defected officers & unnamed Brig Officers from the Republican Guard.
This major initiative comes after Turkey warned Syrian opposition forces that the West is growing wary of Islamist elements, incohesion & human rights [violations]. Turkey is leading the effort in advising the FSA, training, setting up, supporting & arming the FSA.
Good news is: training FSA elements on heat seeking missiles & other SAMs has been done and we shall see it on the ground as of next week - and FYI: most of these SAMs are from Libya for some reason.
1844 GMT: Syria. Another FSA victory in the east? The LCC reports that the Free Syrian Army has stormed the Baath party headquarters in Tal Abayad (map), north of Al Raqqah. We're not able to verify that news yet, but more regime defeats on the Euphrates river serve as more signs that the regime is struggling to maintain control, or even a presence, on the northern and eastern borders of Syria.
1800 GMT: Syria. It's hard to believe that 3 weeks ago Aleppo was relatively quiet, 4 weeks ago so was Damascus, and a month and a half ago so was Deir Ez Zor. Now, things are different.
Things have changed so quickly that 22,000 Iraqi refugees have fled Syria and returned to Iraq, according to UNHCR Iraq representative Claire Bourgeois. And that's just since July 18 - 3 weeks ago:
"The problem of the Syrian refugees, of the (Iraqi) returnees, adds to the problem of the government of Iraq and the people of Iraq," UN envoy to Iraq Martin Kobler told the news conference.
"As you know, we have ... 1.3 million IDPs already in the country," Kobler said, referring to internally displaced persons -- Iraqis living in their country, but driven from their homes. And the thousands of Iraqis who have returned from Syria in recent weeks may be only the beginning.
The UNHCR had registered 87,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria as of the end of May, Bourgeois said, adding: "We expect that about 50 percent of that caseload might return back to Iraq."
1559 GMT: Syria. Since this morning we've heard reports of a sudden intensification of fighting in Busra al Harir in Daraa province (map). Dozens were reportedly injured as the regime stormed the town and the FSA fought back.
Now, the LCC reports that the insurgents have destroyed a BMP armored vehicle, and fighting continues:
1544 GMT: Syria. Guardian's Martin Chulov talks about the battle for Aleppo today, and the public frustration with the amount of fighting and damage in the country's largest and wealthiest city - the most interesting part of the report is that the Free Syrian Army has moved its headquarters after residents complained about the constant bombing by the military:
1536 GMT: Syria. Al Jazeera reports on the battle for the citadel at the center of Aleppo, as well as the relations between the Free Syrian Army and the citizens of the largest city:
1515 GMT: Syria. Just north of our last report, in Deir Ez Zor (map), the Free Syrian Army continues to eat away at the regime, and the military continues to pound the city with shells. The Guardian speaks to a resident of the city:
Eighty per cent of the population (which is between 900,000 and one million) left city before the siege and went to Raqqah, Aleppo and Damascus. Those who went to Aleppo and Damascus are facing an even worse situation.
Only 20% of the people are left here besides the FSA. We have 14,000-15,000 FSA fighters here now – most of the them are military defectors.
Most of the Syrian army artilleries are stationed in the "Baath camp" and the military airport where all the shooting is coming from against the people.
Today is the 46th straight day of shelling - before that, Deir Ez Zor was a nice place.
Meanwhile, another video, this one from inside the walls of the compound, shows the security HQ that has reportedly fallen to the FSA in Mayadin (map):
1510 GMT: Syria. A huge claim from the Local Coordinating Committees - that the Free Syrian Army in al Mayadin, near Deir Ez Zor (map), has captured a major military security headquarters in the city. Video shows FSA fighters, with guns and RPGs, in front of what they say is the former military stronghold:
1354 GMT: Syria. The Saleh el Dine district of Aleppo (map) has been absolutely hammered by shells, rockets, gunfire, and air strikes today. The Guardian's Mona Mahmood has spoken to an opposition spokesman, Khalid Al-Halbi, from the area:
About 60% of the buildings are destroyed here. There is no water, no power and no shops are open. They have either been shot out or burnt out.
Most of the families still in the district are in shelters. There are many wounded people in a serious condition who can't be treated in field hospitals.
All the small field hospitals we have established here are staffed by volunteered doctors and nurses. They have even been attacked when treating the wounded.
We have to take hundreds of wounded people to Azaz [north of Aleppo] in private cars. The Red Crescent does not have enough cars to move the wounded to Turkey, we have to do that by ourselves.
Khalid Al-Halbi also says that other districts in Aleppo are also under attack. Halbi says no one can use the hospitals because security forces will arrest people. He also says that the Free Syrian Army has set up training camps for new recruits who do not know how to use light weapons.
Two videos, each one progressively more intense, show how serious the situation there is. Saleh el Dine was an upscale neighborhood, often frequented by students. Now, it is a pile of rubble.
1331 GMT: Kuwait. EA's John Horne reports:
Politicial instability persists after politicians today again boycotted a parliamentary session, the second time in a week, increasing the possibility that the current National Assembly will be dissolved. Speaker Jassim al-Kharafi told Reuters that he will not call for another session, but instead "take the matter to his highness the emir".
The present political crisis stems from a June ruling which ostensibly dissolved the currently elected parliament and restored a far more pro-goverment which had been elected in 2009.
