A shell from a regime warplane lands metres from a cameraman in the Mare section of Aleppo in Syria
See also Syria Feature: Saudi Arabia v. Qatar in the Arming of the Insurgents (Abouzeid) br>
Bahrain Feature: Today's United Nations Review of the Regime and Human Rights br>
Tuesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Dying Amid the Diversion of the Mohammad Film br>
72 of them were in Damascus and suburbs including 30 in Hajar Aswad, 20 were slaughtered in Jobar and 3 were field executed in Qadam. 32 martyrs in Aleppo most of them are in Manbej, 25 in Hama most of them are in Hwaija village and Masha' Arba'een neighborhood, 10 martyrs in Deir Ezzor most of them in Almohasan, 5 in Daraa, 3 in Idlib, 2 in Latakia and a martyr in Homs.
September is on track to be one of the bloodiest months in the recent history of the Middle East. August in Syria was the bloodiest of the last 10 years, even bloodier than any single month of conflict in Iraq or Afghanistan, even when using conservative numbers.
2056 GMT: Syria. A prominent Twitter activist, The 47th, whom we believe often knows about what goes on inside the Syrian opposition, Tweeted that a prominent regime defector will soon be pushing the soldiers in the Assad army to leave the regime and fight Assad:
I have bn told that long time ex-Defense Minister of Syria, Gen. Mustafa Tlass will address Syrian armed forces in 2 weeks
In his highly publicized address, he will urge them to unite, and fight Assad and to save the Syrian civilians from Assad's tyranny.
When pressed by others about the importance of Tlass, The 47th argued that Tlass is still well respected within the regime, and even by Bashar al Assad himself:
When Assad knew of Manaf's defection, he reached out to Mustafa directly, sent him countless numbers of mediators & offers..— ♕The 47th♕ (@THE_47th) September 19, 2012
We cannot confirm this, of course, but there is a high probability that it will happen. As the 47th says of himself, "90% of the time, I'm right all the time." EA writers have come to respect his predictions, as they often come true.
2005 GMT: Syria. Nearly every day there are videos of new units of Free Syrian Army fighters forming. Many are small and ill-equipped, but some are larger and have heavier weapons. It's anecdotal evidence, and most of the time little can be learned from the videos. Often, defecting soldiers will not create videos like this for fear of being identified, and it's always possible that some fighters could make separate videos to inflate the perception of their size.
Rarely we'll post the videos. However, in recent days there seem to be far more videos than usual (again, its anecdotal evidence, but there are also reports of more defections, particularly in Deir Ez Zor and Damascus). This video claims to show a relatively large group of well-equipped fighters joining the FSA in Deir Ez Zor (and, based on our quick translation, declaring a holy war against the Assad regime):
1935 GMT: Syria. Mosques, schools, hospitals - the bombing and shelling campaigns in many cities, including Aleppo, have treated no target as sacred:
That video matches pictures we've seen of the Al Kiltawiyeh mosque in the Bab al Hadid district of Aleppo (map).
67 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its suburbs, among them 30 martyrs from Hajar Al-Aswad, 20 martyrs of whom had been slaughtered in Jobar, and 3 who were field-executed in Qadam. In addition, 15 martyrs were reported in Hama, including 4 who had been slaughtered in the Arbaeen neighborhood; 10 martyrs in Deir Ezzor, most in Mohassen; 30 in Aleppo, most in Manbaj; 3 in Daraa; 1 in Lattakia,1 in Homs and 1 in Idlib.
1904 GMT: France/MENA. As we reported earlier (update 1015), France has decided to close many embassies across the Middle East and North Africa in anticipation of backlash against a decision of a French magazine to publish an insulting cartoon of the Prophet Muhamed. American White House spokesperson Jay Carney has weighed in on the issue:
"Obviously we have questions about the judgement in publishing something like this. We have spoken repeatedly about freedom of expression. We just question the judgement".
"No matter how offensive something like this it is no way justification for violence. We have been in touch with French govt and other govts around the world."
So far we're not aware of any violence, or even large protests, related specifically to the cartoon. However, in Tyre, Lebanon, there has been another large Hezbollah rally, the second one of its kind this week, where thousands chanted anti-American slogans. Gunman also fired rounds into a KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken, and American fast-food restaurant). Fast-food restaurants were also targeted last Friday.
1631 GMT: Syria. As predicted, the number of dead is rising rapidly. The LCC now reports that 117 have been killed by Assad forces nationwide:
67 martyrs were reported in Damacus and its suburbs, among them 30 martyrs from Hajar Al-Aswad, 20 martyrs of whom had been slaughtered in Jobar, and 3 who were field-executed in Qadam. In addition, 15 martyrs were reported in Hama, including 4 who had been slaughtered in the Arbaeen neighborhood; 10 martyrs in Deir Ezzor, most in Mohassen; 21 in Aleppo, most in Manbaj; 2 in Daraa; 1 in Lattakia; and 1 in Idlib.
This number reflects (and surpasses) the report from The Guardian that 23 people were executed in the Hajar al Aswad district of Damascus (update 1515). Beyond this, these reports of aerial bombardment are concerning, but those reports are fresh, meaning confirmation of casualties may take some time.
