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Syria Live Coverage: Deadly Bombardment of Damascus Suburbs Continues

Aftermath of today's explosions at Aleppo University

See also today's Mali (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Insurgents Counter-Attack, Move Closer to Capital

2210 GMT: Cluster Bombs Dropped on Talbiseh. Beautiful fireworks in the sky? No. As hypnotizing as this light show may be, those are incendiary submunitions from a RBK ZAB clusterbomb falling on the village of Talbiseh below. A local Youtube channel for Talbiseh shows many reported injuries being treated at a field hospital, reportedly the result of cluster bombs.

Meanwhile, in Houla, another video claims to show damage to the roof of a home, clearly the result of a shell or bomb, and another video claims to show tanks in the area.

2145 GMT: More Activists Carry Story of Beheadings. Despite our assessment that we have not seen any evidence of "beheadings" or "bodies hanging from trees" in Homs, another Facebook page publishes an account of the massacres that includes these disturbing details:

9 whole families were slaughtered by regime forces, who broke into #Haswiyah village, which hosts many displaced families from other areas in #Homs, and opened fire indiscriminately.

They raided many houses in the village and killed everyone in them with knives, and then they burned the houses and the corpses.

After the massacre in #Haswiyah, the pro-regime Media entered the village to set the scene as

"Armed Gangs" have perpetrated the massacre!!

#Haswiyeh massacre martyrs

1-Ahmed Asa'ad Shehab (activist)

2-Adnan Farhan Alathara (defector)

3-Adnan Shihab

4-20-Khazam family (17 martyrs)

21-27-Sahow family 7 martyrs (Hussein, his wife, &kids)

28-31-Samir Za'rour family (Abu Turki) 4 martyrs

32-40-Galol family (Abu Ali) 9 martyrs

41-45-Galol family (Abu Riad) 5 members.

46-49-Sheikha family (Abu Hamza) 4 members and the daughter of Abu Hamza Sheikha &her children.

Note:: According to eyewitnesses, the activist and the defector martyrs were beheaded and their bodies were attached on trees!!

We will continue to look for more evidence that might corroborate these claims.

2125 GMT: Another Massacre Reported in Houla. Multiple eyewitness reports have emerged detailing a massacre in Houla, a collection of villages in the rural areas west of Homs. The following is one claimed report, posted by activists:

A massacre was committed in Homs today. Residents in Al Houla woke up to find bodies piled on the ground and many others hung from trees. Men, women and children were stabbed, shot, beheaded, burned and mutilated. Among the piles of butchered bodies, a few were left for dead, still alive or dying among the butchered corpses. Among those who were killed: Local safety coordinators, defected soldiers, photographers, an extended family of 17 people and a whole family of seven, including children. The total number of casualties is still unknown.

Another report, however, is far less dramatic but no less tragic:

Report about the massacre committed by the regime's forces in Al Houleh city in Homs's suburbs - 15/1/2013

13 martyrs fell at least, amongst them 8 children due to bombardment

The regime's forces have committed a massacre since they have been bombarding the city extensively since the early morning using mortars and artillery, targeting it indiscriminately from all sides and from the military bases stationed in Kherbet Al Soudeh area. The bombardment led to the martyrdom of 13 civilians, amongst them 8 children. Most of the martyrs are displaced civilians. Tens of other civilians got wounded, some of them severely wounded.

Homs itself was also heavily bombarded. Several sources suggest that the city was hit by some of the most intense bombing and artillery strikes in recent memory. One activist provides this narrative:

Also, that same account collected the following videos which apparently show thermite cluster munitions (not white phosphorous) reportedly dropped today on Homs:

Each of these reports cannot be confirmed individually yet, but patterns are beginning to emerge. First, there is more video. One video shows dust-covered children crying as another young boy is evacuated on a stretcher. Another shows the body of a man reportedly killed in Houla. The video below reportedly shows two more dead, but the scene is confused and the explosions continue as the video ends:

A gruesome video reportedly shows the dead in the street. Another shows more traumatized children. A very little girl is treated for severe injuries in a field hospital. More injured civilians are brought in on stretchers. The limp and bloody bodies of lifeless children and adults. A truck is already filled with the bodies of the dead, mostly children, but more bodies arrive.

