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Egypt, Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Airstrikes in Sinai Kill 20

Al Jazeera English reports from a hospital in al-Atareb in Aleppo Province, Syria

See also Tuesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: A Crumbling Regime?
Syria Analysis: The Local Coordination Committees Issue a "Code of Conduct" for Free Syrian Army
Iran Snap Analysis: Scrambling Over Syria

2025 GMT: Syria. Is Iran also planning for a Syria without Assad? EA's Scott Lucas thinks so, and he's written an analysis that suggests that the Iranian government is strengthening ties with Lebanon, repairing ties with Turkey, and even building bridges with Saudi Arabia --- all to make sure that if the Assad regime falls, Tehran is buffered against the shock.

Then there is this piece of news in our Iran Live Coverage:

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has published a statement "announc[ing] Iran’s readiness to host a meeting of countries committed to immediately implementing these steps in hopes of ending the violence...[and] reiterat[ing] our willingness to facilitate talks between the Syrian government and the opposition and to host such a dialogue".

That is not new --- Salehi has said this on several occasions in recent weeks. What is new is the outlet: an opinion piece in the Washington Post.

And what is even more distinctive is Salehi's recognition --- the first I can recall from a high-ranking Iranian official --- of the legitimacy of protest against the Syrian regime:

"When the Islamic Awakening — also known as the Arab Spring — began in December 2010, we all saw people rising up to claim their rights. We have witnessed the emergence of civic movements demanding freedom, democracy, dignity and self-determination.

"We in Tehran have watched these developments with delight. After all, a civic movement demanding the same things that many Arabs want today is what led to the emergence of our Islamic Republic in 1979. During the past three decades, Iran has consistently underlined that it is the duty of all governments to respect their people’s demands. We have maintained this position as the Islamic Awakening has unfolded."

2024 GMT: Syria. The New York Times has posted a video analysis that suggests Syrian fighters may have gotten their hands on MANPADs, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapons capable of knocking helicopters, or even jets, out of the sky. Though there is debate about whether the weapon system is complete, it could be a powerful addition to an arsenal, as well as a security threat in a post-Assad Syria.

Meanwhile, the US State Department is working to contain the MANPADS:

Andrew Shapiro, the assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, said the interagency task force charged with containing man-portable air-defense systems — or MANPADS — was ready for action in Syria after learning the lessons of Libya. Thousands of heat-seeking missiles are believed to have disappeared from Libyan armories during last year's civil war, creating a potential security risk for commercial airliners for decades to come and possibly contributing to the violence in Mali.

“As violence grows in Syria,” Shapiro said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “the MANPADS Task Force is building off its experience in Libya to plan and prepare for possible contingencies in Syria.”

We are reminded of yesterday's rumour that a meeting will be held next week between Free Syrian Army officials and leaders of the civilian opposition in Turkey. The report that heat-seeking missiles and other surface-to-air weapons were about to be distributed gives credence to the idea that the US military is supplying, but on a very selective basis, more advanced weapons to the Syrian insurgentsttt.

2002 GMT: Syria. Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary General of the UN, is seeking a new envoy to Syria to replace Kofi Annan who steps down later this month. Any of our readers who are interested, let Ban Ki Moon know, because he may have trouble filling the job:

"Diplomats around the UN wonder why anyone would want to take the job," said Richard Gowan, a expert on international peacekeeping at New York University. "Some western officials think that replacing Annan at all is a bad idea, as it will create further false hopes about a peace deal that the UN simply can't deliver. There is an argument that a fairly low-profile envoy should replace Annan, whose celebrity arguably got in the way of his diplomatic efforts. A lower-level figure might be able to make more progress."

1959 GMT: Syria. According to the LCC, 141 people have been killed today by Assad forces:

30 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its suburbs;30 in Aleppo; 22 in Hama (most of them in Jarjiseh); 16 in Deir Ezzor;13 in Daraa; 11 in Idlib; 11 in Homs; and 8 in Lattakia.

That number does not include Assad soldiers killed in today's fighting. That number is nearly impossible to find because Syrian State media stopped reporting it many months ago.