In Aleppo, several towns have reportedly been pounded by Assad air forces today, including Manbij, but also Al Atarib (where the video below was reportedly taken) and many other towns north of the city:
1616 GMT: Syria. Just a few months ago, the use of fighter jets to bombard cities and towns in Syria would have made front page news. Now, dozens of videos of bombing raids or strafing runs are posted every hour of every day.
This video was reportedly taken today in the Ghouta region, just east of Damascus. A fighter jet appears to fire at the ground.
Though this video's location cannot be confirmed, the LCC reports that Mleiha (map), on the southern edge of the Ghouta region, has also been bombarded from the air. The sound of both heavy machineguns and the roar of a jet can be heard, while the air appears to be filling with smoke:
1546 GMT: Syria. Al Jazeera reports from Aleppo. The summary - when speaking about Syrian MIG fighter jets conducting bombing runs, Al Jazeera notes that it's "unclear what they were targeting" when they dropped a bomb that hit a hospital:
1515 GMT: Syria. The Guardian reports that 23 bodies have been found in the Hajar al Aswad district of southern Damascus. According to residents, the men were executed by "shabiha," pro-Assad militia, after the district was stormed by security forces. They have also posted a link to a video claiming to show the bodies of 6 men.
Iranian State news agency IRNA carries a brief report on Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi's meeting in Damascus with President Assad today.
There is little beyond rhetoric about the welcome for "any plan for a solution based on the fair and equitable interests of the Syrian people". Foreign intervention and outside media's "all-out war" were denounced.
IRNA made no reference to Salehi's presentation of a "plan" (see 0915 GMT) , based on Monday's Iran-Egypt-Turkey meeting, to Assad.
1418 GMT: Yemen. Officials said the Government will investigate alleged human rights violations during last year's uprising, possibly opening the way to prosecution of ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his relatives.
Saleh and his immediate family obtained immunity from prosecution under Yemeni law under a Gulf Cooperation Council plan agreed last year in return for the long-time President's departure from office in February 2012.
A government official said the decision emerged from an intense, five-month-long debate in the cabinet, divided between members of Saleh's party and his opponents. He added that the outcome was partly due to a "big push" by the United Nations envoy to Yemen, Jamal bin Omar.
The official said the inquiry would investigate whether criminal charges could be pressed over deaths and injuries, complemented by a transitional justice law.
1354 GMT: Bahrain. EA's John Horne reports:
The past few days have seen streams of stories from pro-regime media which cast a positive spin on the Bahrain government's commitment to reform, alongside others painting a hostile picture of the opposition. This is all seemingly acting as a counter to the strong criticism they are receiving from other governments and NGOs at the UN.
One such item in state media is a short note that today King Hamad "received a cable of thanks from the US President Barack Obama in reply to his country's Independence Day." It adds that Obama "lauded the steadily-growing outstanding Bahraini-US ties."
Obama's note, it would seem, has taken over a month to arrive, as Bahrain's Indepence Day was on August 15th. Moreover, unlike almost every other country in the world, Bahrain does not officially celebrate its Independence Day. Instead, it holds a "National Day" in mid-December to mark the coronation of Isa bin Salman AlKhalifa, the current King's father, to the throne in 1961. When many did go out onto the streets in August to celebrate Independence Day, they were attacked by security forces as noted at the time by Maryam AlKhawaja, acting head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights:
Upon seeing the video share by Scott Lucas (see update 1029), I was surprised that the FSA was able to make this much progress. After all, the Syrian Army has been intent on maintaining control over the Al Raqqah territory because losing it would present a significant strategic threat to the regime.
Even if the border crossing does fall back into regime hands, a possibility that is likely, the FSA has proven, yet again, that it can strike at the regime nearly anywhere, even if only for short-term gain.
30 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its suburbs, including 20 martyrs who were executed in Jobar neighborhood 11 in Hama; 10 in Deir Ezzpr;7 in Aleppo; 2 in Daraa and 1 in Idlib.
Given the level of violence reported right now, especially in Damascus, this number could skyrocket. Also remember that because of verification techniques used by the LCC, these numbers are a lagging indicator.
1304 GMT: Syria. Southern Damascus has once again been heavily shelled, as it has for days, but the shelling today appears significantly more intense than it did yesterday. Dozens of videos show black smoke rising from various neighborhoods. Below we've posted two examples to show the scale, but a third video clearly shows that many of the shells landed near (or on) residences and mosques:
1226 GMT: Syria. After more than a week of fighting, Free Syrian Army insurgents have withdrawn from 3 districts in southern Damascus, according to an activist who spoke to The Guardian:
Yesterday at 4.30 in the morning all Free Syrian Army brigades pulled out of southern suburbs of Damascus: al-Qadem, al-Assali and al-Hajar al-Aswad. The whole areas has sustained great destruction after a week-long fight.
Al-Qadem district is still under heavy bombardment from mortars and tanks, even though the FSA has left.
The Syrian soldiers are combing the district. Tanks have not entered for fear of FSA fighters still hiding inside the houses. Civilians are very scared about the aftermath of the fight.
