Free Syrian Army fighters in Aleppo, August 2012 (Photo: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)
See also EA Video Analysis: Syria --- The Real Meaning of the Damascus Bombs br>
Syria Analysis: Huge Stories, Small Headlines, and the Future of Insurgency br>
Thursday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Bloodiest Day in the Conflict?
2225 GMT: Bahrain. We close our coverage tonight with news 17 year old Ali Hussain Neama has been shot and killed by security forces in Sadad tonight. Details are still emerging.
Said Yousif Almuhafda, Head of Monitoring at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, tweeted the following picture of Ali:
Riot police attacking women who went to see the 17 yo boy who was just killed #Bahrain”— S.YousifAlmuhafda (@SAIDYOUSIF) September 28, 2012
The Ministry of Interior has confirmed the death in a tweet, referring to the incident that killed Ali as a "terrorist attack".
2054 GMT: Syria. According to the Local Coordination Committees, at least 160 people have been killed by the Assad regime so far today:
55 martyrs were reported in Aleppo; including 25 who were field executed in Rashedeen, 48 in Damascus and its Subrubs (including 10 martyrs who were field-executed in Barzeh, and 17 in Qudsaya), 20 in Deir Ezzor, 13 in Idlib, 10 in Daraa; including two people who were martyred in Damascus, 7 in Hama, 4 in Homs, 2 in Raqqa, and 1 in Lattakia.
2037 GMT: Syria. Al Jazeera reports on today's fighting, from the battle for Aleppo, so the bombing in Izaz that left a whole family dead, to insurgent forces on the advance in Deir Ez Zor province:
The report that Al Mayadin (map) was taken by the FSA is interesting for several reasons. While the FSA has made significant gains in Al Bukamal, to the south, in Deir Ez zor there have been recent setbacks, trigger primarily by lack of logistics (ammunition, heavier weapons, food, supplies, and proper coordination). The Guardian noted earlier that the FSA reportedly withdrew from at least two districts inside the city of Deir Ez Zor.
Did the FSA strategically withdraw to focus their fighting elsewhere? This question is made even more interesting by the unconfirmed and late-breaking rumor, posted by FSA-friendly Facebook pages, that FSA units in Deir Ez Zor destroyed two helicopters and a Mig fighter jet today.
1946 GMT: Syria. An insurgent sniper hits a Syrian Army soldier (watch the right center of the video):
1937 GMT: Syria. Protests across the country are far more muted than they once were - before the shells regularly fell on Syria's towns and cities. However, protesters in every corner of the country still gathered, braving the violence to show their opposition to the Assad government and its policies. We have gathered many of the videos in a separate video gallery which has recently been updated, but have posted one of the videos below.
Protesters in Manbej, rural Aleppo, form a Syrian flag, painted like the opposition flag with broken chains on the front:
1901 GMT: Syria. The battle for Aleppo:
Smoke rises near the citadel at the center of the city:
Smoke rises from Arkoub:
50 were reported in Aleppo, among them 25 field-executed in Rashedin; 43 in Damascus and its Suburbs, among them 10 field-executed in Barzeh and 17 in Qudsaya; 19 in Deir Ezzor; 11 in Idlib; 10 in Daraa, among them 2 martyred in Damascus; 6 in Hama; 3 in Homs; and 2 in Raqqa.
50 were reported in Aleppo, among them 25 field-executed in Rashedin; 24 in Damascus and its Suburbs, among them 10 field-executed in Barzeh and 5 in Qudsaya; 17 in Deir Ezzor; 11 in Idlib; 9 in Daraa, among them 2 martyred in Damascus; 6 in Hama; 3 in Homs; and 2 in Raqqa.
We're attempting to find more information on the "execution" of 25 in the Rashedin are of NEw Aleppo, but beyond the LCC report we have not found any additional details yet.
1658 GMT: Saudi Arabia. 15 people have been killed by security forces since November in Qatif, in eastern Saudi Arabia. Two people were killed on Wednesday alone, as police forces conducted a raid and opened fire:
"He and his companions opened fire on the security forces and, in dealing with the situation as it required, it resulted in the death of the wanted man ... and one of his companions, and the wounding of two others and the arrest of a third," Saudi Press Agency reported, citing the government security spokesman...
