People in the Sekkari section of Aleppo in Syria flee shelling on Wednesday
See also Yemen Feature: 29 Dead in 8 Days as US Drone Attacks Escalate br>
Syria 1st-Hand: The Making of an Insurgent --- The Story of Abboud Barri br>
Wednesday's Bahrain Live Coverage: Shutting Away Political Prisoners, Shutting Away the News br>
Wednesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Free Syrian Army Tries to Re-Structure and Assert Control
2055 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage of citizen journalist Mohamed Zakoor being struck and killed as he shot this video in Aleppo:
2005 GMT: Syria. A demonstration tonight near the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus:
1855 GMT: Syria. The fighting in Damascus does not appear to be confined to the Yarmouk refugee camps. This video, posted by the CFDPC reportedly shows smoke rising above both the Yarmouk camp and the nearby Tadamoun district:
However, more significantly the LCC has posted that there are clashes in the Qadam district, in Sheeba (southwest suburb), and even in Dweila, on the southwest corner of the capital (map). This suggests that the FSA actions in the city are very widespread.. To top that off, there are unverified videos claiming to show FSA "parading" through the capital:
Is this significant? It's likely more a sign to the regime that despite their best efforts, the FSA is still in Damascus, and while the insurgents are incapable of holding territory, they can move in and out when they please.
Add this to the report that checkpoints are going up all over Damascus (update 0955), and there is a contradiction - apparently, despite the checkpoints, the FSA is still making its presence felt today.
1824 GMT: Syria. Just after the massacre in Darayya on August 25th and August 26th, Addounyia TV, considered to be strong pro-regime, broadcast live from the scene, drawing criticism for "low-lights" that included interviewing a little girl, covered in her mother's blood, right after she was orphaned, and interviewing a severely wounded elderly woman as she lay in the street. Below is a small segment:
Now Lebanon reports that the elderly woman, Mrs. Wafaa Al-Halabi, has died of her wounds.
Syrian army mortar and artillery bombardment of an area of southern Damascus where Palestinian refugees live killed at least 20 people on Thursday, residents and local emergency workers said.
Yarmouk camp and the districts surrounding it have seen the most prolonged fighting in the capital since forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad launched a counter-offensive to push rebels out of the city two months ago.
Residents in the camp said that for the last two weeks Yarmouk had been closed off from neighbouring districts and that they had heard regular clashes. Since early on Thursday they reported heavy bombardment in the area.
The LCC reports that after the shelling there were clashes in the Palestinian refugee camp.
1616 GMT: Syria. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has joined France's President Hollande in calling for a no-fly zone in Syria, and he condemned Washington's "lacking of initiative," blaming it on the upcoming November election. Furthermore, Erdogan cited not only the refugee crisis, but also larger security concerns, as the reason to intervene.
"Well, the biggest danger, not only for Turkey but for the entire region and the world is ... the employment of weapons of mass destruction and chemical ones, of course. If a slightest suggestion of such an attempt should emerge, not only in Turkey, but the attitude of the entire globe is going to change forever."
Doubt has been raised, by myself and others, over whether such calls are political grandstanding more than substantiated moves towards international intervention. However, this is the hardest line that Turkey has taken yet, and could signal the beginning of a change in rhetoric from the west, or even from the Arab League.
1608 GMT: Bahrain. EA's Scott Lucas reports:
Another development over the claim by former correspondent Amber Lyon that CNN suppressed her April 2011 documentary on the uprising in the Kingdom --- Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian, who posted Lyon's assertions, has posted a lengthy response to CNN's defence (see 0550 GMT).
Greenwald challenges CNN's claim that, having shown the documentary once on US television, it never intended to broadcast it on CNN International: "Suspicion over CNNi's refusal to broadcast the documentary is not 'my speculation'. As documented in the article, CNN's own employees were, and to this day remain, mystified and angry about it."
Greenwald then goes much farther with our brief comment this morning, "It is notable that the statement makes no reference to any event after 18 April 2011":
That Lyon appeared multiple times on CNNi in April once she returned from Bahrain to report on the violence there does not negate the point of the article. That is the point of the article.