The FSA men decided to pull out, after Assad's forces used barrels loaded with TNT explosives against al-Hajar al-Aswad, Sbina and Medina districts. The barrels were thrown by war planes. They caused massive damage.
The FSA also ran out of ammunition and got no support or cover from other areas of Damascus. They were worried that the Syrian army would block surrounding areas and sandwich them in.
This is at least the second time the FSA has withdrawn from these districts. The activist claims that insurgents destroyed 8 tanks in the fighting, however that is unconfirmed.
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started today.
1050 GMT: Tunisia. Minister of Foreign Affairs Rafik Abdessalem has said that Tunisia will pay for the damage done to the US Embassy and the American Cooperative School in Tunis amid last Friday's demonstrations and violence.
The LCC says 20 of the Damascus dead were executed in the Jobar neighbourhood.
On the outskirts of the northern city of Aleppo, the teachers just stayed home. The schools had been transformed into shelters for residents displaced by fighting, and in any case, one teacher said, there were more “more pressing concerns” than school.
Other schools had been taken over by rebel fighters, and throughout Syria, more than 2,000 school buildings had been destroyed or damaged in the war.
In an attempt to project calm in the midst of relentless violence, Syria’s Education Ministry ordered schools to open this week. Instead of calm, however, the schools reflected what had happened in the rest of the country during the summer: the fighting had grown worse, the routines of daily life more dangerous and education had become one more casualty of the unrest.
1036 GMT: Syria. Claimed video of the formation of a Christian brigade of the Free Syrian Army --- Mona Mahmood of The Guardian translates, "We the Christian young men of the revolution declare the formation of Anssarullah brigade in the Damascus countryside. We are honest soldiers who will defend the land with our Muslim brothers":
Three civilians were reportedly wounded by stray bullets from the fighting, including one woman in critical condition.
1015 GMT: MENA. Following the publication of images of a naked Prophet Mohammad in a French magazine today, France has announced it will close embassies and schools in 20 countries on Friday because of a possible backlash.
0915 GMT: Syria. Misleading reports are circulating in mainstream media that Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, visiting Damascus today, will put forth a 9-point plan from the "contact group" of Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.
The reports are based on an article in Iran's Mehr; however, the website is clear that this was merely the Iranian position presented on Monday in Cairo to a meeting of Foreign Ministers of the contact group.
Moreover, Mehr notes that neither Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal nor any other Saudi official attended the meeting.
Both the Egyptian and Turkish Foreign Ministers said after the session that no agreements had been reached. The former said that the contact group would meet again on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in New York later this month.
Salehi's proposal included a plan for the contact group countries to send observers to Syria, as well as a call for a cease-fire, an end to outside support to armed groups, and an emphasis on "the peaceful settlement of the crisis without foreign intervention" through talks between the Syrian government and the opposition.
(Cross-posted from Iran Live Coverage)
Emirati medical staff have treated more than 7,000 refugees from the conflict at a special centre in Jordan.
The Emirati-Jordanian Field Hospital in Mafraq has cared for up to 600 patients a day since it opened on August 28.
Early yesterday its dozen or so tents were packed with sick and wounded men, women and children, as emergency sirens wailed almost every hour.
Patients undergo a preliminary assessment by doctors, and are referred to specialists if required. Cases range from simple flu to serious war wounds.
Some victims have had bullets in their bodies for weeks, even three months. "It depends on how long it took them to leave Syria and get to the hospital," said Majid Sulaiman, head of the UAE relief team. "That is why the bullets stayed in their bodies for so long."
0610 GMT: Bahrain. The centre of attention on the kingdom will be in Geneva, Switzerland today as the United Nations Human Rights Council releases its Universal Periodic Review on Bahrain.
The regime's Information Affairs Authority has tried to pre-empt criticism by announcing that the Government has "fully accepted two additional recommendations" of the Council: "One recommendation relates to considering ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture. The second concerns the activities of non-Government organizations."
The IAA declared, "With this addendum, the total number of [the 176] UPR recommendations that enjoy the Government’s full support is 145, in addition to the 13 that enjoy its partial support."
Opposition video of a demonstration on Tuesday night:
0555 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees report that 160 people died at the hands of security forces on Tuesday, including 67 in Damascus and its suburbs --- the majority killed by aerial shelling in Hajar Aswad and Malhieha --- 30 in Deir Ez Zor Province, 26 in Aleppo Province, 16 in Idlib Province, and 11 in Daraa Province.
0530 GMT: Syria. As we closed Live Coverage last night, EA staff discovered the situation in the country. We had noted a tapering of our reporting of developments in recent days --- as one correspondent noted concisely, "Syria is, believe it or not, slow."
It was not just that headline news had been overtaken by the events surrounding the US film, "The Innocence of Muslims", and the demonstrations across North Africa and the Middle East. Syria had drifted into a pattern of, in the words of James Miller, "Lots of killing, but in the same spots."
He added, "There has been very tedious progress by the Free Syrian Army, and the government has not launched an offensive in a week."
The two-word summary for the situation: "The Grind".