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Syria Live Coverage: Deaths of the Past, Deaths of the Present

Claimed footage of a destroyed regime tank in the Damascus suburb of Darayya

See also Syria Exclusive: Proving the Assad Jet Fighter's Attack on Aleppo University
Israel (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Netanyahu Claims Narrow Victory
Tuesday's Syria Live Coverage: "We Will Pursue Terrorist Groups Until Victory"

1930 GMT: Jabhat Strikes Qusayr. a contact reports that, "Jabhat Al Nusra has just blown up the biggest military zone in Al Qasier-Homs using a truck loaded with 20 tones of explosives." Several other social media accounts also post similar news:

This video reportedly shows the smoke rising after the explosion:

1900 GMT: Time to Arm the Rebels? Robin Yassin-Kassab argues for Foreign Policy that "we can’t say that helping the Syrian rebels didn’t work, because it has never really been tried." Kassab argues that there is an arms disparity between the rebels and the regime, and no real concerted and organized efforts have ever been made to close that gap.

The inequality of military power does not restrain, but in fact encourages, the use of force by the Syrian regime. As the United States did in Iraq, or as Israel has done again and again in Gaza, stronger parties rely on overwhelming force when other solutions fail them. The weapons disparity is the only reason Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad continues to believe that he can win. He has lost vast tracts of the country, a large majority of the population despises him, the economy is crumbling -- but still he has planes, helicopters, tanks, and missiles, and his opponents do not.

In the light of the regime's extreme repression, the arming of the revolution was inevitable. Non-violent protest continues to be important in Syria, but it lost its centrality in the first months -- before the emergence of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) -- because peaceful demonstrations were consistently broken up by bullets and clubs and non-violent activists were tortured to death. The FSA did not create these conditions, but emerged in response to them. When soldiers are ordered to fire on their unarmed countrymen, some will inevitably defect. When people experience the destruction of their homes, the rape of their sisters, the torture of their children, some of them will inevitably take up arms. Once they have done so, they are hunted by the regime; they must either bring it down or die.

1842 GMT: UN Diplomatic Mission Continues. Both the United Nations and the Arab League has pledged their "total support" for the ongoing (and so far completely fruitless) diplomatic mission headed by Lakhdar Brahimi.

Brahimi, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and his Arab League counterpart Nabil al-Arabi spoke by telephone on Wednesday about the civil war, which the United Nations says has left more than 60,000 dead.

The three held "an in-depth discussion on the deteriorating crisis in Syria," said UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey.

"The two secretaries general expressed total support for the efforts of Mr. Brahimi in his exceptionally difficult task in helping to find a political solution to the crisis in Syria," the spokesperson added.

1835 GMT: Jabhat al Nusra Rising. Michael Weiss has posted an analysis in Now Lebanon, arguing that Jabhat al Nusra has grown swiftly and now threatens the entire Syrian uprising. His article is entitled "The civil war within the civil war."

Whereas six months ago, when the siege of Aleppo was in its infancy, Nusra was said to have had a mere 2-3,000 fighters under its command, today that number is closer to 10-15,000; still a minority within the insurgency, but with more than enough self-confidence to make up for the fact. Everywhere you travel in the north, the black flag is conspicuous.

“At some point these guys are going to impose strict Islamic laws and behave the way they did in Anbar,” Joel Rayburn, a US Army intelligence officer at National Defense University with extensive battlefield experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, told me. “Sharia courts, shooting women, you name it. There are already signs that Nusra is headed this way in the Jazira, in Deir Ezzor, for example.”

1750 GMT: Death Toll Rises. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 80 people have been killed so far today:

38 in Aleppo; 17 in Damascus and its suburbs; 10 in Daraa; 7 in Hama; 5 in Hasakeh; 2 in Lattakia; and 1 in Sweida.

See our note on the casualty figures published by the LCC.

In Aleppo, there has been heavy fighting in the Sheikh Sayed district (map). This video reportedly shows rebels readying for battle:

This video reportedly shows "Jihadis" lobbing homemade short-range rockets at enemy positions. It's unclear what the targets are:

In Damascus, there has been heavy fighting in the Meliheh and Aqrab districts in the southwest. This video reportedly shows a burning building, hit by "shelling" in Aqrab:

1556 GMT: Rebels Need to Protect Minorities. Human Rights Watch has published evidence that some of the Syrian rebels have damaged Shia prayer locations and looted other sites belonging to religious minorities:

In the Idlib village of Zarzour, researchers found evidence of deliberate damage to the local husseiniya, a Shia place of worship, caused by opposition fighters after they took control.

Its windows were broken, prayer stones littered on the floor, walls charred from flames, and what appeared to be the remnants of a burned prayer rug lay on the floor.

Footage posted on Internet site YouTube on December 12 showed rebels celebrating their victory in the town as the husseiniya burns in the background.

A fighter announces the "destruction of the dens of the Shias and the Rafida," a derogatory term used to refer to the minority sect, from which the Alawite religion of President Bashar Assad originates.

Residents said that the army had been using the husseiniya as a barracks. While troops withdrew after congregants complained, a sniper remained stationed on the roof and was there when opposition forces arrived.

Even though the area was used as a barracks, which HRW also condemns, the damage appears to be specifically retaliatory. The HRW report also mentions Christian churches that were damaged or looted.

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

1515 GMT: Palestinian Refugees. Palestinians who fled Syria's war to neighboring Lebanon are living up to 20 in a room with no water, fresh air or electricity, the head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees has said.

Filippo Grandi said donors needed to do more to help at least 20,000 Palestinians who have already come into Lebanon and more than 200 who join them every day.

Most of the Palestinians crossing Syria's southwestern boundary into Lebanon were living with friends and family in existing Palestinian camps set up to take in refugees after the creation of Israel in 1948, Grandi said.

The official had toured the Shatila Palestinian camp and found "the conditions were horrible" for new arrivals: "The main problem they have is accommodation. They rent small, cramped, very unsanitary premises without running water, without ventilation, without electricity."

Grandi continued, "Sometimes you see rooms in which 12, 15, 20 people live in really substandard conditions." He met one family living in a dark room with only one candle. "I couldn't see who I was speaking to."

Lebanon hosts more than 200,000 refugees from Syria but has not set up new camps to house them.

1220 GMT: Agriculture. In a marker of the conflict's devastation of Syrian argicultural output, the United Nations Food and Argiculture Organisation estimates wheat production fell from 4.5 tonnes to just 2 million tonnes last year, with a damaged infrastructure and fuel shortages hampering harvests.

1030 GMT: Refugees. Al Jazeera English reports on hardship in the Atma camp, inside Syria on the Turkish border, as refugees await entry into Turkey:

0940 GMT: Evacuation. Two flights carrying 77 Russian citizens who fled Syria, via Lebanon, have landed in Moscow.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov drew a line across the incident as the start of a mass withdrawal of Russian nationals: "There are plans, as there are for any country, but we’re not talking about any evacuation here --- the current assessment of the situation in Syria does not require it."

0700 GMT: Casualties. We begin with an analysis from James Miller of last week's double explosions that killed more than 80 students on 15 January, "Proving the Assad Jet Fighter's Attack on Aleppo University".

As for Tuesday, the Local Coordination Committees claim 164 people were killed, including 71 in Damascus and its suburbs and 32 in Daraa Province.

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