1935 GMT: Syria. Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons reports of the humanitarian and economic crisis felt far from the fighting in Ad Dana, in rural Aleppo (map):

1911 GMT: Syria. The FSA is declaring victory, but the Iranian Press TV has a different take:

"The Syrian army launched a major mop-up operation against the armed groups fighting against the government in Aleppo on Wednesday."

Press TV also says that 10 "terrorists" were killed. If the Iranian regime would like the Assad regime to lose, they had better hope that the number of dead "terrorists" inside Aleppo is much higher, otherwise the Free Syrian Army just scored one of the most one-sided victories in military history.

1835 GMT: Syria. Zilal sends us this video, reportedly taken today in Dael, Daraa (map), a place that has been hammered by shells all day (see update 1530). At a funeral for one of the many dead today, many protest chants can be heard, "We will not bow down," and opposition flags are waved. But then, an explosion, and a cloud of smoke, as a nearby building is hit with a shell. After confusion and panic, the chanting restarts.

We post a lot of videos from Syria. This one is not graphic, but it is a microcosm of life in so many places in the country. We recommend watching the whole video:

1816 GMT: Syria. It only took a few hours of fighting before the Assad military bid a hasty retreat from the Saleh el Dine district of Aleppo, according to Guardian's Martin Chulov, who is in Syria's largest city:

The day started in Salahedin just as it had for the past fortnight, with rebels under fierce assault from a nearby ring road and the Syrian Air Force blitzing them from the skies.

Just before daybreak, however, the frontline – thus far seemingly solid – began to wobble. Rebels briefly withdrew as the regime pushed forward with men and tanks. This, it seemed, was the start of the battle for Aleppo, an inexorable showdown for which the whole city had been nervously preparing.

Then, only several hours after daybreak, the regime retreated and the weary guerillas returned to their sandbags. Government claims to have conquered the enemy stronghold were false, as were the rebels' later claims to have breached regime lines. Nothing seems to be going to script in this war.

The word Chulov uses - stalemate.

Today's attack was led by tanks, despite the fact that this tactic has already failed the regime many times throughout the country. However, this tactic is not being described as stupidity, it's being described as fear. Assad appears to be facing a major defection crisis, and today's fighting likely proves that he believes he cannot trust his soldiers to retake Aleppo without defecting.

On the other hand, if this large-scale, two front, airforce supported tank offensive has failed, it's very unlikely that it will work at a later date, at least not in Saleh el Dine. In fact, the opposite is likely true.

Chulov may have found the right word - stalemate. The FSA appears to be able to defend the city, but they are not in a position to launch an offensive against the nearby Assad troops, soldiers that outnumber them perhaps 3 or 4 to 1.

1800 GMT: Syria. An activist Facebook page posts a series of pictures, reportedly taken today in Zabadani (map, see previous updates).

1738 GMT: Syria. Earlier (update 1408), we reported that the city of Zabadani, northwest of Damascus (map) had been declared an disaster area by the LCC. Now, activist Zilal sends us two videos of the area. The first shows a tank on the hillside firing into the city below. The second shows shells falling:

This video reportedly shows the damage done after shells fell on a home:

1710 GMT: Syria. Confirmation that Salleh el Dine is in FSA hands (see previous update):

Taken earlier, the man speaking in the video is reportedly one of the Free Syrian Army commanders. He and his soldiers report that the FSA has not been defeated in the Saleh el Dine district of Aleppo (map). We've been speaking with Zilal, a super-activist who has helped translate the video. According to her, "the cameraman says that according to the Syrian State news FSA withdrew from Salah al-Deen (see the SANA link here). The member of FSA says that they are liars, and that the FSA will not withdraw, they prefer to be buried there or they will win."

1642 GMT: Egypt. President Morsi President Mohamed Morsi has forced Chief of Intelligence Mourad Mowafi into early retirement after Sunday's killing of 16 border guards in the Sinai near the Israel border.

Morsi named Major General Mohamed Shehata as acting intelligence chief.

