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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Dying Amid the Diversion of the Mohammad Film

Shelling of al-Qusayr in Homs Province in Syria this morning

See also Syria Feature: The Insurgents Test Self-Government
Monday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Regime "Fully Purges Aleppo District From Terrorists"....Again

2050 GMT: Yemen. Video of Yemeni security forces attacking French journalist Benjamin Wiacek, the editor-in-chief of the French-language site “La Voix du Yémen”, during last Friday's demonstrations near the US Embassy in Sana'a --- see his full account of the incident:

2030 GMT: Syria. British Foreign Secretary William Hague has told a Parliamentary committee that any intervention can only take place with Washington's participation.

While Hague said military action could not be ruled out, he said he saw “major disadvantages” and continued, "It would require intervention on a vastly greater scale than was the case in Libya, with no prospect at the moment of agreement at the U.N. Security Council, and would require the full involvement of the United States."

1906 GMT: Syria. In our last update we reported that the Free Syrian Army has attacked a major border crossing in Al Raqqah. Now we have the first video claiming to show the battle (the video is unconfirmed, and doesn't give us much to work with, however).

1700 GMT: Syria/Turkey. Reuters reports that The Free Syrian Army has attacked a major border crossing in northeastern Syria, in Al Raqqah province.

Fighting raged between Syrian troops and rebels close to the Tel Abyad border gate and stray bullets hit some houses in the town of Akcakale on the Turkish side, a Turkish official said.

He said the rebels were trying to gain control of Tel Abyad, which was a major crossing for Turkish-Syrian commerce in peacetime, and which rebels were rumoured to have used for weapons smuggling in the past year.

Reuters reports that this is the Free Syrian Army's first serious attempt to capture border crossings in Al Raqqah province.

What's the significance? Looking at the border crossing on the map, it is due north of Al Raqqah city, west of Hassakah and east of Manbij. In other words, it's yet another front for the fight in northern Syria, a fight that has been gradually won by the FSA. Opening a front north of Al Raqqah also helps build the connection between FSA occupied Aleppo province and all territories in northern and eastern Syria, including Deir Ez Zor. The FSA's goals of uniting all of northern and eastern Syria are, for the moment, a long ways off, as there is still significant Assad firepower in those regions, even if that power is being slowly eroded.

1650 GMT: Syria. This video was reportedly taken yesterday in Al Rastan, north of Homs. As the cameraman films smoke rising, the result of recent shelling, a shell slams into the side of a nearby minaret:

Al Rastan has been surrounded for months, and is shelled every day by artillery, mortars, and tanks. Air strikes and strafing runs also take its toll on the city. Still, the Free Syrian Army has occupied the area for many months, and has been slowly trying to advance out of the city. With a vast arsenal of weapons at its disposal, the Syrian Military has largely fought the FSA to a standstill here, but there are still many people in the city who could not escape the violence.

1623 GMT: Syria. The Guardian reports that a bomb has been disarmed in France, near the home of Manaf Tlass, defected former member of the Republican Guard.

What's strange is that Guardian, and French news, seems to be citing Al Arabiya, and not local French sources.

1443 GMT: Syria/Turkey. Lakhdar Brahimi, UN envoy to Syria and replacement for Kofi Annan, has visited Syrian refugee camps in Turkey:

Crowds of Syrians welcomed Brahimi into Altinozu, marching in groups and chanting slogans against the embattled Damascus regime: "Free Syria! We will fight till freedom!"

Brahimi was also briefed by Turkish officials at the local governor's office on the conditions of the refugees and their needs, an issue raised by Ankara government as needing international support.

The Altinozu camp is one of the first refugee camps set up by Turkey soon after the unrest erupted in Syria mid-March 2011, which has already killed 20,000 according to UN figures and forced 250,000 to flee to neighboring countries.

1423 GMT: Syria. Daily life has decayed beyond recognition in many areas. One of those areas is Aleppo, the largest and wealthiest city in the country - the last place that this kind of destruction was predicted by many pundits.

For instance, school has started, but it doesn't seem like there are many kids going - or many schools that have escaped the damage:

Another activist posts a picture of a man getting groceries - while dodging sniper fire:

The headlines in Syria are often dramatic and terrible, but sometimes its the small things that most accurately highlight the depth of the crisis.

1408 GMT: Syria. 64 people have already been killed by Assad forces today, according to the Local Coordination Committees:

24 martyrs were reported in Deir Ezzor, including 23 who died as a result of shelling of Sour village. 13 in Aleppo, 14 in Damascus Suburbs, 5 in Homs, 5 in Raqqa and 1 in Hama, 1 in Banyas and 1 in Idlib.

See our note on the casualty figures produced by the LCC.

