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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Assad Remains Defiant

See also Syria Analysis: Assad Says "I Am Not Leaving"
Syria 1st-Hand: Two Survivors of the Insurgent Attack on a Military School
Syria Video: President Assad's Speech on Sunday
Sunday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Assad Addresses the Nation

2232 GMT: Syria. Brigadier General Salim Idris talks to Al Jazeera English, saying that his forces need more ammunition and weapons to fight Assad. Idris also says that special rebel units are working to protect and monitor chemical stockpiles.

2149 GMT: Bahrain British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt has criticised the Court of Cassation's decision to uphold the sentences against the 13 leading Bahrain activists and politicians. In a statement, Burt said:

At the time these individuals were sentenced, reports which were acknowledged by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry suggested that some had been abused in detention, denied access to legal counsel and were coerced into confessing.

I call on the government of Bahrain to meet all its human rights obligations and guarantee its citizens the fundamental liberties to which they are entitled.

I am deeply dismayed at the decision.

2006 GMT: Libya. In order to establish law and order and find a place for many former soldiers, over 6000 militiamen have been trained to be police, according to the new Interior Minister Ashour Shuail:

After Gaddafi's overthrow in 2011, transitional authorities set up a Supreme Security Committee (SSC) composed of militiamen who would try to curb others defying law enforcement in the belief it remained under the thumb of Gaddafi loyalists.

But the SSC, funded by the Interior Ministry, wound up better armed and powerful than the official police and a number of members have been accused of kidnappings and intimidation, complicating the lawlessness plaguing the oil-producing state.

In an interview with Reuters, Shuail said that close to 6,000 militiamen - roughly 10 percent of those in the SSC - had signed up to join the regular police since an admissions programme was launched at the end of last year.

1917 GMT: Syria. According to the LCC, 60 people have been killed so far today nationwide:

26 martyrs were reported in Aleppo; including 12 in Al-Mashhad neighbourhood, 23 martyrs in Damascus and its suburbs, 4 in Raqqa, 3 in Hama, 2 in Daraa, 1 in Deir Ezzor and 1 in Idlib.

In Aleppo, many of the dead were the result of a single rocket landing, according to the LCC. Most of today's the deaths in Damascus and Aleppo.

1651 GMT: Bahrain EA's John Horne reports:

Amnesty International has responded to the Court of Cassation's verdict today which rejected the appeal of the 13 opposition activists and political leaders. Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's Deputy Director at the MENA program said:

This unjust decision will confirm the view of many that the judiciary is more concerned about toeing the government's line than upholding the rule of law and the rights of all Bahraini.

In order to maintain any credibility at all the Bahraini authorities must release these 13 people who have been imprisoned simply for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

1611 GMT: Syria. Battle Watch - The AP reports that regime forces have "repulsed" a rebel attack on a police school in Aleppo:

SANA news agency said members of the "terrorist group" were killed and wounded in the late Sunday battle but did not specify the number. The government and the pro-regime media refer to rebels as terrorists.

The neighborhood where the building is located has been besieged for some time, and its unclear if the fighting is still ongoing.

Meanwhile, the rebels have repulsed several regime offensives. For weeks they have defended parts of the city of Darayya, arguably the most strategically-located suburb of Damascus, from regime advances. This video claims to show rebel fighters destroying an armored vehicle with an RPG:

Also, in fighting that has raged since last night, the FSA appears to have destroyed at least one armored vehicle, and possibly more, in their defense of Busr al Harir, in Daraa province (map).

Videos claiming to show burning armored vehicles last night:

An armored vehicle reportedly destroyed today:

Rebels try to salvage equipment and ammunition from destroyed Assad armor:

1536 GMT: Syria. The Yalla Souriya blog has posted two videos, including the one below, showing the historic Aleppo citadel and the area around it. Located at the center of the city (map), the citadel has been occupied by regime snipers, and as a result has been heavily damaged in fighting in the area since October. In fact, the area is so dangerous that it is rare to see residents of the city dare to get close enough to film it at all.

While the human toll of this conflict has already been tragic, and will likely get worse as time moves forward, the damage to Aleppo's historic sites reinforces the historic nature of the tragedy, and reminds residents and the world that even after the fighting is over, the damage can never be undone.