The President also told a press conference that he had dismissed the Governor of North Sinai, Abdel-Wahab Mabrouk. Major General Hamdy Badeen has been fired as the commander of military police.

Egyptian forces launched airstrikes overnight, killed 20 people in Sinai (see 0500 GMT).

In February, Foreign Policy posted a profile of Mowafi, calling him "Cairo's Undercover Strongman".

1622 GMT: Syria. A remarkable claim from Al Jazeera's Ahmed Zaidan. While news has been nearly impossible to get out of the Salleh el Dine district of Aleppo (map), Zaidan says that he only left the area a few hours ago, and the military has been completely pushed back by Free Syrian Army fighters:

This report seems to confirm a Free Syrian Army report, posted by The Guardian more than an hour ago:

The rebel Tawheed Brigade (Unity Brigade), which is leading the fight in Aleppo, claims to have destroyed five tanks in Salahedin.

It also claimed to have destroyed a MiG jet near Aleppo's airport.

In an update on its Facebook page it dismissed reports that it had fled Salahedin as "psychological warfare".

It offered no proof to support the claims.

The Guardian's Martin Chulov, who is close to Salahedin said the battle is continuing. In a brief call to our news desk, a few moments ago, he denied government claims that rebels had been driven from the area.

And then there is another Free Syrian Army source who has spoken to the AFP:

"For an hour and a half, the Free Syrian Army has staged a counter-attack and reclaimed three streets out of five seized by regime forces," rebel commander Wassel Ayub told AFP by phone from the northern city.

"We staged our counter-attack after 700 fighters arrived from the southern neighborhood of Sukkari, Bustan al-Qasr, Shaar and Hanano,” said Ayub, who heads the Nour al-Haq Brigade.

A military defeat of Assad forces in Saleh el Dine would be completely unexpected - and devastating to the prospects that the city could ever be retaken. As we pointed out earlier (see update 1256), Assad has the largest tactical advantage in this area of the city, an area that also poses the greatest threat to his military bases in southwestern Aleppo. If this news is true, it is one of the most surprising and important victories of the Free Syrian Army so far in this conflict.

And now, the caution - these reports are still unverified. Within hours we will likely have reporters back in the district, or at the very least we'll have video evidence of the events. Also, we don't know if the Assad military is planning for a second strike on the district. Despite our analysis that the Free Syrian Army is much stronger than many think it is, and despite evidence of a severely weakened Assad military, a fight in Saleh el Dine plays to all of Assad's strengths. This is a "David and Goliath" moment, and frankly we're still struggling to believe that such a one-sided victory is possible in the district.

1613 GMT: Syria. This is a cross-post from Scott Lucas's Iran live coverage:

Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). Farnaz Fassihi of the Wall Street Journal claims, from unnamed sources, that a tour company linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps arranged the travel for 48 Iranians abducted in Syria on Saturday:

Samen Al Aemmeh, the tour operating company, is not open to the Iranian public and solely caters to members and families of Guards or the plainclothes Basij militia. The company is also a subsidiary of Samen Al Aemmeh Industries, one of IRGC's largest umbrella groups, which has been sanctioned under United Nations Security Council resolutions and by the U.S. Treasury for its role in missile building and Iran's nuclear program.

Fassihi also asserts:

A member of the IRGC inside Iran said Tehran had stepped up its technical and training assistance to Syria in recent weeks. He said IRGC members were traveling to Syria to train the army on guerrilla warfare modeled after IRGC's battles with Kurdish and Baluchi separatist groups along Iran's borders. The battle of Aleppo, for example, is a classic example of IRGC tactics, the source said; the army intentionally lets rebels gain territory of neighborhoods then closes in on them by ground and aerial offensives.