The article explicitly described how Lyon, upon her return from Bahrain, did not want to wait until the documentary aired to show the world the repression that she witnessed. She thus went on CNN multiple times to talk about what she saw.
It was then --- as a result of that initial spate of reporting from Lyon in April -- that the Bahrainis, who had extensive relationships with CNNi, began complaining vociferously about her and her reporting. It was then that CNNi stopped Lyon from reporting further on Bahrain, denied her requests to return there, and then refused to broadcast the documentary that put the regime in such a negative light.
1602 GMT: Bahrain EA's John Horne reports:
A group of fourteen NGOs have today written a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling on the United States "to oppose the Bahraini government’s nomination of Saeed Mohammed al-Faihani for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Advisory Committee".
Bahrain's plans to nominate government Al-Faihani at September's UNHCR elections emerged in June, a month after Bahrain received wide ranging criticism from countries and NGOs at the UNHCR Universal Periodic Review. Today's letter to Clinton argues that Al-Faihani's current role in the Ministry of Human Rights presents a conflict of interest and challenges requirements of independence, saying that this "severely undermine[s] his credibility as an expert, and make him a liability to the Advisory Committee and the Council".
The letter also points to AlFaihani's track record which indicates a lack of impartiality:
At every level, al-Faihani has supported government-led efforts to downplay and deny human rights violations. As Freedom House has observed, “His expertise is in presenting the Bahraini government in the ‘most positive light possible.’” During his service at the Bahraini Ministry for Social Development, al-Faihani told Human Rights First in May 2011 that no one in Bahrain was being tortured, that “everyone who’s been arrested has been shown an arrest warrant and proper documentation and that no one had been taken by masked men from their home.”
The letter concludes by noting Bahrain government's failure to respond to official UN requests for visits by different Special Rapportuers, and its repeated postponement of an officially requested visit by Juan Mendez, the UNHCR's Special Rapporteur on Torture.
"The latest death toll we have is 60 people, including 11 men, 18 women and 31 children, including three babies," Kurtbeyoglu [the governor of a nearby province in Turkey] told Reuters by telephone.
Turkish media said the reason the death toll was so high was because the women and children were in a locked compartment in the lower section of the vessel, although there was no official confirmation of this.
Governor Kurtbeyoglu also said 46 were recovered alive.
Most of those in the boat appear to be Palestinian refugees, but some of them were reportedly Syrian and Iraqi. The details, however, are still not clear.
1532 GMT: Syria. The Guardian has spoken with a resident of Darayya, the suburb of Damascus that bore the bront of a series of massacres last week, as the Free Syrian Army withdrew from the city and the regime and its sympathisers brutalized the populace in retaliation. According to Abdul Rahman Ahmed, the towns people are cleaning the streets of rubble, and the town has been more peaceful for 10 days, but the outskirts are being shelled today.
Ahmed also says that many there are blaming the Free Syrian Army for the level of death there, even though the regime is ultimately responsible:
There were disputes within the FSA and they were not working as one against the enemy. Some of the leaders did not estimate the scale of the [government's] attack and the big responsibility of such a battle – they pulled out instead of confronting.
The FSA could have mitigated the destruction of the district. There were tough battles on the outskirts. They could have prolonged these battles or pulled out their forces to another place. This reflected bad military expertise and weak armament. The FSA do not have enough weapons to face up the Syrian army.
Now, people of Darayya are directing a lot of blame on the FSA. You can even call it resentment. No district in Damascus has suffered like Darayya. More than 700 people were killed within five days. It gave people a very negative view of the FSA, though everybody knows that the regime had been planning the attack against the district for a long time. The geography of the district of interest to the regime as it is surrounded by many military bases.
1453 GMT: Syria. In the last week the Free Syrian Army delivered a knockout blow to a major air base in Idlib province, the Abu ad Duhur military airport. More footage of the fighting shows FSA anti-aircraft weapons, and a BMP armored vehicle, operating, we believe, either just inside or just outside of one of the main gates:
1432 GMT: Bahrain Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has followed yesterday's comments by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon raising serious concerns about the verdicts issued Tuesday against the leading political and human rights figures (see 0710 GMT entry). Pillay said today:
I had welcomed the Bahraini Government’s decision to transfer these cases to civilian courts, as military trials of civilians raise serious problems as far as the equitable, impartial and independent administration of justice is concerned.