So far, there are no videos that conclusively show beheadings, executions, or mutilations. What seems to have happened in Homs, and the villages just west, was apparently nowhere near as dramatic as the claims of burning bodies hanging from trees. Instead, the evidence suggests that the children, along side their families and their neighbors, died a more routine death - the result of falling bombs and artillery shells.

Because in Syria, under Bashar al Assad, horror of this kind is routine.

2028 GMT: War Crime Documented. We posted a link to this video yesterday (along with several other "leaked" videos showing possible war crimes), but ANA has provided English translations. This video is extremely hard to watch, has strong language and partial nudity. Make sure English translations (available by hitting the CC button on the player) are enabled:

2016 GMT: Video of Jet Trails Above Aleppo. Activist Rami al Jarrah posts a new video claiming to show jet vapor trails above Aleppo University right after the explosions rocked the campus:

24 seconds into the second video, this picture shows the reported jet trail:

Is this the "smoking gun" that proves these explosions were really bombs dropped by the regime? We've put this question to a panel of arms experts, and will report on their findings.

1928 GMT: Death Toll Skyrockets. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 218 people have been killed so far today:

96 martyrs were reported in Aleppo, 62 in Homs most of them in Houla and Bahsarieh , 23 in Damascus and its Suburbs , 16 in Hama ,12 in Daraa, 5 in Idlib, 2 in Deir Ezzor, and 2 in Raqqa.

LCC summarizes the situation in Aleppo:

Today, Aleppo lost 95 civilians, raising the city's total toll to 5193. Today’s massacre brought back to memory the pioneer student demonstrations that started in the "University of Revolution". The majority of today's martyrs come from this university, where the first students movement in Syria took place, they were all student sitting for their first day of final exams. In Aleppo, 463 young boys and 216 young girls have been killed since the beginning of the revolution.

This video is important. It claims to show "The Moment the University of Aleppo was Shelled by Warplanes." Smoke rises in the background, then there is another large explosion, followed by more smoke and more screams. However, it does not appear to show any aircraft:

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.

1911 GMT: Rebels Capture More Territory. According to the LCC, this video shows about half a dozen regime soldiers captured when rebel forces overran the town of Ma'adan, just 50 kilometers east of Al Raqqah (map):

The rebels have been pushing south towards Al Raqqag from the border with Turkey for months, but those forces are now being joined by forces coming from Deir Ez Zor (and possibly Iraq). Assad forces here, away from the bulk of the Syrian military, is slowly giving way in the region. However, it's important to ask who these fighters are. If they are coming from Deir Ez Zor, they are likely Jabhat al Nusra or one of its affiliates.

James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks for Scott Lucas for providing coverage today.

1833 GMT: Casualties. The Local Coordination Committees reports 181 people killed today, including 69 in Aleppo Province, with many of them slain by the explosions at Aleppo University.

There are also 61 dead in Homs Province, most of them killed in Houla and Bahsarieh.

Fifteen children and 10 women are among the casualties.

1823 GMT: Casualties. At least 20 people were killed and 99 injured when warplanes bombed a market in Azaz on Sunday, Médecins Sans Frontières has said.

The organisation adds, "[The attack] followed earlier airstrikes that hit health facilities in the city, making it almost impossible for local medical staff to cope with the scale of the latest emergency. The injured were transported to medical facilities elsewhere in the region, including to an MSF field hospital in the Aleppo area."

Twenty of the wounded, all civilians, were treated in an MSF medical facility.

1816 GMT: Aleppo Blast. State news agency SANA maintains that a "terrorist group...fired two rocket shells...on Aleppo University, causing casualties and material damage", as students attended the first day of examinations.

An "official source" did not give an exact figure of casualties but said the dead included students and internally-displaced refugees who were staying at a University dormitory.

1704 GMT: Aleppo Blast. A student at Aleppo University posts on Twitter:"

A plane hit with two shells. We saw the plane with our own eyes. I am not going to doubt my eyes and believe regime media.

