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Tuesday
Jan222013

Syria Live Coverage: "We Will Pursue Terrorist Groups Until Victory"

2206 GMT: Location of Airstrike. Felim McMahon, of Storyful, has placed the explosions and various camera angles of the videos from Aleppo University on a map. As you can see, the new "smoking gun" video is marked in blue:


View Double bombing at Aleppo University in a larger map

Felim is excellent at what he does, so the map is very likely accurate. But there's a way to check his accuracy. There is approximately a 600-700 millisecond delay between the flash of the explosion to the sound of the explosion. That means that the person walking is approximately 200 meters away when the explosion goes off - which matches Felim's map exactly.

There's another very important piece of information. The missile strike came from the south. We know the missile was behind the camera because we hear the missile before we hear the explosion. We also know that a jet fighter would have to line up on the road in order to strike this accurately.

This means that the jet fighter came from the direction of the major Assad military and airforce bases in the south.

Also, Felim says that there were 3 minutes between the 2 strikes. Again, this means that the pilot would have to fire the missile, circle around, and fire again.

2133 GMT: "Aircraft Delivered Munition". Several critics have questioned whether this could have been a surface-to-surface missile that hit Aleppo University. The problem is that none of this matches the evidence. Surface-fired weapons typically do not strike a target while under full power of an engine, and the audio suggests that this rocket was under power. The angle, explosion, sound, and damage are more consistent with an aircraft-launched weapon, not a surface to surface weapon. This weapon, according to our own analysis and the opinion of experts we've consulted, is a super-sonic aircraft fired munition - an air to ground missile.

In addition, we've just applied additional analysis to a sound that can be heard at approximately 40 seconds into the video. The low rumble is a different frequency than the explosion, the wind, or any other sound on the video. It is very possible that this is the sound of the jet engine of the aircraft. On its own, this piece of evidence would be less conclusive than the rest that we have presented, however.

Then there is the eyewitness reporting which has been highly consistent. Since minutes after this strike, the narrative of many in Aleppo has been that this was the work of an aircraft. There was even some evidence that a jet contrail could be seen in the air immediately after the bombing. Again, on its own this is inconclusive.

We've also seen the opinion of aviation expert David Cenciotti, who argued last week that the smoke plume and impact looked decisively like that of an air-to-ground missile.

We're still compiling information.

2105 GMT: Aleppo University - the Smoking Gun. This video, uploaded yesterday, may be the conclusive proof that an air-to-ground missile was responsible for the bombing at Aleppo University, not a car bomb.

In the video, the smoke from the 1st explosion can be seen in the distance. As the cameraman moves closer, the roar of a missile can be heard, followed by an explosion.

We've been subjecting this video to extensive video and audio analysis for more than an hour, and we've shown our findings to a panel of arms experts. We are extremely convinced that the video and the audio have not been doctored, and both are clearly consistent with a missile strike, not a car bomb.

In comparing the audio of this video to another video of the 2nd explosion, we missed a key detail. Right before the 2nd explosion there is a quick "pre-rumble" that shares many of the qualities as the missile rumble before the explosion in the video posted above:

Hundreds of eyewitness accounts claimed that this was a missile strike, many of which were posted in a matter of minutes after the explosion. After considerable speculation, these two pieces of evidence are extremely compelling. Beyond a reasonable doubt, this second strike was the work of a missile. The logical conclusion is that the strike immediately before this was also an airstrike.

This raises another fascinating question - two missile strikes, this far apart, would require the jet to turn around and re-target the University. This means that this attack was deliberate.

1859 GMT: The Opposition Talks "Terrorism". Today there have been car bombings in central Hama province, where opposition forces are battling the Syrian military for control. Voice of America reports that at least 42 people have been killed:

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack targeted a building used by pro-government militiamen in the town of Salamiyah. It said civilians were among the dead.

Syrian state news agency SANA gave a death toll of 32 people and blamed the bombing on terrorists whom it says are behind a 22-month rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.

The LCC has released a blanket condemnation of not only the latest car bombings, but of all attacks that are indiscriminate, even car bombs that may target the regime:

For the second consecutive day, the city of Salamieh has been subjected to terrorist bombings that have resulted in dozens of casualties. The Local Coordination Committees in Syria (LCC) extends its heartfelt condolences to the families of the martyrs and wounded, and notes the regime's fingerprints in these explosions. The LCC unequivocally condemns these bombings, regardless of the perpetrators and where the crimes are committed, and we completely reject the practice of booby-trapping and detonating vehicles, which fails to differentiate between civilians and non-civilians.