But now, given the gravity of the charges, the scant evidence available beyond confessions, the serious allegations of torture and the irregularities in the trial processes, it is extremely disappointing that the convictions and sentences have been upheld in appeals proceedings that often took place behind closed doors.
None of the courts so far adequately addressed the defendants’ allegations that they were tortured in detention and forced to make confessions under duress.
1421 GMT: Bahrain. EA's John Horne reports:
Conflicting accounts of the conditions at Jaw Prison, where Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, is currnently serving a three-year sentence for organising and participating in protests.
Nabeel's wife Summaya yesterday spoke to opposition paper The Bahrain Mirror following a recent visit. By her account, on the day of his sentencing Nabeel "was transferred to a solitary cell" which was "full of filth" and even contained "a dead cat". Summaya also claimed that Nabeel has suffered mistreatment, kept in humiliating conditions, and his ongoing health problems are not being adequately supported. She noted too that Nabeel "is still secluded from the other political prisoners where he is in a cell with 3 to 4 criminal prisoners".
Rajab's reported conditions echo those being reported by families of political prisoners across Bahrain, both publicly and to EA. In July, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights issued a report on Jaw prison which concluded with a demand for "full compliance" with international law on the "standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners" as well as "regular and sudden inspection of prisons and places of detention" by international NGOs.
Today an inspection of Jaw Prison did take place. However it was by a delegation from the Human Rights Affairs Mistry, which is currently preparing for Bahrain's session at the UNCHR in a fortnight. The account of the visit, published by Bahrain State media, presents a rather rosy picture, particuarly concerning Nabeel Rajab, whose current conditions are likely to be a source of concern to many international delegations at Geneva:
The visit revealed that Nabeel Rajab was detained along with five other detainees in two rooms with two bathrooms, a living-room, a TV set, a refrigerator, a kitchen, a public phone and a place for practising sports activities.
The delegation expressed satisfaction at the "good treatment" enjoyed by Nabeel Rajab, according to his personal statement to its members.
1418 GMT: Egypt. An Egyptian court has found Qalyoubia Governorate Director of Security Farouk Lasheen and three other generals not guilty of killing protesters during the 2011 uprising. The court cited "insufficient material evidence" as the reason for the dismissal of charges.
The prosecution had alleged that the defendants had violently restricted protesters from reaching Cairo on 28 January 2011, resulting in the death of approximately 20 people and the injury of 40 others.
However, the court ruled that due to insufficient material evidence the defendants should be acquitted.
1400 GMT: Syria. Efforts to unify the Free Syrian Army under a new banner, The Syrian National Army, have been rejected by General Riad al-Assad, considered to be the head of the FSA living in Turkey. So far, it's not clear if this is a fight over nomenclature, or a more serious rift within the opposition's militant wing.
Still, when one of the biggest problems with the opposition is unity and organization, any disunity is a problem.
1342 GMT: Syria. The situation of Christians in Syria has been precarious at best. Wild accusations of abuses against Christians have then been denied by the Vatican, and while some Christians have been turning to the opposition as an answer to this crisis, most of the Christian leaders still back the regime.
But that support has been waning in recent weeks. The latest evidence came from a major figure speaking in anticipation of the Pope's visit to Lebanon next week. The Patriarch of the Maronite Christian church in Syria, Beshara al-Rahi, spoke to AFP on today, and presented a line that was very different from one we're used to hearing from the previous statements from the Christian Patriarchs.
"I tell Westerners who say that we Christians are with the Syrian regime that we are not with regimes, we are with the state. There is a big difference."
1245 GMT: Syria. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 67 people have already been killed by regime forces today:
41 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs (including 23, who were found in Zamalka, and 5 in Yarmouk Camp), 10 in Deir Ezzor, 8 in Daraa, 4 in Hama, 2 in Homs, 1 in Idlib, and 1 in Aleppo.
First, see our note on the casualty figures posted by the LCC.
