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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Aleppo Airport Is Briefly Closed

A clip from Salmabad in Bahrain --- a policeman tossing a tear gas grenade near a group of women

2050 GMT: Syria. There are various rumors that the Taftanaz military airport has been captured by rebel forces (map). We can't verify that the base has completely fallen, but many sources indicate that an intense campaign has been launched to capture the base.

A BMP firing into the airport:

A heavy gun mounted to a 4x4 truck firing on the airport:

A small convoy of heavy guns and equipment fire on the airport:

A tank, one of several we've seen reported in the area, reportedly deploys to attack Taftanaz airport:

Other videos claim to show tanks smoldering inside the base, hit by rebel ordinance.

To put things in context, this amount of firepower deployed by the rebels was unheard of just weeks ago. However, as Assad's airbases fall, and the rebels gain more anti-aircraft capability, and more and more aircraft are disabled by the rebels, heavy equipment like this can be deployed against Assad without fear of airstrikes. Furthermore, each base that falls frees up rebel fighters and heavy equipment to attack the next. Most bases that fall also provide the rebels with more guns, tanks, BMP armored vehicles, heavy machine guns, RPGs, artillery, ammunition, and other supplies, making each Assad defeat a double victory for the rebels.

2034 GMT: Syria. According to the LCC, 185 people have been killed nationwide so far today:

140 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs (including 74 in Mleiha, 32 in Mouadamiyah, 8 in Deir Asafeer and 4 in Hajar Aswad), 11 in Daraa, 10 in Idlib, 10 in Aleppo, 5 in Homs, 5 in Hama, 2 in Raqqa (one of them was martyred in Aleppo),1 in Swaida and 1 in Deir Ezzor.

1630 GMT: Bahrain. Claimed footage of a policeman suddenly pepper-spraying women in the face as officers walk through Sanabis on Tuesday.

1605 GMT: Egypt. Former Vice President Mahmoud Mekki has announced that the opposition National Salvation Front will participate in the next round of "national dialogue" on 9 January.

The series of meetings was launched by President Morsi last month amid the crisis over his decree seeking to expand his powers and then the referendum on the Constitution, but they were boycotted by most of the opposition.

Mekki confirmed that eight NSF members will take part next week.

The meeting is expected to discuss draft legislation on elections.

1558 GMT: Bahrain. A tear gas video with a difference in Nuwaidrat --- dropping the canister, officers succeed only in bringing tears and coughing to themselves.

1541 GMT: Syria. The United Nations, having conducted an "exhaustive" study of 7 different databases, now says that at least 59,648 people were killed in Syria between March 15, 2011, and Nov. 30, 2012, and 60,000 have been killed up to this point in the conflict.

The United Nations laid out the methodology for their findings:

The preliminary analysis, which took five months to complete, was conducted using a combined list of 147,349 reported killings, fully identified by the first and last name of the victim, as well as the date and location of the death. Any reported killing that did not include at least these four elements was excluded from the list, which was compiled using datasets from seven different sources, including the Government.*

Each reported death was compared to all the other reported deaths in order to identify duplicates. The analysis used manual classifications and a data mining technique called an ‘alternating decision tree' to identify the duplicate records. After duplicates were removed, the combined dataset was reduced to 59,648 unique records of conflict-related deaths as of 30 November 2012.

"Although this is the most detailed and wide-ranging analysis of casualty figures so far, this is by no means a definitive figure," the High Commissioner said. "We have not been able to verify the circumstances of each and every death, partly because of the nature of the conflict and partly because we have not been allowed inside Syria since the unrest began in March 2011. Once there is peace in Syria, further investigations will be necessary to discover precisely how many people have died, and in what circumstances, and who was responsible for all the crimes that have been committed. This analysis provides a very useful basis upon which future investigations can be built to enhance accountability and provide justice and reparations to victims' families."

"This massive loss of life could have been avoided if the Syrian government had chosen to take a different path than one of ruthless suppression of what were initially peaceful and legitimate protests by unarmed civilians," Pillay said. "As the situation has continued to degenerate, increasing numbers have also been killed by anti-government armed groups, and there has been a proliferation of serious crimes including war crimes, and -- most probably -- crimes against humanity, by both sides. Cities, towns and villages have been, and are continuing to be, devastated by aerial attacks, shelling, tank fire, bomb attacks and street-to-street fighting. In addition, the increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict, highlighted in the recent update by the independent international Commission of Inquiry on Syria, means a swift end to the conflict will be all the more difficult to accomplish."

This number is not surprising, but the fact that the UN is saying this number is surprising. The UN stopped citing a death toll nearly a year ago. Furthermore, the number is actually much higher than two activist databases, the VDC and Syria Tracker. The Syrian VDC tracks the names, dates, locations, and demographics of those killed in Syria. It is the most thorough, but also the most conservative, activist database. According to the VDC, which is updated daily, the current death toll stands at 39607.

Though it's the most detailed database, it's widely understood that this number is too conservative. Often, the names and circumstances of the victims are not fully known, and have not been confirmed by groups like the Local Coordination Committees. Another extensive database has a larger number. Syrian Tracker currently reports that "45,295 documented killings in Syria from Mar 18, 2011 to Dec 15, 2012."

If both these reports have a weakness, it's that the government likely collects information on the security forces killed, and other civilians killed in places under regime control. The UN says that it worked with the Syrian government's numbers as well, suggesting that this new report may be the most accurate.

