Claimed image of destruction in Azaz after Sunday's regime bombardment (see 0735 GMT)
2152 GMT: Intense Fighting . The town of Busr al Harir, in Daraa province (map), has been the site of heavy fighting for over a month, but this is a claim, made by the LCC, that we've never read before:
Fierce clashes between the Free Syrian Army and regime army are reported as the Free Syrian Army fights back regime army's attempts to deploy paratroopers by helicopter gunships. The Free Syria Army successfully captured a number of soldiers and pro-regime thugs (shabiha) including an officer who were trying to storm the town.
We are not aware that paratroopers have been deployed before in this conflict. This could indicate that the roads in and out of the town are too unsafe, as roadside IED attacks and ambushes have proven costly to the Assad regime in this region in the past. This could also indicate that the Assad military was hoping to catch the rebels off-guard. If the report is to be believed, the tactic did not work.
This is not the first change in tactics reported today:
Arms experts we've consulted say that this is a Navy Mi-14, a weapon designed for anti-submarine operations. To be clear, the mountains of Jabal Zawiyah are approximately 60 miles from the ocean. Experts and analysts suggest that this is a clear sign that Assad is running out of helicopters and is having to find new uses for equipment and soldiers that have not entered combat yet.
2125 GMT: More War Crimes Allegedly Documented. A blogger posts and translates a disturbing video. A man is dragged through the streets and beaten by men in uniform while he pleads for his life. The uniformed med, whom activists claim are Assad soldiers, only taunt him and drag him across the pavement until his clothes are almost entirely ripped off:
The man begs for them men to let him live, he knows all too well, as do most Syrians, that few people survive ad-hoc (and even ‘forma’) abductions and beatings like this. He tells them that he has children and a wife, to which they tell him over and over again “We’ll let you see your children if you let us f*** your wife?” … “How about that? will you let us f*** your wife?”.
At several points in the video, faces of some of the abductors are visible, however, there is no way to tell for sure who the perpetrators are. It's also unclear when or where the video was taken. The Youtube channel that posted the original video has posted several other videos that have reportedly been "leaked" by Assad fighters. In one video a young man wearing nothing but underwear is beaten, whipped, and derided by men who say slogans in support of Bashar al Assad. The victim's face is clearly visible. Another shows a group of men with blindfolds or sacks over their heads pulled out of the back of a pickup truck and whipped. The faces of several of the perpetrators are clearly visible.
We cannot verify the information claimed in the videos.
Jumaa Farraj Jassem, a section chief in Syria's General Intelligence Directorate, announced his defection and described Assad's regime as "criminal."
Any defection from the intelligence branch is noteworthy, though it's unclear how important Jassem is to the Assad regime.
2013 GMT: Rocket-Fired Cluster Bombs. Earlier we noted a Human Rights Watch report that concludes the Assad regime has used surface-to-surface rockets to deliver cluster munitions (see update 1005). N.R. Jenzen-Jones has compiled some of the evidence that Sakr 122mm cargo rockets have been used by the Assad regime to drop cluster munitions in a most indiscriminate manner. Jenzen-Jones has also collected videos and pictures, along with an analysis of the Sakr 122mm rockets themselves:
These surface-to-surface multiple rocket launcher systems are not designed for precise fires, but instead target wide areas; this effect is, of course, even more pronounced when firing submunition-dispensing rockets from these systems. Despite multiple reports to the contrary, these munitions are not Iranian, but were produced in Egypt at the Sakr Factory for Development Industries, a subsidiary of the Egyptian Arab Organization for Industrialization (AOI).
[Major-General Dr. Mahmoud Khalaf] stressed that Egypt is committed to the international conventions and does not produce nor manufacture this kind of unlawful weapon.
"I'm really surprised about these accusations while Egypt has a declared stance to help the Syrian people and the Syrian revolution against the embattled President Bashar Al-Assad.
"Egypt openly hosts and supports the Syrians opposition, so how can it be accused of supporting this brutal regime? Egypt was the first nation that made initiatives to resolve the conflict. We would be contradicting ourselves."
The evidence of the Sakr 122mm rockets being used by Assad is fairly compelling. Of course, there is no evidence, yet, of when and how the Assad regime procured these weapons. Certainly there is no evidence that Egypt, which has been openly supportive of the opposition, has knowingly sold cluster munitions or any other armaments to the Assad regime since the start of the uprisings.
A horrific massacre was committed by the regime's forces in Mua'dameyat Al Sham after their warplanes launched airstrikes directly on residential houses using thermobaric bombs, leading to the complete destruction of one whole district and to the death of at least 20 civilians, among them 2 whole families; most of the victims are children and women. Tens of civilians got wounded as well and hospitals lack the most basic needs and the most basic medicines. Many of the injured civilians are severely wounded.