The LCC has also posted a video of the aftermath of the shelling in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, where heavy fighting took place yesterday. More interesting is the report that there are now large protests in the camp:
The Coalition of Free Damascenes for Peaceful Change, a network of activists reporting in and around Damascus, have also posted the protest video, as well as the names of the 5 people killed earlier near these protests.
1230 GMT: Syria. CNN's Nick Patton Walsh presents a MUST-SEE video that fully illustrates the nature of the bloody street-to-street fighting which has resulted in a stalemate inside Aleppo, Syria's largest city and one of the oldest continually inhabited areas of the world.
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us through to the afternoon.
About 20 of the 102 immigrants on board are missing.
A statement on the Facebook page of the Aleppo Tawheed (Unification) Brigade says that Mohammad Sa'ab was put on trial for involvement in the killing of dozens of protesters in Sukkari district of Aleppo and that he confessed to the murder of a family, further killings, kidnapping, rape, financing of shabiha activities, and informing on activists.
A "court" ruled that Sa'ab should be executed and the sentence was reportedly carried out in front of a crowd of 2000 people in Sukkari on 5 September.
1120 GMT: Bahrain. A week after they permitted an opposition rally of tens of thousands of Bahrainis, authorities have banned tomorrow's march called by the Al Wefaq society:
blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center">
General Director of Capital Police: Alwefaq rally planned tomorrow in Manama isn't authorized. Participation is illegal. #Bahrain— Ministry of Interior (@moi_bahrain) September 6, 2012
Insistence to hold rallies in vital areas affects public interests and civil peace #Bahrain— Ministry of Interior (@moi_bahrain) September 6, 2012
Local activist Mohammed Abu Houran said hundreds of Syrian soldiers backed by 20 tanks attacked this morning and pushed out insurgents.
Abu Houran says about 2,000 refugees were in Tel Chehab, held by the opposition for months, when it was captured.
1110 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage of a Free Syrian Army checkpoint on the northern outskirts of Aleppo, on the main highway to Turkey:
Charged with participating in an illegal demonstration and disturbing the peace, Radhi was arrested on 16 May after criticising a proposed union of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in interviews with BBC Arabic Radio and the London-based exile television station, Lulu TV.
Reporters Without Borders claimed Radhi has been subjected repeatedly to physical and psychological pressure to force him to confess to the charges.
Annan added, "[Russian President Vladimir Putin sees Syria as part of his own backyard. Jihadists in Syria can wind up in Caucusus. Putin and [Chinese leader Hu] Jintao specifically cited Libya to him as why they stand against Syria."
Annan said pessimistically, "I'm convinced that Libya is not Syria. Libya imploded. Syria will explode, causing problems for everyone in the region.
"Around 2,000 soldiers are involved in the operation. Cobra helicopters ... are bombing targets on the Kato mountain," a security source said, referring to a location in southeastern Sirnak province bordering Iraq and Syria. Up to 10 F-16 fighter jets were sent from a nearby base in Diyarbakir to support the operation.
At least one soldier was killed and two wounded in the first clashes.
There were no reports that Turkish ground troops had crossed the border.
Bored government troops dressed in odd cocktails of army fatigues and civilian clothes - memorably, one solider in combat uniform and a black fedora worn at a jaunty tilt, with large, round film star-esque sunglasses shading his eyes - hardly bother to inspect anything.
They sit on plastic garden furniture next to rubble, wood and old tyres that have been thrown in the road to block traffic, make tea and ignore the passing vehicles. Occasionally these conscripts will stop passers-by for a glance at an ID card hoping to cadge a cigarette, some phone credit or a bottle of water.
Although slowing traffic to an unruly, bad-tempered crawl, especially on the highways into and out of the city, these checkpoints are not considered too bad.
Even the opposition sympathise with the soldiers given the chore of manning them. "They boil all day in the sun and at night they're afraid of getting attacked and their officers don't care if they live or die," said one activist who, despite his criticism of the armed forces, often carries snacks and drinks to give to the rank-and-file troops.
Rebel fighters also say they usually leave these checkpoints alone, sparing their efforts to attack those that are more strategically placed and zealous in their work.