1527 GMT: Syria. The Syrian rebels continued their attacks against two key airbases today. The first, the Minakh military airport (also spelled Meng, Minnigh, or Menneg, here on a map). The video, posted by the LCC, reportedly shows a helicopter, heavily damaged, on the tarmac of the airbase:

The base has been besieged for over a week. We've posted videos of tanks, BMPs, snipers, mortars, and artillery pieces hammering the base. This video, taken yesterday, shows a howitzer reportedly targeting the base:

The second airbase that was under siege again today was south of Taftanaz, in Idlib province (map). The Guardian shares another video showing rebels firing on Meng airport. They also share this video, reportedly showing rebels hitting the Taftanaz airport:

The rebel fighters are now bringing unprecedented levels of firepower against installations like these. So why does it appear that rebel progress has slowed to a crawl?

The first reason is the false expectations of the media. In previous wars, professional armies have often taken a year to advance several hundred kilometers. The rebel advance has been sudden, especially when one considers the amount of firepower Assad is still dropping from the air. The second reason, however, is that the rebels are not choosing to press the attack against locations they know will eventually fall. If the rebels can surround a base and shell it for weeks with little to no counterattack by the regime, where is their motivation to risk defeat by attacking at a faster pace? History tells us that the rebel forces have advanced in fits and spurts, wearing down Assad's defenses before overrunning positions. This is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of military discipline, and as Assad has not launched effective counteroffensives in Idlib, Aleppo, or Deir Ez Zor, it is unlikely that what appears to be a pause will result in any shift in momentum. There is no pause in the fighting, only in the headlines.

However, there is another reason for the slower rebel advance. Rebel forces have had to take their time to conserve ammunition and not risk losing heavy equipment. Each base contains many supplies that help fuel the rebel advance, but rebel leaders have always been cautious to ensure that they do what they can to conserve. Free Syrian Army commander Salim Idris told Al Jazeera in a recent interview that military support could be used to increase the pace of the rebel advances:

The main reason behind our slow progress and the stalemate on the front line is the lack of ammunition. We badly need tactical weapons. We are dealing with a regime that bombs civilians and villages using warplanes, TNT barrels and medium-range Scud missiles.

The reality is that Idris is likely somewhat exaggerating to some extent in order to win international military support, a long standing request of the FSA. However, the reality is that the rebels cannot afford to waste resources or men by taking the fight directly to the regime.

The tactic of whittling away at Assad's defenses has been effective, if slow, but when these two airbases do fall to the rebels, this will free up a significant amount of rebel resources which can then be put into the fight in other areas.

1450 GMT: Syria. This video claims to show a fighter in Jabhat al Nusra arming a vehicle with explosives and conducting a suicide attack. We're not sure of the location, date, or the target of the attack, but the video is fairly compelling that this was a car bomb:

We haven't been able to independently verify the details claimed in this video as of yet.

1429 GMT: Syria. With an average daily death toll well above 100, it's possible that the Syrian people will get the closest thing to a respite that they've seen in recent memory. So far today the death toll is lower, now at 33, according to the Local Coordination Committees:

17 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs, 12 in Aleppo, 3 in Raqqa, and 1 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.

Looking at today's figures, however, the interesting trend is the amount of shelling reported in Damascus. The LCC reports that 30 rockets have hit the Sabena area in the last hour (map). The Al Asali district has also been heavily shelled (map), according to reports.

This video claims to show smoke from the impact of rockets in the Sabena district:

Claimed video of gunfire and smoke in Darayya, as rebel and regime forces clash (map):

These locations are all just kilometers from the center of Damascus. Because the city is surrounded by hills, many of the explosions can be seen and heard for miles around. There are hours where the sound of explosions is nearly constant, even on a slow day.

Contrast this with a recent report from Channel 4's Alex Thomson:

In Damascus, Homs, Hama and even parts of Aleppo, you could be forgiven for thinking the war isn’t happening.

Watching videos from Damascus, speaking with other reporters in the city, and reaching out to residents of the capital, we'd have to respectfully disagree.

1400 GMT: Syria. After months of speculation, some evidence has surfaced claiming to show Riad al Assad, one of the regime's highest-profile defectors, actually inside Syria. Video posted over the weekend claimed to show Riad al Assad touring the hard-hit rebel-held town of Jabal Zawiyah in Idlib province.

Riad al Assad made waves over the summer when he claimed that he and a large force of well-armed rebels would be leaving Turkey and attacking regime forces in northern Syria. Since then there has been little sign of either Riad or those forces he said would be joining the fray.

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

1238 GMT: Syria. A devastated neighbourhood in Homs:

1231 GMT: Iraq. Troops fired shots in the air and used batons to disperse mostly-Sunni protesters rallying in Mosul against the central Government on Monday, in the latest demonstrations over claimed discrimination and suppression of the religious minority.