In the same report there are pictures and videos of the dead, some showing victims being pulled out of the rubble, others showing them being treated afterwards. Indeed, many of the dead are children. The CFDPC has posted the following list, which they say is incomplete.
- Child Muhammad Emad Al Dumrani / aged 6 months [WARNING - GRAPHIC VIDEO]
- female child Maryam Emad Al Dumrani / aged 6 months
- child Muhammad Zeyad Al Dumari / aged 9 months
- child Muhammad Eyad Al Dumari / aged 14 years
- child Ahmed Eyad Al Dumrani / aged 12 years
- child Mahmoud Eyad Al Dumari / aged 9 years
This video reportedly was taken seconds after the blast. One can hear a jet, and see what may be contrails of either a jet fighter or a missile:
To the northeast, in Al Qalamoun, a "liberated" town in an area largely free of Assad influence, more death and destruction. The CFDPC posts this report, along with pictures of the bodies:
Massacre in Hosh Arab village in Al Qalamoun in #Damascus's suburbs - 14/1/2013
The regime's forces renewed their bombarding, targeting the village indiscriminately. A shell fell on a house in the eastern side of the village, leading to the death of 4 civilians all from one family, including 2 children and a woman.
* Names of the victims:
- Mahmoud Muhammad Al Sayyed / aged 18
- Ghaith Muhammad Al Sayyed / aged 6 / brother of Mahmoud
- Salhah Al Sayyed / aged 40 / their aunt
- Omar Masoud Al Sayyed / aged 7 / their cousin
One town, Moudamyeh, is near the thick of the fighting to the west, but civilians pay the price. The other, Qalamoun (map), is an area where the fighting is not heavy, but the war still brings death to civilians.
1857 GMT: Death Toll Rises Further. Back from a break to find that the death toll has risen considerably. The LCC now reports that 140 people, including 17 children, have been killed today:
72 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs, including 30 in Mouadamyeh; 30 in Aleppo; 9 in Daraa: 8 in Hama; 8 in Homs; 6 in Deir Ezzor; 5 in Idlib and 2 in Raqqa.
Mouadamyeh is just northwest of Darayya (map), site of intense fighting over the last several months. Mouadamyah has been heavily bombed by Assad jet fighters today, as has Darayya where intense fighting between Free Syrian Army units and Assad soldiers continued yet again today.
60 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs, including 30 in Mouadamyeh; 20 in Aleppo; 8 in Hama; 8 in Daraa; 6 in Homs; 3 in Idlib; 3 in Deir Ezzor and 2 in Raqqa.
1636 GMT: Rebels Expand Fighting East of Damascus. Since late last week there have been reports of fighting near the "Motor Vehicles Department" in Harasta, an eastern suburb of Damascus. That building is on a civilian street, but it is also the gateway to several large military vehicle depots (here on the map). Today, the LCC reports that the area is being targeted by "shelling with missile launchers," the regime's response to more fighting in the area.
Other fighting is reported in other eastern suburbs, including nearby Irbin (map).
As one can see by the map of Damascus, compiled by the Institute for the Study of War, this base is on the edge of government-controlled and rebel-controlled areas, suggesting that the rebels are continuing to press the attack in the east of the capital.
1606 GMT: 9 Killed in Aleppo. Al Jazeera English has posted a video claiming to show the aftermath of an airstrike in the residential neighborhood of the al-Haidariya of Aleppo. 9 people, including 3 people, were reportedly killed, according to activists.
An hour ago, the Local Coordination Committees reported that 95 people have been killed so far nationwide:
55 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs, including 30 in Mouadamyeh; 16 in Aleppo; 6 in Homs; 6 in Daraa; 5 in Hama; 3 in Idlib; 2 in Deir Ezzor and 2 in Raqqa.
Looking at the latest updates, that number is already out of date.
The Local Coordination Committees (LCC) is an activist network operating both inside and outside of Syria. They claim to use stringent verification processes to ensure that a member of the LCC can vouch for any information posted either on their Facebook page or their website. The LCC also populates a database of those killed in the Syrian conflict, which can be seen at the website for the Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria.
The LCC's casualty figures are a mix of insurgents and civilians, and never include regime casualties. Syrian State Media has stopped reporting regime casualty figures.