0745 GMT: Syria. Jean Pierre Duthion, a consultant in Damascus, writes:
The blast occurred as hand grenades were being moved during inventory.
0710 GMT: Bahrain. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has criticised the maintenance of lengthy sentences on 13 leading activity, calling on the country's leaders to ensure the right to a fair trial.
"The secretary-general is concerned by the harsh sentences, including life imprisonment, upheld by a Bahrain appeals court," Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
Seven of the political prisoners are serving life terms. Seven others have been sentenced in absentia.
Nesirky said, "[The Secretary General] urges the Bahraini authorities to allow all defendants to exercise their right to appeal and to ensure that due process is observed.... [He] reiterates his appeal to the Bahraini authorities to ensure the application of international human rights norms, including the right to a fair trial, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly."
Ban also reasserted "that there needs to be an all-inclusive and meaningful national dialogue that addresses the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis," according to the spokesman.
0550 GMT: Bahrain. CNN has issued a six-point response to the claim --- highlighted on EA yesterday --- that it suppressed an award-winning documentary by Amber Lyon because of the concerns of the regime and its representatives, including US public-relations firm Qorvis.
The broadcaster maintains, "[The documentary] was never intended to air on CNN International....There is nothing unusual about this programming decision." It says Lyon's reporting was featured in April on CNN International, with 16 slots totalling 3 1/2 hours from 11 to 18 April. (One of those slots, an item in "Back Story", was featured on video on EA on Wednesday.)
After taking a swipe at Lyon, "Amber failed to follow CNN policy when traveling to and reporting from areas in turmoil", the station declares, "CNN International ran more than twenty stories in February 2011 that were critical of the situation in Bahrain".
It is notable, however, that the statement makes no reference to any event after 18 April 2011. Lyon's claim, made to Glenn Greenwald of the Washington Post, is that pressure on CNN from mid-April led to the sidelining of her work, including the documentary.
0540 GMT: Bahrain. Following Monday's meeting between King Hamad and US Ambassador Thomas Krajeski, Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa sat down with British Ambassador Iain Lindsay on Wednesday.
As with Monday's session, little emerged from the discussion beyond the rhetoric of pro-media regime, which portrayed the Prime Minister speaking of "the importance of maintaining security and stability by enforcing the law", even as reform is "going on steadily": "Democratic practice in Bahrain has to be protected from abuse and encroachment on other people's liberties to ensure transparency, preservation of reforms, promotion of achievements and respect for human rights."
0520 GMT: Syria. At certain points during the 18 months of the Syrian crisis, we have taken note of a shift in the conflict by declaring a "new normal". One of those "new normals" came last year with the transition from peaceful protests, challenged by the regime's forces, to a daily ritual of violence and scores of deaths. Another was in early 2012 with the siege of cities such as Homs.
Today the "new normal" is the death from shelling, whether fired from the ground or from warplanes and helicopters in the sky. While this shelling has been long-established, the casualty levels are now beyond any seen since March 2011. A pattern last month of 100-150 deaths of civilians per day at the hands of security forces has given way to more than 200 this week.
Yesterday the Local Coordination Committees reported the slaying of 272 people, with more than 100 killed by aerial shelling. There were 115 deaths in Aleppo Province, most in the pounding of Aleppo city, 67 in Damascus and its suburbs, and 40 in Deir Ez Zor Province.
EA's James Miller assessed last night:
What is really driving this number up are two factors much closer to home. First, the Syrian Army has still not recaptured Aleppo, is still facing firefights in Damascus, and is still losing battles in Idlib, Deir Ez Zor, and now Lattakia. This is likely driving President Assad to increase his reliance on air power. Despite a few jets that have been shot down, the majority of his fighters carry out their bombing missions with no direct threat, making their success rate much higher than that of the Syrian ground forces who continue to suffer defeats.
Secondly, Assad's air bases have come under attack. As we've noted today and in the past few weeks, the Free Syrian Amry has launched strikes on air bases in both Damascus and Aleppo, and has devastated several key air bases in Idlib Province and now near Al Bukamal in Deir Ez Zor. If Assad cannot use air strikes now to stop the advance of the insurgents, there is a possibility that his air forces may be destroyed while they are still on the ground.