Islamist-led insurgents attack an Air Force building near the Taqaba Dam
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Egypt (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Protesters Block Key Building for 3rd Day br>
Monday's Syria Live Coverage: Fighting Escalates Near Damascus
2124 GMT: Foreign Weapons - Update. Last week we came to a provocative conclusion - there was sufficient evidence that a foreign power was arming the Syrian rebels, and those weapons were being deployed into the fight as part of a new, and far more effective, rebel strategy. We're still finding more evidence that this is true, and that the weapons are spreading, suggesting that a large amount of weapons have been smuggled into the country.
As we've also noted, those weapons were showing up in the hands of Free Syrian Army units, secular units with good reputations, and they had not been seen in the hands of Jihadists.
Until now. This was taken near Hamidiyah Military Base, southwest of Ma'arrat al Nouman (map), where rebels have been gathering to siege the power. The first, and most obvious, feature of the video is the impressive array of weaponry, from tanks to RPGs (including the RPG 29, a powerful anti-tank weapon) to 4x4s with machine guns. One of the shields on the 4x4s is painted in an Arabic prayer common to Jihadi elements. At least some of these soldiers appear to be Mujahadeen, Islamists, Jihadists, likely part of Jabhat al Nusra - not moderates. And among the weaponry, an M60 recoilless rifle is visible, part of the "foreign weapons" arsenal we've been pointing out.
Does this mean that someone is also arming these groups? That's a conclusion that would rely on too many assumptions. Mixed units are operating in this area, units comprised of Al Nusra, Free Syrian Army, al Farouq Brigade... many units with many different ideologies. It's possible that one of these units is mixed in with an Islamist brigade, thus explaining the weapon's presence. Also, the presence of a single weapon isn't conclusive evidence of any sort of pattern - we've seen dozens of foreign weapons in the hands of some of these Free Syrian Army groups, and weapons of different types within the same units, and we don't see that here.
But it is something to watch for. So far, this appears to be an isolated case, however.
2056 GMT: Heavy Equipment in Rebel Hands. A sharp-eyed reader, Alex1911, pointed out in the comments below that one of the heavy vehicles the rebels used in the attack against Assad positions near the airbase was not a tank at all, but was a 2S1 Gvozdika - a heavy self-propelled howitzer capable of firing at long range. What's interesting is that we're not sure we were aware of the rebels ever capturing one or using one before. One video suggests that they captured a damaged vehicle and may have repaired it.
Below is another example of the weapon firing today. If the rebels have this kind of firepower, and it cannot be held in check by Assad's airforce, it's not hard to see how this could be a gamechanger.
2033 GMT: Rebels Defy Assad Aircraft. What is remarkable about all these videos of recent rebel victories is that unlike previous offensives, the primary weapons are tanks, armored vehicles, 4x4 vehicles with equipped with various armaments, howitzers, and artillery pieces. While the rebels have been capturing these weapons all along, it has not been possible to bring them into the open and use them this heavily. Now, from Aleppo to Daraa, Damascus to Deir Ez Zor, this equipment is attacking Assad in the open.
This is a sign that not only are Assad's armoured vehicles thinning, but his air force is far less formidable than it once was. For straters, Assad's helicopter force has been decimated, and his fighter jets are too spread out as they are now the workhorses of the Assad military. Also, Assad's fighter jets fly higher than they did last fall - out of fear of the rebels - making it harder for them to effectively target rebels in the field.
This video is a perfect illustration. It shows fighters of the Taweed (Unification) Brigade, we believe near the Aleppo International Airport, manning both shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles (MANPADS) and a heavy anti-aircraft gun:
A MANPADS and ZU-23-2 stand waiting for Syrian air force aircraft youtube.com/watch?v=dA0JO_…— Brown Moses (@Brown_Moses) February 12, 2013
2006 GMT: Rebels Attack East of Homs. While the rebels have been unable to turn any areas of rural Hama and Homs into a stronghold, as they have in Idlib province, the rebels are still strong, are constantly on the move, and seem to be trying to soften Assad strongholds throughout the area. For instance, today rebels attacked Assad positions near the village of Izzedine (map), where the regime reportedly responded by launching airstrikes. In this video, one of several similar, rebels use a "rocket pod" to attack Assad positions. The launcher looks similar to ones documented by Brown Moses that fire French SNEB 68mm rockets, presumably coming from from Libya via Lebanon (read about that here).
41 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs, 27 martyrs in Aleppo, 14 martyrs in Homs, 10 martyrs in Deir Ezzor; 8 martyrs in Daraa, 8 in Daraa; 7 in Hama; and 1 martyr in each of Hassakeh, Raqqa and Idlib.
In Damascus, and Aleppo, it seems that airstrikes and artillery were once again hard at work, and the cause for many of the deaths. However, in Al Raqqah, where the rebels, led by Jabhat al Nusra, have advanced unchecked in recent weeks, another threat is reported. This from the LCC:
Raqqa: Al-Sahel: A long-range missile landed in the agricultural fields near the village, leading to significant damage to the homes there.
