Footage from Al-Manar TV of the aftermath of Wednesday's bombings and attack by insurgents on Army Staff HQ in Damascus, with gun battles and bodies of three opposition fighters inside the building
See also Syria Analysis: Huge Stories, Small Headlines, and the Future of Insurgency
EA Video Analysis: Syria --- An Introduction to "The Grind of the Conflict" br>
Wednesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Double Explosion Hits Army Staff HQ in Damascus
2037 GMT: Syria. CNN's Ivan Watson reports on thousands of internally-dsiplaced Syrians, camping out and sleeping in the dirt because they cannot cross the Turkish border:
The main source of disappointment is Russia. Let alone raising its voice against Syria, it stands by the massacre.
China stands by Russia, and although (Chinese President) Hu Jintao had told me they wouldn't veto the plan (for a safe zone) for a third time, they did at the UN vote.
Erdogan said the position of Iran --- which nominally is in a four-nation contact group with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey --- is "impossible to understand".
1952 GMT: Iraq. EA's John Horne reports:
Following an attack, militants have reportedly taken over a prison in Tikrit. AFP quotes a provincial govenor as saying, "The attackers are controlling all the (entrances and exits) and the observation towers, and ... security forces are surrounding the prison".
Police sources speaking to AFP described the attack:
A suicide bomber targeted the gate of the prison with a car bomb and gunmen then assaulted the prison, after which they killed the guards.
The prisoners killed one policeman and wounded (prison director) Brigadier General Laith al-Sagmani.
In July, Al-Qaeda front group "Islamic State of Iraq" announced plans for "regaining territory". Messages online, believed to be from the group, have also stated an aim to free jailed members and jihadists.
1927 GMT: Syria. Yesterday, the LCC and several other activists reported airstrikes in the vicinity of Maskana, west of Aleppo (map). The area is a long way from a major city, essentially in the middle of nowhere. Today, activists share this video, reportedly showing a civilian transport truck, perhaps carrying dried goods, destroyed by an alleged airstrike on the highway:
Is it possible that these shipments are being seen as a supply route for the Free Syrian Army? If so, it seems a strange route, as the FSA could easily move goods north and south through Turkey.
1810 GMT: Bahrain. EA's John Horne reports:
In court today, two unnamed policemen were acquitted on charges of murdering Isa Abdulhasan Ali Hussain, 60, and Ali Ahmed Abdulla Moumen, 22. Both men were killed on February 17th 2011, three days after the start of the uprising. The day became known as "Bloody Thursday". A third policeman was sentenced to 7 years for killing Hani Abdulaziz Abdulla Jumaa, 32, on March 19th 2011.
All three deaths were investigated by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. The report attributed the deaths to "the use of excessive force by police officers" (pages 231-233, 235-236). In June, the High Criminal Court had raised the charges against the three policemen from manslaughter to murder.
In Mr Hussain's death, a witness is cited saying that a "policeman pointed his gun at [Hussain] from a distance of less than a metre" and that she "saw the man’s head explode". A very graphic picture of his injuries can be seen here. A second witness reported that "the police did not allow a nearby ambulance to assist him". The report concludes:
The death of Mr Hussain can be attributed to the use of excessive force by police officers. The fact that the deceased was unarmed and was shot at close range in the head indicates that there was no justification for the use of lethal force. Furthermore, the MoI initiated an investigation into this incident and concluded that the evidence amounted to a wrongful killing.
Mr Moumen, an engineering student, was killed by shotgun injuries to his thighs "resulting in damage to blood vessels". Forensic examination of the body found that the "injuries were caused by at least three shots fired from a distance of between one and five metres". The BICI report concludes:
The death of Mr Moumen can be attributed to the use of excessive force by police officers. The fact that the deceased was unarmed and was shot at close range in the thigh indicates that there was no justification for the use of lethal force. Furthermore, the MoI initiated an investigation into this.