1530 GMT: Syria. The towns around Daraa have been fiercely attacked today. Yesterday, intense fighting and shelling occurred in the town of Busr al Harir. Today more shelling has occurred there, but the towns of El Taebeh and Dael have also been heavily shelled (map). A terrible video from Dael shows a severely wounded man, and yet another shows a severely injured teenager. There are videos of smoke rising above Dael, and another shows smoke rising near the border with Jordan. The video below claims to show people trying to rescue the injured after a shell hits in Dael. It is also disturbing:

1456 GMT: Syria. Not all the news is about insurgents and armies and death - the protest movement is still strong in many places, away from the heaviest fighting. What's interesting is that now that the heaviest fighting in Damascus is over, we may be seeing a resurgence of protests there, protests that were growing larger and more bold before the fighting erupted several weeks ago.

An activist shares this video:

Hijaz square (map) is at the very center of the city - the railway station is clearly visible in the video.

1445 GMT: Syria. With reports of anti-aircraft weapons and heavy machine guns in the hands of Syrian insurgents, videos like this add explanation for why the Syrian helicopters and fighters have been flying higher today than in the past:

1408 GMT: Syria. We've been reporting about the worsening conditions in Zabadani, northwest of Damascus (map). Today, as shelling renewed, the Local Coordination Committees have declared the city a disaster area:

For the past 60 days, the regime has continued its brutal siege and bombardment of the town. This has resulted in the destruction of more than half the area neighborhoods and infrastructure...

In addition, the remaining neighborhoods have sustained partial destruction, and approximatly 22,000 residents have fled to neighboring districts and towns. The regime's shelling has continued into these areas, and therefore is threatening the lives of those who had fled. Thus far... 22 people have been martyred during the daily shelling...

In addition, hundreds of wounded have been reported, and they cannot be rescued due to the daily nonstop shelling and the increasingly choking siege on the town. The area is now surrounded by more than 56 military points, including Lebanse Hezbollah soldiers.

There is a total power outage and all humanitarian relief and basic supplies have been cut off.

In light of these dire humanitarian conditions, and given the extent of Assad crimes against civilians, we request that the international community and humanitarian organizations implement and secure humanitarian corridors to provide direct relief to save the lives of the more than 8,000 remaining civilians who are living under continuous, direct bombing.

1358 GMT: Syria. Global Post News has had a camera inside Aleppo, and has posted a collection of raw footage taken in the city between July 30th and August 6th. It is a must see, but many images are disturbing:

1352 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordinating Committees have published a "Code of Conduct" for Free Syrian Army fighters to follow. What's striking is that some of the most important members of the FSA have already signed it.

We've published the complete text, as well as our snap analysis, in a separate feature.

See also Syria Analysis: The Local Coordination Committees Issue a "Code of Conduct" for Free Syrian Army

1334 GMT: Syria. It's hard to get a feeling for how the fighting in Aleppo is going, but there are reports that the FSA has withdrawn from Saleh el Dine. Other reports suggest that this is not true. Hala Jaber suggests that the FSA has withdrawn, but that Saleh el Dine is not fully under regime control. Kurt Pelda suggests that FSA fighters are still moving to the front.

All we do know is that fighting there has been extremely intense - this video was reportedly taken earlier today:

1256 GMT: Syria. A colonel with the Free Syrian Army describes the significance of the Saleh el Dine district of Aleppo (map):

All the weapons we have to combat this onslaught are guns, Kalashnikovs, anti-tanks, RPGs and some anti-aircraft rockets.

Salahedin district is the western gateway for Aleppo and one of the first districts liberated in the city. It is close to the college of artillery and armament – all the regime's forces are piled nearby in al-Hamadaniah district. That is why it is so important for the regime to get it back from the hands of the FSA.

The Saleh el Dine district is exposed to direct fire and Assad reinforcements from two major bases, an artillery college to the west (map) and a major military base to the south (map). Furthermore, Saleh el Dine is west of the Citadel, a massive fortress that still has many Assad soldiers inside it, the focus of the last few days of fighting (map). If Saleh el Dine does not fall to the Assad military, it would be a major blow, because the regime's tactical advantage is much smaller in some of the other areas, and some of the narrow streets, to the west of Saleh el Dine.