"The security forces will not hesitate to pursue wanted people and troublemakers on the ground and to arrest them," the security spokesman was quoted as saying by the press agency.
The problem? Local religious leaders and residents say that the government does not represent them, and the 15 people who have been killed were not "troublemakers," but were protesters and activists working to push the government towards democratic values.
Today, in response to the killings, several large crowds gathered to protest in Qatif:
1611 GMT: Yemen. Global Post reports about the humanitarian crisis growing in Yemen, where children are severely malnourished, the result of a "largely man-made crisis."
1558 GMT: Syria. Al Jazeera has a report from a commander in the al Tawheed (Unification) Brigade of the FSA which may paint a more accurate picture of the progress made by the FSA today:
"On the Salaheddin front (southwest), we took one of the regular army bases. At least 25 soldiers were killed in this attack," said Abu Furat, one of the leaders of the Al-Tawhid Brigade, the most important in the city.
The rebels unleashed an unprecedented barrage of mortar fire against troops in Aleppo after announcing on Thursday a "decisive" battle for Syria's second city.
As Al Jazeera's Omar Al Saleh reports, it is a fight that has united the opposition.
Now Lebanon, quoting activists who spoke to Al Jazeera Arabic, adds a claim that the FSA captured the Sheikh Maskhoun district of Aleppo.
These reports are more cautious than the claims we noted earlier (see update 1527), but all these reports are very hard to verify as the fighting is still ongoing.
1548 GMT: Syria. Every Friday is host to large protests, and today is no different. The teme, as agreed upon by some of the largest opposition organizations who allow Syrians to vote on Facebook: "Friday of the Unification of the Free Syrian Army Brigades." We've also posted these videos, and many more, in a separate video gallery which we will try to update as the day goes on.
The message this week from the people of Kafranbel, Idlib: "We assure the world that we who make the final sacrifice for life and freedom will never be beaten."
Ma'arrat al Nouman, Idlib Province:
An ambulance evacuated the wounded from a protest in Binnish, Idlib:
1534 GMT: Iraq. EA's John Horne reports:
Mohamed Musbah Al-Waili, the former governor of Basra, has been assassinated. He was killed instantly by unknown gunmen who opened fire in Jazaer last night. Inside Iraqi Politics cites a doctor saying that he "seven shots to the head and chest from a gun with a silencer."Al-Waili was a member of the Islamic Fadheelah (Virtue) Party, who earlier issued the following statement:
The Islamic Fadheelah Party urges the government to assume its responsibility and embark as soon as possible to an urgent and expanded investigation to speed up detection of the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
1527 GMT: Syria. News from the battle front in Aleppo - The Guardian has interviewed a spokesman for the Suqur al-Sham brigade of the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo. He claims that the FSA has made significant advances in the city, though the fighting is "very tough" and lack of ammunition is a major problem:
The [rebel] fighters were able to progress in al-Arqoub, Maysaloon, Abdulla al-Jaberi square, Hamdaniya and Jamiliya. All the fronts are fighting now in Aleppo. Fighting is getting very tough now...
The battle is still going on. We do not have the total figure for casualties, but I know that many tanks have been destroyed and many Syrian soldiers were killed, in addition to the destruction of many army sites.
We're skeptical that the FSA has made significant progress, but due to the fighting and related communications problems, it will be very hard to verify news of the battle, in the short term. We're also skeptical of the claim put forth by the Sugur al-Sham spokesman that all the FSA units in Aleppo have unified under a single banner. It's possible, and even very likely, that this sudden surge has been coordinated by multiple groups, but the FSA has shown no signs of centralized leadership - yet.
In other words, it's still too early to tell if this battle will mark a turning point, either on the battleground or in the ranks of the FSA.