The regime, first and foremost, is responsible for every drop of Syrian blood shed as long as it remains in power and continues to commit its crimes.

This statement serves several purposes. First, it holds the regime responsible for all of the blood shed, because as long as the regime continues its war against civilians then some in Syria will resort to "terrorism," according to this logic. Second, it places the lives of civilians ahead of the lives of legitimate military targets. This is a thinly veiled rebuke of the behavior of Jabhat al Nusra. It's also a political threat to anyone conducting these attacks. The LCC may be the most widely accepted activist organization on the ground in Syria.

1539 GMT: Fighting Continues in Darayya. Another day has passed, and the fighting in Darayya continues. Amid the destruction, tanks were once again reported inside the city limits. This video shows 2 T-72s, accompanied by a BMP, racing through the streets and firing at the building the houses the cameraman. The video is dated today, but shares similarities and appears to have been taken on the same street that we posted a video of yesterday:

Not all Syrian tanks are successful in their attacks, however. Yesterday we wrote about military analysts who questioned the tactical decisions being made by Assad's armored vehicles. Today, this video appears to show a T-72, destroyed in the streets:

1514 GMT: Kurds - A Struggle Within a Struggle. The International Crisis Group has released a report warning that Syrian Kurds are particularly vulnerable because they are torn in so many different directions. The PKK-loyal YPD is the most established political force, but it may not even have majority support of the Kurds in Syria. As a result, the splintered coalition of less established groups are stuck between the YPD, Syrian opposition groups that are supported by Turkey, and a rising tide of Jihadis.

Still, by creating a security and political vacuum in Kurdish areas, Syria’s conflict has prompted intensifying competition between these two main trends [YPD aligned Kurds and independent groups].

Kurdish factions compete not only with each other but also with non-Kurdish opposition groups, all of which vie for space as they struggle to accrue resources and expand their areas of influence. Many Kurds, especially but not only PYD supporters, are alienated by the predominantly Arab nationalist and Islamist narratives put forth by the non-Kurdish opposition, as well as by its perceived dependence on Turkey and Gulf-based conservative sponsors. As the conflict endures and threatens to turn into an all-out civil war, sectarian as well as ethnic tensions are building up; already, the country has witnessed clashes between PYD fighters and opposition armed groups (often referred to under the loose and rather deceptive denomination of the Free Syrian Army, FSA). So far these essentially have been turf battles, but they could escalate into a broader conflict over the Kurds’ future status.

The ICG has also released a set of recommendations for different factions of Kurds that would place them outside of the conflict between the rebels and the Assad regime. In general, the ICG's goals encourage Syrian Kurds to build ties with the Syrian populace without engaging in turf wars with Syria's own factions.

That's easier to say than it is to do, especially if more Kurdish towns are turned into battlegrounds like Ras al Ain.

1452 GMT: Death Toll Rises. According to the Local Coordination Committees 51 people have been killed so far today:

17 martyrs were reported in Daraa, 11 in Damascus and its Suburbs, 9 in Deir Ezzor, 5 in Hama, 4 in Homs, 4 in Idlib and 1 in Aleppo.

If these numbers hold, it will be a less deadly day than many that Syria has faced in the last week and a half. However, it's also worth noting that this number does not seem to include either rebels or Kurds killed in fighting in Ras al Ain, a situation that remains both concerning and confusing.

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.

1415 GMT: UN to Give Assad $519,627,047. The UN is acting to supply the Assad government with over $519.6 million in order to bolster its humanitarian mission:

In terms of the most urgent needs, the 2013 Response Plan considers the following four categories of the affected population, in order of severity:

  • People located in or near areas subject to armed activities.
  • Affected populations who have moved to other areas.
  • Host families and communities.
  • Poor people in urban and rural areas suffering from the multiple effects of the current events, including the impact of economic sanctions.

This Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan aims at supporting the Government of Syria’s efforts in providing humanitarian assistance to the affected populations. It will cover the period from 1 January 2013 until the end of June 2013. The financial requirements amount to $519,627,047.

Lori Lowenthal Marcus of Jewish Press offers this well-articulated objection:

Does it really make sense to transfer more than $519,000,000 worth of international aid to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, when nearly every major world leader has predicted the imminent dismemberment of the Assad regime, if not the man himself?