1526 GMT: Negotiations with Iran? This update from BBC's Mehrzad Kohanrouz:
Assad's Prime Minister is traveling to Tehran? Last week, the Assad government conducted a prisoner exchange, which swapped more than 2000 political prisoners for 48 Iranian nationals (see a separate feature investigating who those Iranian prisoners really were). Many analysts suggested that this move was possibly triggered by Tehran applying pressure to Damascus. If that is true (it's just a guess) then such a move could have been a precursor to further talks with Iran.
But what are they talking about? Scott Lucas reports on our Iran live coverage:
Reports indicate al-Halki will meet President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, and 1st Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi. Topics include "establishment of peace in Syria, enhancement of economic and agricultural cooperation between Tehran and Damascus, [and] the latest regional developments".
1510 GMT: Weather Update. The weather is the backdrop to the Syrian crisis and our understanding of the suffering that is now firmly in place both inside Syria and in the refugee camps across the borders. The weather is still cold, dangerously so, but somewhat warmed, and much drier, than it was last week. Today, highs in Damascus reached 54, with lows staying just above freezing. North, in Idlib - and southern Turkey - the weather is a few degrees colder, meaning temperatures are just below freezing in several locations.
James Miller takes over today's live coverage while Scott Lucas is on the road.
A local activist said the dead were members of two families and included women and children. Video showed the limp body of a boy pulled out from broken concrete.
1005 GMT: Weapons. Human Rights has accused Syrian forces of using "notoriously indiscriminate rockets" --- namely BM-21 Grad multi-barrel rocket launchers --- to deliver cluster munitions in attacks near the city of Idlib in December 2012 and in Latamneh, a town northwest of Hama, on 3 January 2013.
HRW says the cluster munitions were made in Egypt. Its claims are based on interviews with witnesses, a dozen videos posted on-line by local activists, and photographs.
Human Rights Watch and other sources have previously reported use of air-dropped cluster bombs.
The attack on 3 January on Latamneh killed one civilian man and wounded 15 people, including women and children, while another man was later killed by an unexploded submunition. A Free Syrian Army fighter was killed on 5 December fter handling an unexploded submunition left from an attack two days earlier on the village of Banin in Jabal al-Zawiya.
0945 GMT: Refugees. A boy makes his way through muddy water at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan --- more than 600,000 Syrians are now in camps outside the country:
0735 GMT: Casualties. Amid regime bombardment of Damascus suburbs and towns near the Turkish border on Sunday, the Local Coordination Committees report 141 people killed, including 17 children and four women.
More than 50 deaths were in or near Damascus and its suburbs, and 34 were in Aleppo Province, with 20 in the border town of Azaz.
The LCC said shelling was recorded at 374 points, including 24 airstrikes, six uses of clusters bombs, two drops of explosives barrels, one thermobaric bomb, and one phosphorus bomb.
0705 GMT: Worries about Insurgency. We begin with an insight into thinking in Washington, via an assessment handed to the State Department by a faction of the Syrian opposition and summarised by David Ignatius of the Washington Post: "Growing chaos in the liberated areas of northern Syria is convincing some members of the Syrian opposition that the country will become a 'failed state' unless an orderly political transition begins soon to replace President Bashar al-Assad."
The US pursued the idea of “military councils” in Aleppo, Idlib Province, and insurgent-held other areas, but "Syrian sources say that the military councils have largely dissolved, partly because the United States and its allies never used them effectively to funnel aid to the rebels".
Those "Syrian sources" --- possibly connected to the US-based Syria Support Group whom Ignatius has repeatedly promoted in his columns and who recently took the journalist to northern Syria --- say that the problem is not so bad in Idlib Province. However, the report paints a bleak picture of Aleppo, Syria's largest city, divided and in stalemate since last summer:
There are hundreds of small groups (10-20 fighters) spread all over the area of Aleppo. The Free Syrian Army has [been] transformed into disorganized rebel groups, infiltrated by large numbers of criminals. All our efforts with MCs [military councils] were abolished....Warlords are a reality on the ground now....A [failed] state is the most likely outcome of the current condition, unless adjustment [is] done.
Rebel violations are becoming a normal daily phenomenon, especially against civilians, including looting public and private factories, storage places, houses and cars.
People are struggling to obtain basic life needs.....Poor people are cutting trees from public parks or using school desks.
The report worries about the “gaining popularity" of the Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra. Interestingly, however, that worry is not from disorder but Jabhat al-Nusa's attempt to establish order through rules such as: “No looting or violating civilian properties; shares gains among all participant battalions; does not care about claiming credit; if they gain essential materials (like propane gas tanks) they distribute them to the public for free.”
The assessment concludes that, if this trend continues, “the extremist groups will turn into the ‘saviour’ for Syrian people from the warlords.”