When the plane roamed above the university following the shelling, the university guards and soldiers told us, "Hide, the plane is back!"

Claimed footage of the second explosion:

1554 GMT: Aleppo Blast. Back briefly from a teaching break to find the latest news on the blasts at Aleppo University, with reports of scores dead and wounded.

The Guardian's Martin Chulov, who is in Aleppo, explains:

We heard the explosion this morning and it did sound like a very substantial explosion … The rebel groups in Aleppo are adamant that they are not involved in what took place. The city on the opposition side is run by the Islamist militias, the Wahhab Tawhid and the Ahrar al-Sham, both of whom are not active in the far west of city, where the explosion did take place. The university is in regime-held territory; bear in mind that the city is divided roughly into west, held by the regime, and east, held by the opposition.

That leaves a third option, that being the jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra, who have conducted explosions against primarily security targets on the western side of the city. They have been saying in recent days they are anxious to avoid any civilian casualties or any civilian targets, but there has been nothing from this afternoon in terms of any claim of responsibility, or indeed a denial.

Chulov continues on the question of the regime's possible responsiblity for the attack:

Certainly activists and anti-regime figures on the eastern side of the city are pointing their fingers that way. They are saying there are efforts to incite the west of the city against the opposition movement, which has consolidated some gains in recent months. It has been able to inch forward in the city itself, and in the country it has done better than that: it has taken airbases and it has established more than a foothold.

But the west of the city is a different matter. It remains in regime hands. Today was the first day of exams for university students. Opposition activists and indeed people on the eastern side of the city, where I am, are saying that there perhaps was an interest in the regime intimidating or terrorising its own. But certainly we’re nowhere close to confirming that; it’s just a theory being put forward by those who don’t like the regime.

1351 GMT: Aleppo Blast. State TV claims an explosion has struck the main university in Aleppo, in north-west Syria, causing casualties, Syria's state-run TV has said.

The Local Coordination Committees said 10 people were killed and dozens were wounded at the university. The group also reported shelling by tanks around the Grand Mosque in Aleppo, and warplanes targetting the nearby village of Katima.

1345 GMT: Refugees. Loveday Morris of The Independent of London reports from a refugee camp in Lebanon:

The tattered rug of the floor of Radwan Salim’s tent is still damp after icy water swept through his tent last week. He sought refuge under a shop veranda with his wife and the 16 other members of his extended family living in the plastic-covered construction that he now reluctantly calls home.

“The rats came here try to get out of the rain, it’s only fit for rats,” says the 46-year-old, who fled from the Syrian city of Hama three months ago.

This bleak camp in Minieh, just north of Lebanon’s second city of Tripoli, is home to around 150 people. Not far from the motorway, the ramshackle enclave of tents is just one of numerous makeshift encampments that have sprung up as the country struggles to host the influx of refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war. The ground has turned to mud and the air is filled with acrid smoke as families burn anything they can find to stay warm.

1215 GMT: Casulaties. The Local Coordination Committees claim 50 people have been killed today, including seven children, and six women.

Of the deaths, 17 are in Homs Province --- most in Houla --- and 17 in Aleppo Province.

1150 GMT: War Crimes Allegations. Back from an academic break to find the formal letter from 57 countries to the President of the Security Council calling for a referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court.

The letter, submitted by the Swiss Mission, declares, "We are firmly of the view that the Security Council must ensure accountability for the crimes that seem to have been and continue to be committed in the Syrian Arab Republic and send a clear signal to the Syrian authorities."

0550 GMT: Shelling and Casualties. A deadly pattern continued on Monday. Regime forces continued to bombard insurgent-held Damascus suburbs --- possibly to soften them up for a ground assault to take over the area, possibly because Assad's military is unable to do so. 

In the deadliest incident, tens of people were slain in the southwestern suburb of Moadimiyeh, including eight children and five women. The town is next to Darayya, which the regime has been attacking for weeks in an attempt to reclaim it.

The Local Coordination Committees claimed 151 people were killed yesterday, including 21 children and 12 women: Almost half the deaths were in Damascus and suburbs, with 30 in Moadamiyah; 31 people were killed in Aleppo Province.

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