In Anbar Province, were demonstrators have blocked a major highway to Syria for two weeks, at least 5,000 people marched.

The Governor of Nineveh province, which includes Mosul, said one demonstrator had been hit by a security forces vehicle and others had been wounded. Ghanim al-Abid, a protest organiser, said at least four people had been injured by security forces.

The march in Mosul:

1151 GMT: Kuwait. Opposition activist Ayyad al-Harbi has been handed a two-year jail term for allegedly insulting the Emir on Twitter, the second sentence in as many days.

On Sunday, the same court handed an identical sentence to Rashed al-Enezi. The two men are the first to be sentenced among dozens of Tweeters, activists and former opposition lawmakers who have been charged since the Government began a clampdown before elections on 1 December.

The court acquitted opposition activist Osama al-Munawer, a member of the abandoned 2012 Parliament, on charges of abusing the emir's authority and undermining his status. Al-Munawer was briefly arrested and interrogated after delivering a speech at a public rally on 13 October.

1144 GMT: Kuwait. Security forces have used stun grenades to disperse hundreds of opposition marchers, making several arrests.

Protests for reform have escalated since the autumn after the Emir changed electoral laws.

Witnesses said between 200 and 300 people had gathered in an affluent suburb of Kuwait City late Sunday when security forces ordered them to disperse because their rally was not licenced.

One witness said that when the men and women moved to the middle of the road and began chanting, security forces attacked them with smoke bombs and stun grenades. The officers chased the demonstrators into side streets and arrested about 20 people, including a former MP.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said several "instigators of unrest" had been arrested but that security forces had used only stun grenades.

1118 GMT: Israel. Three centrist and left-leaning parties have failed to form a united bloc for the 22 January election.

The centrist Hatenuah Party, led by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the centrist Yesh Atid Party, and the left-leaning Labour Party were trying to reach an accord.

Opinion polls predict that the right-wing Likud Party of Benjamin Netanyahu, running in partnership with the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu faction led by former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, will win later this month. Livni said a joint centre-left campaign would have attracted enough undecided voters to create a bloc of more than 40 seats in the 120-member Parliament, topping the 37 forecast for Likud-Yisrael Beitenu.

1115 GMT: Egypt. The Minister of Education has said that Bahais cannot enroll in public schools, as this violate the Constitution.

“The Constitution only recognizes the three Abrahamic religions,” Ibrahim Ghoneim said. “And as religion is a subject taught in schools, they do not meet the requirements for enrollment.”

In recent years, the Government has refused to issue Bahais with ID cards or birth certificates, because these indicate religious affiliation. Those documents are needed for transactions such as obtaining a driver’s license or opening a bank account. In 2008, an Egyptian court granted Bahais the right to obtain ID cards without mentioning their religion.

0915 GMT: Bahrain. The Kingdom's highest court has upheld lengthy sentences, imposed by a military tribunal in June 2011, against 13 prominent political prisoners.

"This verdict is final, there are no more appeals possible, it is the last stage of litigation," lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi said.

The men include Bahrain Center for Human Rights founder Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and Haq Party leader Hassan Mushaimaa, both serving life terms, and opposition leader Ebrahim Sharif, given a five-year sentence.

Seven other men were sentenced in absentia and are out of the country or in hiding.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights posts a lengthy summary of its complaint over the lack of due process and the failure of the judiciary to meet the demands of the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry.

0615 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees report that 101 people were killed on Sunday, including two children and 10 women. Of the deaths, 28 were in Damascus and its suburbs and 22 in Aleppo Province.

0555 GMT: Syria. We open Monday with an analysis of the President's speech in the Damascus Opera House yesterday, "Assad Says, 'I Am Not Leaving'":

Was there any achievement in the speech yesterday? Yes, in a perverse way. President Assad probably ended the mission of United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. Although there may be token efforts, Brahimi's hope for a meeting between the regime and the opposition is dead, without a significant shift in the military situation which forces one side to cry "Uncle!".

While we watch for tangible reactions, both political and military, to the speech, the rhetorical denunciations continue. The US has joined the immediate rejection of the speech by Syrian opposition groups, Turkey, and Britain. The State Department said Assad was "detached from reality", with US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, commenting on Twitter: 

Assad's speech today was delusional & utterly meaningless. The international community developed a framework for a political solution in #Syria. Assad continues to undermine it & the Syrian people.

The European Union was more diplomatic but just as clear in its statement: Assad had "to step aside and allow for a political transition".

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