48 were reported in Aleppo, among them 25 field-executed in Rashedin; 23 in Damascus and its Suburbs, among them 10 field-executed in Barzeh and 5 in Qudsaya; 9 in Idlib; 11 in Deir Ezzor; 9 in Daraa, among them 2 martyred in Damascus; 6 in Hama; 2 in Raqqa; and 2 in Homs.
Videos show smoke rising from the eastern suburbs of Damascus - suburbs like Harasta and the Ghouta region. But eastern Aleppo is really intense. This video, apparently taken from outside the city, shows smoke rising, and heavy gunfire, in the eastern districts of Syria's largest city:
1310 GMT: Syria. Sources suggest there is fighting today in Barzeh and Jobar, two northern districts of Damascus (map). Guardian has a report from a resident in the city that who reports that the area was raided by security forces.
This video reportedly shows Assad forces moving in force into the suburb of Qabun, just north of Jobar (map).
The catalyst to these raids may be a newly-optimistic opposition in the capital. Matthew Weaver talks to a resident of Damascus who says that Wednesday's insurgent bombing attacks against a major military installation, an attack that was followed by the capturing of the Army Headquarters near Barzeh, was a major morale boost for the opposition in Damascus:
1257 GMT: Syria. On the military front, we're carefully watching Aleppo for news of this "decisive battle" supposedly launched by the Free Syrian Army. However, news is very hard to come by. Cell phone reception is limited, data connections slow or down completely, there is often no electricity to many areas, the internet is a crawl when it works, and many phone lines have been cut.
As testament to this problem, The Guardian
has spoken carries a report from Reuters reporters who have spoken to some opposition activists in Beirut, Lebanon, who suggest that the FSA's progress in the city is slow and limited at best:
"We reached the middle of Suleiman al-Halibiya and liberated some neighbourhoods so I am still optimistic. But I'm worried about our organisation. We can't force the regime out. At best, I think we can advance some of our positions," one fighter said, requesting anonymity.
Other rebels told Reuters that one of the units fighting in the city had been surrounded. Another said some battalions were pulling out of the front line or had never joined the battle ...
Though the rebels claimed no major gains in Aleppo, government forces appeared to be coming under heavy attack in some quarters.
State television said "terrorist groups" were firing mortar rounds at an area in the southeast of the city, killing three people including two children, and wounding 10 others.
There are a few things to keep in mind. First, the FSA fighters have been highly constrained by logistics. The FSA has always complained about lack of weapons, but it is lack of ammunition that is the largest problem, and a key reason for recent retreats inside the city. This has, to our knowledge, not changed, and it's very unlikely that the FSA will be able to gain significant ground inside the city.
That said, the FSA still controls much of the city, and that in and of itself is a clear sign of the regime's weakness. In fact, little more than a week before the FSA's attack on Aleppo I gave a full analysis of the state of the insurgency. I argued that the FSA could threaten Assad positions in the city, and this alone would be a huge victory for the insurgents. In the scenario I painted then, Assad controlled the entire city, and its positions were under siege by the FSA. What we have is the opposite.
But all this fighting in the city has tied Assad's forces down. The most interesting news to come out of Aleppo is weeks came from the countryside. The FSA was on the advance outside Aleppo, southwest of the city, a move that could threaten Assad's supply lines, and the international airport. As long as Assad's tanks are busy fighting in places like the Arkoub district, where Assad's advance has taken weeks and is still incomplete, the door is open for some significant FSA advances outside the city.
Is this happening? Just because the door is open does not mean that the FSA will step through. Logistics are a major problem, but the lack of coordination is an even larger problem. The FSA showed glimmers of coordination earlier in the week. If that is a trend then the Assad regime is in real trouble. If not, then the FSA may never wrench the city of Aleppo out of regime hands.
1238 GMT: Syria. This week we noted considerable violence in Quneitra, the province in Syria that neighbors the Golan Heights. Today is Friday, the traditional day of protests, and the Local Coordination Committees have posted this video claiming to be a protest in the area:
Syria was once one of the heroes of the Palestinians, but that image has faded. In recent months there have been anti-Assad protests in the Golan Heights, and the Palestinian refugee camps in Damascus have revolted against the regime. Now, we're seeing new territories enter into the fray. The Palestinians in this area have typically been more focused on international politics and Israel than domestic issues. With the conflict escalating and conditions growing worse by the day, that has changed.