Mr Aziz's body was discovered on March 19th 2011 lying in a pool of blood at a construction site. Citizens took him to a private hospital from where he was taken by a a Bahrain Defence Forces hospital ambulance, accompanied by masked officers, to the military hospital where he subsequently died. The BICI report covers his case and found the cause of death as "gunshot injuries to the right leg, left leg and left arm", caused by "three or more shots at a distance of no more than one metre". The report also finds that he "was severely beaten and was left lying in a pool of blood", with "many bruises on his head, face, chest and shoulders". The report concludes:
The death of Mr Jumaa can be attributed to the use of excessive force by police. The fact that the deceased was unarmed and was shot three times while running away indicates that there was no justification for the use of lethal force. The MoI investigation has identified the officer responsible for the death.
1750 GMT: Syria. So far, we're still working to find videos showing the fighting in Aleppo. However, the Syrian government appears to have launched a massive series of air raids against the towns in Idlib province on the road to Aleppo.
The cameraman is fixed on a shell that landed in front of him when there is a massive explosion to his right. This was reportedly taken in Taftanaz, near the border between Idlib and Aleppo provinces (map):
A jet fighter, reportedly a MIG, fires a missile at the city of Kafranbel (map). Other videos show more MIG fighters, people panicking after one of the missiles hit a busy street, and injuries that are the result of their attacks. Dozens of videos show bomb, missile, and shell strikes in the city:
And in Khan Skeikhoun, on the road to Hama (map), shells and airstrikes plagued the city - many injuries and an unknown amount of deaths are reported:
The Guardian interviewed a resident of the town:
We have more than 16 checkpoints around the town. Movement is so restricted, it is like being in a big prison. We have power for only four hours a day. Water comes and goes. There is a shortage of fuel and if you can get some it will be very expensive.
All the members of FSA are based in the suburbs. They are engaged in clashes with the Syrian army most of the time. They come downtown only if they set up an ambush for the Syrian soldiers near the checkpoints. They can't be inside the town all the time, because if one bullet fires against the checkpoints that means a great risk to the life of the civilians.
FSA men operations are limited here for the lack of ammunition. They wait for donations by some rich people here or get it from other towns. Also, they have contact with some Syrian army soldiers who would sell them weapons from the Syrian army stores – they are ready to do anything for money – in addition to weapons confiscated after attacks.
Early morning today shelling started against some buildings in Khan Sheikhoun town. There were no any causalities but an hour ago planes began to drop barrels of explosives at random, killing six people and wounding a few others. Some victims are still under the rubble. People are trying to recover them.
1729 GMT: Syria. It's hardly conclusive evidence, but a Bambuser account that we've previously used for livestreams from Aleppo has posted a 14+ minute video that claims to capture (primarily the audio) a battle in the western districts of the city. Because of the darkness, the video is not possible to verify.
Other videos, like this one, claim to show smoke rising, perhaps the result of an FSA attack:
1715 GMT: Syria. Back from a quick break to find some potentially significant news...
Free Syrian Army commanders have announced that they have launched a "decisive battle" to retake many districts of Aleppo that have slipped from their grasp in the last several weeks of bitter fighting. According to the commanders, the goal is not to retake the whole city, but to retake portions of it and to knock the regime on its back foot. Below is a partial transcript of a conversation between The Guardian and a commander in the Tawheed (Unification) Brigade:
The decisive battle for Aleppo started at 4pm local time. We wanted to suprise the Syrian army which had started to creep forward towards the southern neighbourhoods. The Tawheed brigade was enticing the Syrian army forward to face all the fighting brigades in the city.
We have been reconsidering this a battle for a week. The plan to launch the battle today was top secret, and now the mosques in Aleppo are praying for the FSA.
There are 6,000 fighters of the Tawheed brigade taking part in the battle now, in addition to a few other brigades like al-Fatah and Ahfad al-Fatiheen for the Turkmen. We have prepared good ammunition for the battle, we have confiscated a lot of weapons from Masaken Hananou belonging to the Syrian army. We have Russian weapons used by the regime and we will use them against the Syrian army.
After every liberation of a military barracks, we confiscate weapons to attack the Syrian army – we are killing them with their [own] weapons. Though we wish that the Syrian army will fight on the ground we know that they will resort to aerial shelling to support their army. In fact, the planes have never stopped striking the city. They have been shelling for almost 24 hours and they get even more active if there is any action by the FSA.