The regime's use of ballistic rockets is a sure sign that their airforce is stretched too thin, and cannot respond to all rebel activities. As a result, the far-less effective rockets are used, just to send the message that even away from the warplanes and soldiers, the regime can still strike.
31 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs, 22 martyrs in Aleppo, 14 martyrs in Homs, 8 martyrs in Daraa, 4 martyrs in Deir Ezzor and 2martyr in Hama.
1726 GMT: Lebanon Exporting Oil to Syria. According to the Daily Star, 1,000 tons of fuel crosses from Lebanon to Syria each day, a clear violation of European and American sanctions. However, as Ya Libnan reports, this is causing other problems:
Several fully loaded Syrian tank trucks have reportedly headed to Damascus on Tuesday, but two trucks carrying Syrian license plates came under fire in the norther city of Tripoli, prompting the army to deploy in the area, LBCI reported
According to Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5) five tank trucks arrived earlier in al-Madfoun crossing in northern Lebanon, while another 10 tank trucks were on their way to al-Masnaa border crossing in the east.
Later on Tuesday, resident in al-Beddawi in Northern Lebanon stopped several tank trucks carrying diesel from Lebanon to Syria, said National News Agency.
The army has since deployed in the Bekaa valley to protect the Syrian tank trucks travelling to Syria via Dahr el Baider, reported LBCI television.
1718 GMT: Day 700. And EA Worldview has covered it from day 1...
1705 GMT: Rebels Overrun Republican Guard Palace. It may not be a huge strategic, but it is certainly a symbolic one. According to activists, the rebel fighters have captured a Republican Guard palace in Adra, east of Damascus. Videos such as the one below show the rebel fighters attacking the palace, capturing prisoners, and taking control of the building:
1656 GMT: A.A. Guns Captured at Jisrah Airbase. We've been covering the rebel capture of an Assad airbase 25 miles east of Aleppo. Not only were bombs and jets captured, weapons which may have limited value to the rebels, but several large anti-aircraft guns were also captured, including several Zu-23-2s, arguably the favorite weapon of the rebels, seen here in a stationary bunker. The Zu-23-2 can be mounted to a truck, it can be used to target Assad aircraft, but it is also a formidable heavy machinegun capable hammering Assad troops, vehicles, and buildings. It's a familiar sight, especially in areas where the rebels are turning the tide and winning victories.
1622 GMT: Rebels Press attack on Aleppo International Airport. The AP reports that smoke is rising near Aleppo's main airport, and the rebels have attacked a base that guards the airport. The airport is now largely used for military purposes, and is the largest airbase in the north:
Activists say rebels have stormed a base that is in charge of protecting the international airport in the contested northern city of Aleppo, leaving dozens dead. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Aleppo Media Center say opposition fighters captured large parts of the "Brigade 80" base near the city's main civilian airport. The Observatory said there were "tens" of casualties
A video reportedly showing smoke rising above the base, headquarters for the 80th regiment, after it has fallen to the rebels:
Heavy weaponry used by the rebels against Assad positions near the airport:
Heavy fighting, and the sounds of aircraft, near the airport:
The significance of this should not be understated. The fact that the rebels are able to bring this much firepower to bear on Assad positions as important as these suggests that Assad not only does not have the armor to react, but that the airforce is stretched so thin it cannot strike back against rebel tanks and vehicles.
More importantly, this could explain the pace of gains elsewhere in the area. If Assad's major airbase in Aleppo is this threatened, just hours after a small airbase to the east was captured by the rebels, then this will have a significant impact on Assad's operational capabilities in the north.
1520 GMT: Blackouts Cost Billions. As fuel is in short supply, and electrical production and power lines are damaged in the fighting, roving blackouts are now a familiar part of life in Syria. However, the regime itself now reports that these blackouts have cost the country more than 2 billion dollars:
Widespread blackouts have caused economic losses of around $2.2 billion for Syria nearly two years into a spiralling conflict, electricity minister Imad Khamis has said.
"Economic damage suffered as a result of power blackouts caused by acts of sabotage (by rebels) have totalled some 218 billion Syrian pounds," or $2.2 billion, state news agency SANA quoted Khamis as saying on Tuesday.
21 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs (8 of them in Jesreen), 10 martyrs in Homs (most of them in Talbisa), 8 martyrs in Daraa, 8 martyrs in Aleppo, 2 martyrs in Deir Ezzor and 1 martyr in Hama.
1506 GMT: Youtube Martyrs. Perhaps no conflict has been simultaneously better covered, and worse covered, than the Syrian crisis. With citizen journalists everywhere, replacing the traditional media that is almost nowhere to be seen, the world knows Syria because of the work of citizen journalists.
And many of them die while bringing us the news. This report from the CFDPC:
Video shot few days ago by citizen journalist Zaid abu Obaida who died in the same place.