1206 GMT: Syria. Another dramatic video from Kafranbel (map, see previous update) - a shell falls in the town, and the cameraman and fighters from the Free syrian Army rush to the scene. The result - devastation:

1152 GMT: Syria. The little Idlib town of Kafranbel (map) is well known to many of our readers, and to many across the globe. The town is known for its defiant protests and its witty signs, usually written in English, a clear demonstration of the Syrian opposition's understanding of the power of new media.

But Kafranbel has been under sustained and intense attack for more than two days. This video shows some of the artillery, reportedly stations about 14 kilometers from the town, that is attacking the area. Another disturbing video shows the aftermath of some of the attacks:

1134 GMT: Syria. According to the Local Coordinating Committees, 65 people have been killed so far today,

"...including 11 women and 10 children: 22 martyrs in Hama most of whom were killed in Jerjisa, 17 martyrs in Aleppo, 9 martyrs in Deir Ezzor, 5 martyrs in Idlib, 4 martyrs in Homs, 4 martyrs in Damascus and its suburbs, 3 martyrs in Daraa and 1 martyr in Lattakia."

Jarjeezah is nestled near a lake near al Rastan, between Hama and Homs (map). The LCC has released a list of 20 names - including children - of the people reportedly killed so far in that small town today.

We haven't seen other information on JarJeezah, but Al Rastan has been absolutely pounded by shelling and air strikes today. The videos tell the tale, and here is one example:

Another video shows a group of well armed men, reportedly a fresh defection from the military.

1128 GMT: Syria. Yesterday's video claiming to show Riad Hijab in Daraa (see previous update):

1122 GMT: Syria. One of the most curious claims yesterday were reports from the anti-Assad activists that Riad Hijab, the Syrian Prime Minister who defected this week, was not in Jordan, as had been reported, but was actually still in Syria - meeting with opposition activists and Free Syrian Army leaders in Daraa.

We didn't cover those reports. They seemed too weird to be true.

Well, according to a Jordanian official, Riad Hijab and other members of his family have just arrived in Jordan today, adding credence to the original activist reports:

Sameeh Maaytah said Hijab "entered Jordan in the early hours of dawn today along with several members of his family." Maaytah spoke to the state Petra News Agency. He did not elaborate.

Maaytah did not answer repeated calls by The Associated Press to comment on conflicting reports that Hijab was already in Jordan, having come there after he defected to the opposition on Monday.

On Monday, Maaytah denied that Hijab was in the country. But another Jordanian official and the rebel Free Syrian Army said he fled to Jordan that day along with his seven brothers, two sisters and their families. They said he was planning to travel onward to Qatar, but did not specify when.

1115 GMT: Syria. Two videos, both dated yesterday, show what this conflict looks like. The first shows one of the roads into Aleppo, littered with the results of an FSA attack on a military convoy:

The second, a MIG performing a strafing run over Saleh el Dine.

1055 GMT: Syria. The long anticipated military assault on Aleppo appears to have started. The Syrian army moved into the Saleh el Dine district of Aleppo (map) with force today. The Telegraph reports that the regime may have had some success, though there is confusion as to how much:

"The regime forces advanced into Al-Malaab Street with tanks and armoured vehicles and fierce fighting is now taking place in the area," said Wassel Ayub, a commander in the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Syrian government security sources have said that the army is poised to take control of the Salaheddin district.

"The army is advancing from west to east to cut Salaheddin in half horizontally. It will not take a long time to control the district, even if there are some pockets of resistance remaining," an official told AFP.

But Abu Firas, a member of the rebel Free Syrian Army, said the insurgents had left only one building in Salaheddin.

"We did not withdraw, our guys are still there and the situation is in our favour. We just left a building that we had in one of the streets, but it's not like we are retreating".

The Guardian's Martin Chulov reports that there is also fighting is the suburbs. He also reports that the Free Syrian Army is holding ground in Saleh el Dine, though it has withdrawn from some buildings:

They say they have made a tactical withdrawal from a couple of streets ... but they say the regime hasn’t yet advanced into those areas, but they are expecting that advance very soon. They insist they hold the vast majority of the district, and that the withdrawal they have made is only a matter of 15 or so metres and is tactical.