Earlier we were chasing rumors of such an offensive. Also, we've noted that over the last several days the FSA has made decisive offensive actions outside the city, and appeared to be positioning itself to retake the initiative.
Again, looking at the general pattern that has developed over the last few days, these developments could be significant. However, these findings are still early, and independent corroboration of the size and scope of this latest FSA push has not yet been gathered.
Still, not since the initial battle for the city have FSA commanders of this level of renown made such statements, whereas Assad commanders have made similar statements many times.
There is another unanswered question. Where is Riad al Assad, the FSA commander who recently announced that he was leaving Turkey with 7,000 well-armed fighters? If this is his work, it could help him further unify the insurgents. If it is not, commanders in the Tawheed Brigade may be vying for the respect of the broader insurgency.
1540 GMT: Syria. I've written a separate analysis, analyzing yesterday's news that 343 were killed on the same day that 2 explosions, and a group of armed insurgents, ripped through a major military installation in the capital. My take - this news was significant, under covered by the media, and combined with recent news, tells us a lot about the state of the regime:
This is a stalemate, but it is a corrosive one, one that constantly eats at the strength of the Assad regime, while the humanitarian crisis and threat to infrastructure grows with every exploding barrel bomb and tank shell. The "massacres" and the escalating death toll bear out the claims made by the opposition that the regime does not believe that it is winning this fight.
Read the entire article, Syria Analysis: Huge Stories, Small Headlines, and the Future of Insurgency br>
1520 GMT: Syria. Fire and panic in the streets of Deir Ez Zor - this video, reportedly taken today, claims to show a home on fire after a MIG fighter jet dropped a bomb. It's hard to say for certain, but what sounds like the roar of a jet plane can be faintly heard several seconds into the video. We cannot confirm the details claimed by the video, except to say that there are many reports of Deir Ez Zor being bombed today:
1507 GMT: Syria. Dramatic video, reportedly taken today in the Jabal Zawiyah region of Idlib, shows a BMP armored vehicle, controlled by the Free Syrian Army, attacking, and apparently destroying, regime tanks. At least one of the tanks appears to be destroyed, and perhaps 3 or 4 may be damaged. The video description says that many tanks were destroyed here.
Also worth noting - none of the Assad tanks appear to move. Is it possible that the tank crews fled, or even defected, after they were attacked?
15 martyrs were reported in Aleppo, 11 in Idlib, 8 in Damascus and its Suburbs; including 4 in Hajar Aswad, 7 in Homs, 4 in Daraa, 3 in Deir Ezzor, 1 in Hama, and 1 in Lattakia.
No major massacres reported today (so far), no major escalations of violence, and few reports of heavy fighting (again, so far). With Friday just around the corner, we may be seeing both sides settling into a "waiting game."
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us through to the afternoon.
Saber was arrested at his home in Cairo two weeks ago without a warrant, according to his lawyer.
Kariman Masiha, Saber’s mother, said the prosecutor informed her and lawyers that a group of citizens filed a case accusing Saber of sharing the anti-Islamic US video "The Innocence of Muslims" on social networking sites. However, Saber's attorney said the prosecution found no link to the video; instead, his client was accused of previously posting online clips of himself speaking negatively of religion..
If found guilty, Saber could be sentenced to up to six years in prison.
1415 GMT: Bahrain. John Horne reports:
An FOIA request by the UK based Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) has provided the names of British firms who sold certain categories of weapons to Bahrain in 2009 and 2010. CAAT requested information about certain export categories which cover "small arms, artillery, mortars, smoke and gas projectors, and ammunition". Whilst some sales which took place in late 2010 are not included, the list offers an insight into the companies who were selling weapons to Bahrain in the runup to the crackdown after February 14th.
The list of companies includes: Accuracy International, AEI Systems, BAE Systems (Operations) , Chemring Defence UK, Eley, Extreme Performance, GMK, Hall and Watts Defence Optics, James Purdey & Sons, Nottingham Small Arms Facility, Primetake, QIOPTIQ, Ray Ward Gunsmiths and WRA (Guns).