1444 GMT: Damascus Bombed. The pace of rebel victories has accelerated greatly in the last several weeks after months of marginal progress, however the Assad regime has plenty of power left. Unfortunately for Syrian civilians, that power is concentrated in the airforce, and that airforce is heavily bombing parts of Syria's capital today. For instance, this video appears to show an airstrike in Zablatani, one of the eastern suburbs:
This may show the trails of incendiary cluster munitions falling on Darayya. The bomblets of the cluster bombs ignite as they are deployed (it could also show flare countermeasures). Another video reportedly shows the smoldering impact site of a bomb of some sort:
Fires reportedly burn in Douma, a major suburb northeast of Damascus, reportedly caused by "barbaric shelling."
Then there are the videos of the dead and wounded. The LCC Facebook page is filled with those images today. One video reportedly shows 6 or 7 dead after the shelling and bombing of Jisreen, in eastern Damascus, but it is just one image among dozens. The Assad regime's message to the people of Syria is nothing if not consistent - the more the Assad regime struggles, the more the people of Syria will be forced to pay with blood.
1408 GMT: Rebels Capture Fighter Jets. Not only did the rebels overrun a regime base, the Jirah military airport east of Aleppo (map), but the airport hangers appear to have been filled with jets, from the looks of it both MiG-17s and L-39s - and the latter is an aircraft that has regularly haunted the skies above Aleppo province.
There's a catch. Some of the aircraft appear to be decommissioned, more like museum pieces than operational aircraft. However, Brown Moses points out, some of the jets do appear to be in working order, and have been outfitted with several kinds of bombs, including cluster munitions:
Certainly, even if these planes cannot fly, they deny the regime an airfield, several possibly operational aircraft, several jets that could be harvested for parts, and the bombs and ammunition that appear to be stored in the hangars. Not only this, but those bombs, and possibly the ammunition, can be used by the rebels, even if they aren't dropped from the sky.
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us to the afternoon.
"The real revolution in Syria is over, we have been betrayed," laments a bitter Abu Mahmoud, a respected rebel leader, accusing fellow commanders of marring a "beautiful" revolt through corruption.
"Our beautiful revolution has been confiscated by thieves and corruptors," Abu Mahmoud [says]...."Some rebel leaders have "enriched (themselves) shamefully at the cost of true revolutionaries who die on the front line."...
Abu Mahmoud says he now watches his back, taking his Kalashnikov with him when he heads out "chopping wood or grazing goats in the mountains"....
"These so-called commanders send us to die and they themselves stay behind to make money. They don't come to the front line to fight and yet they are the ones who are heading the rebellion," complains Abu Mahmoud. "Wherever they go, they rob, they steal whatever they can carry and sell it illegally in Turkey - be it cars, electronic goods, machines, fuel, antiques, anything you can imagine!"
The airfield, 26 miles from Aleppo city, housed fighter jets that have been carrying out airstrikes on insurgent-held areas around the country. Video posted activists showed several military planes, parked and covered in a hanger, with boxes of artillery ammunition piled up against a wall nearby.
"These warplanes are now in the hands of Ahrar al- Sham Islamic movement," one insurgent shouted.
Ibrahim Abu Baker, leader of the Al-Qadisiyah Brigade, said the opposition has launched a major operation to take control of Deir Ez Zor after pushing out regime forces from the oil-producing areas around it.
If they seize the city, the insurgency will control an entire province for the first time in the 23-month-old uprising.
Abu Baker said his brigade, along with Islamists from Jabhat al-Nusra and Arab fighters, had surrounded Deir Ez Zor on four sides: "The countryside is liberated, what is left of the province is the city itself. All brigades are taking part in this....We are in charge of the eastern side of the city."
A fighter in the Brigade said insurgents had begun the operation by targeting tank fire against three military targets inside the city and besieging the final army stronghold on its outskirts:
We are now surrounding [the Syrian army's] "113 Brigade" which is the last point in the countryside before we are totally focused on the city. When we liberate the city some brigades will stay to take care of it and the rest will march to Damascus.
Two weeks ago, with help from Jabhat al Nusra, the Brigade captured a security branch located near a strategic bridge on the Euphrates, opening the eastern bank to the insurgents.
0637 GMT: Casualties. The Local Coordination Committees report 109 people killed on Monday, including 15 children and nine women. Forty-one of the deaths were in Aleppo Province and 33 in Damascus and its suburbs.
0603 GMT: Car Bomb and Insurgent Advance. Fighting continued on Monday in and around Damascus, but the major military development occurred in the north, as an insurgent force led by the Islamist Jabhat al-Nusra captured Syria's major dam across the Euphrates River.
Meanwhile, a new development in the violence, as the first car bomb on the Turkish border killed at least 12 people --- nine Syrians and three Turks and wounded 30. The mini-bus, arriving from the Syria side, exploded in "no-man's land" at the Cilvegozu crossing.
Insurgents had captured the border post last July. Both refugees and good pass through the gates.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.