Assad’s own mother has fled the country, following his sister Bushra who moved to Dubai, according to news reports. They do not intend to return anytime soon, as Bushra has already enrolled her five children in a Dubai school. Bushra’s husband was killed in a bombing raid on July 18. Since the fighting began, more than 600,000 Syrians have fled the country, many of the wealthy emigrating to Dubai.

If your only point of reference is the January 19 UN document explaining the rationale for the transfer to Syria of more than $500,000,000, you would be hard pressed to understand exactly what is happening in that country that has caused the huge increase in need for humanitarian aid. The deaths of more than 60,000 in less than two years, which most people call the Syrian Civil War, are instead referred to in UN-speak as “the events in Syria since March, 2011,” or, sometimes, as “the current events.”

1402 GMT: Huge Spike in Refugees. Over 12,000 refugees have fled across the border into Jordan in the past 6 days alone, according to Jordanian officials.

Jordan says it is hosting more than 300,000 Syrian refugees, while the UN refugee agency says 176,000 of them are UNHCR-registered.

The United Nations has predicted that the number of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries will double to 1.1 million by June if the civil war in Syria does not end.

1348 GMT: Weather Update. Today's high in Damascus was 61°F, and tonight's lows will reach 39. The high in Killis, Turkey, will only reach 52, but the lows will be roughly the same as Damascus - another chilly evening in the Middle East, especially for those sleeping in refugee camps or those who have no electricity of heating fuel.

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

1224 GMT: Clashes between Opposition Fighters and Kurds. The death toll from days of clashes between insurgent troops and Kurdish forces is now at least 56, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,

On Tuesday, fighters of the Kurdish People's Defence Units continued to battle insurgent groups in the city of Ras al-Ain on the Turkish border.

1210 GMT: Evacuation. The first group of 50 Russian nationals being evacuated from Syria hsa crossed the Syrian-Lebanese border on three buses, escorted by Damascus-based Russian diplomats.

The group includes Russian women who married Syrians, as well as husbands and children who have Russian citizenship. The evacuees had resided in Damascus, Aleppo, Hamam and Homs.

A total of more than 80 people said they would like to return to Russia. More than 8000 Russians are registered at the Russian Consular Office as permanently or provisionally residing in Syria. According to the Russian diplomats, about 25,000 Russian women who had married Syrians have chosen to ignore registration at the Consulate.

0600 GMT: Banking Problems. The National points out the development of Syrian banks "risking robbery and theft" as they move deposits from branches in conflict areas to Damascus.

"Bank Al Sham moved its deposit base in Homs to Damascus," said Mr Jawish [an official a the Damascus Securities Exchange]. "But upon arrival they found a decent sum was missing. Unfortunately on the roads leading the capital there are checkpoints controlled by certain gangs, and you have to pay them off to make sure that the bulk of it actually makes it to Damascus." And Banque Bemo Saudi Fransi (BBSF) said that "in light of the current environment", it had transferred its assets to its headquarters in Damascus from the restive Deir Al Zor. Upon arrival, it appeared that 7.3 million Syrian pounds (Dh377,649) and US$182,198 (Dh669,167) were missing, the lender said.

0550 GMT: Blackout. Damascus and surrounding areas are still recovering from the largest power outage since the conflict began in March 2011.

Minister of Electricity Imad Khamis said power will be restored fully across the south by this morning. He blamed Sunday night's blackout on "an attack by armed terrorist groups on high tension power lines".

0540 GMT: Regime Proclaims Its Victory. The Minister of Defense, General Fahd Jassem al-Freij, has declared "that the Syrian Arab Army will continue pursuing the armed terrorist groups everywhere until we achieve victory and foil the conspiracy". 

The General, who is Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces, slapped at countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey with a reference to Palestine, "Had the capabilities utilized by the sides of aggression to bring Syria down been employed to liberate the occupied Arab territories, they would have been enough."

Meanwhile, insurgents continued to build their forces for a possible offensive near Idlib city, the regime continued its bombardment of insurgent-held Damascus suburbs, and a car bomb in Salamiyeh in Hama Province --- responsibility unclaimed and unknown --- killed an undetermined number of people.

The Local Coordination Committees reported that 110 people were slain on Monday, including 31 in Aleppo Province and 26 in Damascus and its suburbs.

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