Looking at the number, it's clear that no single isolated case is responsible for these numbers, suggesting once again that the country will see a high death toll with violence in many areas.

August was the bloodiest month in the Middle East in at least 10 years, but September is shaping up to be a close second.

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

1332 GMT: Syria/Iran. Foreign Affairs (Syrian Watch). Khabar Online is far from upbeat about the first Foreign Ministers' meeting of the new contact group --- Iran, Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia --- noting that the Saudis were absent and "there was no clear result".

Egypt's State news agency MENA put out the holding line that the group agreed to more consultations in New York, on the sidelines of leaders' addresses to the United Nations General Assembly later this month.

However, Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr hinted at the lack of progress, "It is too early to say we have come up with any specifics. He said the Saudi Foreign Minister "had previous commitments".

This is a cross-post from our Iran live coverage.

1024 GMT: Libya. Al Qa'eda in the Maghreb has commended last week's violence against the US Consulate in Benghazi, and the Middle East, including the killing of US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans, without taking responsibility.

The organizations has called for similar attacks in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Mauritania.

1010 GMT: Tunisia. Allan Bredy, the director of the American School in Tunis, has described Friday's attack on the school, next to the US Embassy.

Bredy said the first wave was made up of "salafists" (conservative Islamists) who destroyed security cameras and then burned the elementary school’s library and adjacent classrooms.

The second wave, described by Bredy as young delinquents, entered went classroom by classroom breaking equipment and stealing anything of value, such as all computers.

A total of 20 staff members, including Bredy, intervened, driving away trespassers with baseball bats and other objects and retrieving some of the stolen items. The looters "were embarrassed".

Bredy said that security forces arrived three hours after the first call for help was made.

(Hat tip to The Guardian)

1005 GMT: Yemen. In a note on the Embassy's website, US Ambassador Gerald Feierstein has assured the deployment of 50 Marines to bolster the guard of the diplomatic mission will be temporary:


Following close consultations between US and Yemeni authorities, a small number of additional security personnel will temporarily assist with security and cleanup efforts at the US embassy in Sana’a. Their mission is strictly limited to assisting at our diplomatic facilities and protecting US diplomatic personnel from violence.

The temporary assignment of additional personnel to assist US missions facing security challenges is normal. The group is assigned on a short-term basis in close consultation with the host government and operates in accordance with international law. The decision to utilise this small group was made after close consultations and coordination between US and Yemeni authorities.

Yemeni officials had objected to the deployment, announced in response to last week's demonstrations over the US film "The Innocence of Muslims". Four people were killed as crowds stormed the American compound.

0805 GMT: Syria. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has proposed that the four members of a new "contact group" --- Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey --- send observers to "monitor the process of stopping the violence in Syria" "to help the process of fundamental reforms and finding a democratic approach".

Salehi put forth the initiative at the first meeting of the group's Foreign Ministers in Cairo in Monday.

Salehi appealed for "a simultanous halt in clashes and violence by the sides in Syria [and] insisted on a peaceful solution without foreign intevervention and a halt to financial, military and training support for the Syrian opposition," according to Iranian State news agency IRNA.

(Cross-posted from Iran Live Coverage)

0645 GMT: Oman. In a widening crackdown on media and dissent, a court has sentenced journalist and blogger Mukhtar bin Mohammed bin Saif al-Hinai to one year in prison for slander and violation of media codes.

Al-Hinai works at the Azzaman daily, which has been under pressure for coverage that angered some officials.

In August, Reporters Without Borders criticised Oman for convicting 20 activists, including prominent bloggers, on charges of illegal assembly and of insulting the nation’s ruler.

0630 GMT: Sudan. Authorities reportedly blocked YouTube after last Friday's demonstration, in which three people were killed, outside the US and German Embassies.

Similar action was ordered by Pakistan Prime Minsiter Raja Pervez Ashraf on Monday, according to Dawn News, and by the government of Bangladesh.

0455 GMT: MENA. As another 142 Syrians died at the hands of security forces on Monday, according to the Local Coordination Committees, regional leaders stole the headlines with condemnation of the US-produced film "The Innocence of Muslims". Iran's Supreme Leader issued his second call to US and European Government to take action, "not just words", against the movie, while Hezbollah's Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah told tens of thousands in Lebanon that the release of the full film would be "very dangerous".

CNN's homepage leads with the YouTube footage, featured on EA on Monday morning, of Libyans taking the unconscious US Ambassador Chris Stevens from a building after last Tuesday's attacks in Benghazi. EA readers have interpreted the shouts of "Allahu Akhbar" and "He's alive" as relief that Stevens had not been killed, rather than celebration of his demise.

Stevens apparently died en route to the hospital where 90 minutes of effort could not revive him.


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