However, even this number is likely incomplete. The UN report also does not list those injured or arrested - numbers that could each range in the tens of thousands.

1537 GMT: Syria. Freelance journalist James Foley was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen on 22 November in Idlib Province, it has emerged.

Foley, a US citizen, has written for Global Post in Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. He was held by forces of then-Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi for 44 days in spring 2011.

Richard Engel, the chief foreign affairs correspondent for America's NBC News, and three members of his team, went missing in the same region in December. They were freed after their captors ran into a checkpoint manned by the insurgent group Ahrar Al Sham. Two kidnappers were killed in the firefight, and the journalists were escorted by insurgents to the border with Turkey.

Journalist Austin Tice, who disappeared in August, is still missing.

1505 GMT: Syria. Another terrible crime in Syria. According to activists, a graphic and disturbing video reportedly shows Assad soldiers holding a group of prisoners in a ruined building. After some questioning of some of the prisoners, some of the men appear to appease the guards and are led out of the room. Two of the men are apparently more defiant, and are taunted, then stabbed, then hit with extremely large pieces of concrete or bricks. The men clearly suffer fatal wounds.

Reuters adds this detail:

At one point, one of the perpetrators says: "For God's eyes and your Lord, O Bashar," an Arabic incantation suggesting actions being carried out in the leader's name.

EA cannot independently verify this video.

1440 GMT: Syria. According to residents, a bomb fell on a line of people waiting for gas at a petrol station in Maliheh, in the East Ghouta suburbs of Damascus (map). The final death toll is unclear, and many were wounded, but some initial reports indicate that perhaps 30 people have been killed. Those numbers may be highly inaccurate, as the LCC says 70 people have died there. An incredibly graphic video shows some of the remains of the dead, and the mourning of some of the shell-shocked survivors.

According to the Local Coordination Committees, 151 have been killed so far today:

115 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs (70 of them in Meliha, 35 in Mouadhamiya, 8 in Deir Asafeer and 4 in Hajar Aswad), 5 martyrs in Homs, 6 martyrs in Idlib, 5 martyrs in Daraa, 5 martyrs in Aleppo, 1 martyr in Swaida, 1 martyr in Hama and 1 martyr in Deir Ezzor.

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.

James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started this morrning.

1105 GMT: Syria. Activists are reporting an insurgent attempt to capture Taftanaz Airport in Idlib Province.

1045 GMT: Bahrain. Policemen try to break down the steel door of a residence in AlDaih, repeatedly kicking it:

1025 GMT: Syria. An image of the destruction in the neighbourhood where the battle for Aleppo began last July:

1005 GMT: Bahrain. The regime's Bahrain News Agency welcomes the New Year, "Bahrain Proceeding Confidently on the Road to the Brightest Future in 2013":

Despite shortage of fiscal resources and unfavorable repercussions of unrest sown by a handful of bust outlaws, the Kingdom of Bahrain has been ranked amongst advanced nations of the world. The wheel of productivity goes on unfettered, as Bahraini citizens and expatriate residents carry on business as usual.

The Kingdom's impeccable human rights record and bright image remain intact and undistorted by any futile false allegations propagated by hostile megaphones at international functions. The rate of economic growth reached 3.1% in the third quarter of last year (2012) and is likely to reach 4% this year with an increase of 0.7% thanks to non-oil-related economic activities of added value which recorded a realistic growth rate of 5.9%.

0955 GMT: Egypt. Reem Abdellatif profiles disillusioned youth:

Many of Egypt's twentysomething generation, hungry for a just society and economic opportunities, say they see themselves as lost after last month's clashes over the nation's constitution.

Young Egyptians like artist Mahmoud Aly and student Mohamed Abdelhamid were shock troops of the revolution. They gathered in the streets in February 2011 and shouted for then-President Hosni Mubarak to go. They cheered in amazement when he did.

But they look around now and wonder who, if anyone, is guarding their interests following the battle between ruling Islamists and the liberal opposition.

Aly, whose ripped-up jeans are often marked with the paint he uses to draw political images across the sidewalks and public buildings in the coastal city of Alexandria, said the current government does not represent him or his friends and family. He lost faith after President Mohamed Morsi and his supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood pushed through an Islamist-drafted constitution in December, ignoring the objections of many Egyptians.

Abdelhamid, a university student in Cairo who marched for the opposition last month, believes that the new rulers will do little for people like him.

Despair like theirs could be dangerous for the Islamists, who risk alienating the larger population with heavy-handed measures, and also the opposition, which may be adept at protests but is unable to offer a compelling vision for governing or mobilizing grass-roots followers at the polls.

0735 GMT: Bahrain. Yesterday we posted claimed footage of police throwing a tear gas canister, which landed near a 4 year-old child, in Jirdab village. Another video, which appears to be just after that incident, shows a police officer throwing a large rock at a parked car.

Other video from Sefala village shows a policeman firing wildly, hitting a youth in the head.

0630 GMT: Syria. Amid fighting in the area and threats to civilian aircraft, Aleppo International Airport was briefly closed on Tuesday.

Syria's national airline had begun to cancel flights on Sunday. Yesterday an airport official said, "There have been continued attempts by opposition militants to target civilian aircraft, which could cause a humanitarian disaster." The Free Syrian Army issued a warning that it would strike the airport.

Four flights scheduled for today --- to and from Damascus and Moscow --- are shown on schedule at this point.

The Local Coordination Committees reports 136 people killed on Tuesday, including 44 in Hama Province and 42 in Damascus and its suburbs.

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