The list also includes Saddlery & Gunroom, who have said their export license was for "sporting goods for private use", and Switchblade International who told CAAT that their sale "was a private sale - we do not sell to the government there".
1350 GMT: Bahrain. Claimed footage from Duraz last night, shared by the Duraz Youth Movement YouTube page, shows youths launching an attack with Molotov cocktails against security forces, who respond with large quantities of tear gas:
1345 GMT: Bahrain. EA's John Horne reports:
Nabeel Rajab was in court today appealing the 3-year verdict he received for organising and participating in protests. The judge adjourned the appeal until October 16th according to Said Yousif Almuhafda, Rajab's colleage at the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights
This delay is likely to be interpreted by Bahrain's Western allies as a further indication that their efforts to steer Bahrain towards reform are not working. When Rajab received the sentence in August, the US State Department issued a statement saying:.
We are deeply concerned that a Bahraini court sentenced Nabeel Rajab to three years in prison on charges of leading “illegal gatherings.” We expect that the verdict and sentence will be reconsidered in the appeals process without delay. We urge the government of Bahrain to consider all available options to resolve this case.
The Bahrain government, unusually, issued a press release about today's adjournment, likely in an attempt to buffer international criticism. The statement reiterates their view that the protests Rajab called for, resulting in the 3-year sentence, resulted in "riots, roadblocks, fires, and destruction of public and private property".
The previous forecast of 185,000 refugees was passed in August.
The agency said about 294,000 refugees are now in four neighboring countries --- Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey --- or awaiting registration. UNHCR official Panos Moumtzis said, "This is a significant outflow taking place, 100,000 people in August, 60,000 in September and at the moment 2,000 or 3,000 per day or night."
About 5,000-6,000 Syrians have reached other parts of north Africa, mainly Egypt, while other refugees are turning up in southern Europe, including Cyprus and Greece, Moumtzis said.
A Lebanese government official, allied with a political bloc opposed to Hezbollah, claimed, "Hezbollah has been active in supporting the Syrian regime with their own militia. They’ve been quite involved in a combat role, quite involved in fighting."
No details supporting the claim were published beyond assertions of "quiet burials in Hezbollah-dominated areas of Lebanon, with the families of the 'martyrs' warned not to discuss the circumstances of their sons’ deaths", and of "young men loyal to Hezbollah...recruiting volunteers to fight in Syria".
A 16-year-old, Mohammed Habib al-Mnasif,was slain, while activist Khaled al-Labbad was shot and killed as the forces attempted to arrest him.
Al-Labbad was on a list of 23 people wanted by the regime for organisation of protests.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Mansour al-Turki claimed, "The security forces were trying to arrest a wanted man, but the armed group started shooting at the security forces. So they had to deal with the situation as required."
Activists told a different story, saying that al-Labbad was standing in front of his home with friends Wednesday afternoon when the security forces arrived and started shooting.
0715 GMT: Syria. While hundreds were dying in Syria on Wednesday, the near-dead end of the political process was confirmed thousands of miles away in New York.
Cairo's intiative for another meeting of the "contact group" --- Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran --- discussing a resolution of the crisis never got started, as the Turks were a no-show.
Egyptian spokesman Yasser Ali told reporters, "There was supposed to be (a) meeting this week, but due to the absence of the Turkish Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] it's now canceled."
The first high-level gathering of the group, held in Cairo two weeks ago, fizzled when the Saudis did not send any official, let alone its Foreign Minister.
0655 GMT: Syria. While the world was watching the double bombing near Army Staff Headquarters on Damascus on Wednesday, Syrians were enduring the bloodiest day in the 18-month conflict. The Local Coordination Committees reported that, beyond the official death toll of six in the Damascus explosions, 343 people lost their lives at the hands of security forces across the country.
The Committees claimed that 162 were slain in Damascus and its suburbs, including 107 in a "massacre" in Thiabieh, 48 in Deir Ezzor Province, 37 in Hama Province, 34 in Homs Province, 29 in Aleppo Province, and 27 in Daraa Province.