Salahedin was always going to be ground zero for the battle for Aleppo, and the only way to dislodge rebels was going to be a ground invasion. It is being led by tanks, from what we understand there are not too many infantry. But they could follow later in the day. There are no ground forces in the rest of the city, but in Salahedin some kind of a push in under way.

Rebels claimed to have hit some tanks in Salahedin, Martin said. “The way this battle is going to play out is more of a war of attrition rather than a quick decisive battle,” he said.

According to Chulov, the loss of tanks and the lack of infantry is the key point. The Free Syrian Army is fairing better than expected because of the last minute defections of generals that tipped them off about the attack. The lack of infantry guardian the tanks is a sign, according to Chulov who is inside Aleppo, that the regime is worried that too many forces would defect. But dead tanks in roads block advances, and jeopardize the other tanks in the line, so despite having a massive advantage in shear strength, the regime's advance, thus far, has been slow.

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

0845 GMT: Syria. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has acknowledged that some of the 48 Iranians abducted near Damascus on Saturday are retired members of the Revolutionary Guards and Army and others "were from other ministries"; however, he denied any still had a military or official role and said they were on pilgrimage.

0840 GMT: Syria. Thousands pray in Menbij for Omar Qursali, killed by security forces:

0835 GMT: Syria. Lots of effort by Russia authorities to deny that one of its generals, serving as an advisor to the Assad regime, has been killed near Damascus (see 0520 GMT) --- first, the Russian Embassy in Syria and "military sources" denied the claim of the Free Syrian Army. Then one military source said Vladimir Petrovich Kojyev "does not exist".

0825 GMT: Syria. The Guardian links to video from the damaged, insurgent-held Salaheddin district of Aleppo and posts the latest messages from its reporter Martin Chulov:

Chulov writes:

Jets bombed Aleppo & surrounds again from 3am-5am. Tanks inching forward Troops yet to enter tho. Worried about defections?...4 senior officers defected in Aleppo in past 48 hours. They've fled to nearby towns & shared details of plans for regime attack....

Rebels planning raid on Aleppo security district home to dreaded Air Force Intelligence. Many have relatives in cells inside.

0625 GMT: Bahrain. Sumaya Rajab, the wife of detained human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, has posted a series of messages on Twitter:

Sumaya Rajab added, "They...move him from one place to another using a car even for short distances to prevent Nabeel from contacting with others. The only way for Nabeel to get out of when they bring him to the court to attend trials w detainees." She reported:

Rajab, the head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, is serving a three-month sentence for Twitter messages which allegedly insulted the Prime Minister and faces trial on other charges, including participation in illegal marches.

0520 GMT: Syria. The Damascus Military Command of the Free Syrian Army have claimed the killing on Sunday of a Russian military advisor to regime forces, named as Vladimir Petrovich Kojyev:

0510 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees report documentation of 170 people, including 10 women and 18 children, killed by security forces on Tuesday. There were 35 deaths in Homs Province, 33 in Damascus and its suburbs, and 33 in Aleppo Province, 10 of whom were allegedly prisoners who were executed.

The Syrian regime no longer reports casualties among its forces.

0500 GMT: Egypt. Retaliating for the deaths of 16 border guards last Sunday, Egyptian forces have launched airstrikes in the Sinai, close to the border with Israel, killing more than 20 people.

Witnesses in Sheikh Zouaid, about 10 kilometres (6 miles) from Gaza, said they saw two military jets and heard sounds of explosions. Other witnesses in a nearby area said they saw three cars hit.

"We have succeeded in entering al-Toumah village, killed 20 terrorists and destroyed three armoured cars belonging to terrorists. Operations are still ongoing," an army commander said.

Meanwhile, clashes continued as armed men opened fire on checkpoints in al-Arish and in Rafah on the border with Israel.

Six people were injured in the attacks late on Tuesday night, including two police officers, three army soldiers, and one civilian, sources told Al Jazeera. 

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