1320 GMT: Syria. Aleppo has been bombed, and strafed, by Syrian fighter jets today:
Sure enough, the building in the right of the frame is a major hotel in Aleppo (map). Meridian, which goes by other names, is near Salah el Dine, in the southwester quadrant of the city where the fiercest fighting has been taking place.
We'd also note that, following research by blogger Brown Moses, we're not sure that's a MIG.
26 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its suburbs; 23 in Aleppo, including 10 prisoners who were field-executed; 17 martyrs in Daraa; 13 in Idlib; 12 in Homs, including 10 in Deir Baalba (mostly children); 5 in Deir Ezzor; 3 in Hama and 1 in Lattakia.
The focus is likely to be Damascus, where fighting has intensified since Sunday, and Aleppo, where the regime appears to once again be bombing - but we've yet to see that "final assault" everyone's waiting on.
Also, based on a quick survey of activist reports, Daraa province may be heating up - more details soon.
1231 GMT: Egypt. The funeral of 16 border guards killed on Sunday in North Sinai near the Israeli border has officially begun in Nasr City at the Memorial of the Unknown Soldiers, with thousands of mourners in attendance.
The head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and Minister of Defence, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, is attending. However, President Mohamed Morsi has stayed away for security reasons, and angry protesters have reportedly chased Prime Minister Hisham Qandil as he arrived and beaten him.
The protesters gathered outside the funeral prayers at Al-Rashdad Mosque held up their shoes in the air and chanted, "You killed them, you dogs", denouncing the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi.
1152 GMT: Syria. Writing from Damascus, "Layla M." profiles those who still back the regime, "For Many Assad Supporters, Other Paths Appear Riskier":
Some worry about losing jobs, patronage or connections if the Assad regime survives, or even hangs on for a while. Some dread the Iraq scenario: sectarian bloodletting and chaos.
Others fear what might come after Assad: a change in the balance of power between the United States and Iran; a foreign-backed carving up of Syria; and they fear an extremist Sunni Muslim government bent on ridding the country of its Christian and Druze minorities, and a campaign of killing and/or forced relocation of Assad’s Alawite brethren.
Under fire, men use a rope to pull away a body:
Insurgents man an anti-aircraft gun on Monday, hoping to down a regime helicopter:
1104 GMT: Syria. Arriving in Damascus for talks with Syrian officials, high-ranking Iranian official Saeed Jalili has declared, “The Islamic Republic of Iran believes in a Syrian solution based on national dialogue among all Syrian groups to settle the country’s issues, and does not consider foreign approaches as useful."
Jalili, the Secretary of the National Security Council, also spoke of last Saturday's seizure of 48 Iranian men by insurgents, “We hold all those who fully support the Syrian terrorists responsible for the abduction of the Iranian pilgrims and use all the capacities to secure their release.”
0952 GMT: Syria. Last night we carried the first-hand account of Al Jazeera English's Jenan Moussa as she hid in a basement amid nearby explosions. She later sent the message:
0702 GMT: Saudi Arabia. Six international human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have asked Saudi authorities for permission to observe the court cases of four activists.
Lawyer Walid Abu al-Khair, writer Mikhlif al-Shammari, and professors and rights advocates Abdullah al-Hamid and Mohammad al-Qahtani face charges that include tarnishing the reputation of the state, cooperating with international rights organisations and encouraging protests.
0646 GMT: Syria. One of the significant changes that we have noted in the last month over the politics and presentation of the conflict is that, with insurgent control of much of northern Syria, foreign correspondents could now enter the country and provide first-hand reports.
Robert Mackey of The New York Times posts about the development.
No toll was given for the four explosions near Rada. A car reportedly belonging to an insurgent was hit by a missile and caught fire.
0631 GMT: Saudi Arabia. Thousands protest on Friday night in Tarout in Eastern Province, during the funeral procession for 18-year-old Hussein Yousef al-Qallaf, who died on Friday in a clash with police --- the crowd also chanted for the release of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, shot and detained last month:
Chief Investigator Nawaf Hamza said the charges were being brought following an inquiry into a complaint by doctors at the Salmaniya Medical Complex, Bahrain's main hospital: "This procedure confirms the intention of the Bahrain government to bring to account all those found guilty of human rights violations and to recompense the victims."
Said Yousif, deputy head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, questioned the announcement, declaring, “The public prosecution are part of the torture, we have testimony of detainees who have been tortured inside their building. We also have testimonies of people who have told the public prosecution they have been tortured and they have been ignored. We don't believe it is an independent institution, it is part of the problem."
Yousif added, "Senior members of the ruling elite were involved in torture but they are only charging the low-level officers."
0515 GMT: Syria. After Monday's political drama, with the surprise defection of Prime Minister Riyad Hijab, we will be watching today for the Assad regime's response. And we will return to the military front --- overshadowed by the Hijab developments --- with the looming question of a regime attack on Aleppo still unresolved.
State news agency SANA says no more this morning other than:
President Bashar al-Assad on Monday issued Decree No 294 on dismissing Prime Minister Riyad Hijab from his post.
The President issued Decree No. 295 on designating Eng. Omar Galawanji as a caretaker premier in addition to his tasks as Deputy Prime Minister for Services Affairs and Minister of Local Administration.
The Local Coordination Committees claim 161 deaths at the hands of security forces on Monday, with 54 slain in Aleppo Province and 33 in Damascus and its suburbs.