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us through the morning.
1150 GMT: Syria. A large anti-regime rally in Binnish in Idlib Province today:
The motion passed 41-3 with 3 abstentions. China, Cuba, and Russia were the lone No votes.
1010 GMT: Syria. Activist Baraa al-Halabi has reported battles in the predominantly Kurdish neighbourhood of Sheikh Maksoud of Aleppo, as the insurgent Tawhid Brigade claims on its Facebook page that its members have entered the area to fight pro-regime Kurdish gunmen.
State news agency SANA gives indirect support to the claims: "A unit of our armed forces, in cooperation with the nationals, on Friday confronted an armed terrorist group while trying to attack Sheikh Maqsoud district in Aleppo and inflicted heavy losses upon terrorists."
1000 GMT: Syria. There has been chatter all morning about regime incursions into Damascus suburbs. The Guardian cites an activist, "Ameer", who reports a "big explosion", blowing up a water tower, and a raid on his house in Barzeh:
About 70 of them were outside my window. I couldn’t go outside my house - they are all over the neighbourhood it is completely surrounded.
I’ve seen many raids of Barzeh but this is the first time they came with this number...and blow up buildings like this. Most of them are in uniform --- maybe Republican Guards.
Claimed footage of a regime tank in Barzeh:
0930 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage of insurgents, amid sounds of gunfire, in the al-Izaah neighbourhood of Aleppo today:
0910 GMT: Syria. Following the Free Syrian Army's declaration of a "decisive battle" for Aleppo, residents in the central districts of Sulimaniyeh and Sayyid Ali --- which have not been at the centre of previous fighting --- have reported serious clashes and heavy mortar fire.
"The sound from the fighting and the gunfire has been non-stop. Everyone is terrified. I have never heard anything like this before," said a 30-year-old resident of Sulimaniyeh.
An AFP correspondent at the scene counted about 16 mortar shots from 5:00 pm (1400 GMT) to 7:30 pm last night, with a shot about every 15 minutes in three army-controlled areas, including Sulimaniyeh and Sayyid Ali.
"This is the first time I have seen something like this in Sayyid Ali. Normally there are two or three mortars. But last night the intensity was unprecedented," another resident said. "One of the mortars hit a residential building and killed four people from the same family, including an old man and a young child. We tried to carry them away to bring them to the hospital but they were already dead. So we left to help the others."
The resident continued, "It was a horrible scene in the street. A whole crowd was trying to help. People brought cars to take the wounded to the hospital. There were children and whole families because it's a civilian area."
The AFP correspondent also reported clashes in Sakhur in the east, with periodic army shelling and machine gun fire.
0900 GMT: Libya. The New York Times reports that FBI agents have still not visited the scene near the US Consulate in Benghazi, attacked on 11 September, because of security fears. Instead, the agents are trying to put together the events, in which the US Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed, from their base in Tripoli more than 400 miles away.
People involved in the investigation say they are unwilling to risk bringing potential witnesses into the American Embassy in Tripoli. Instead, they have questioned some witnesses in cars outside the Embassy, which is operating under emergency staffing.
0635 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees report 133 people were killed by security forces on Thursday, including 35 in Damascus and its suburbs, 29 in Aleppo Province, and 20 in Idlib Province.
0525 GMT: Syria. Yesterday James Miller noted an announcement by Free Syrian Army commanders that they have launched a "decisive battle" to retake districts of Aleppo that have slipped from their grasp in the last several weeks of bitter fighting. The commanders say the goal is not to retake the whole city, but to retake portions of it to put the regime on its back foot. A commander declared, "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 (a military base) belonging to the Syrian army. We have Russian weapons used by the regime and we will use them against the Syrian army.
Miller puts some stock in the declaration, "Not since the initial battle for the city have FSA commanders made such statements."
I am sceptical. The full statement from the commander reads more as rallying PR, and Miller also points to another factor --- the internal battle for leadership within the FSA:
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.