Insurgents celebrate after claiming the regime base near el Sahoah in Daraa Province
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Thursday's Syria Live Coverage: Rebel Gains and Civilian Losses Grow br>
1925 GMT: Fighting in Southeast Damascus. There was heavy fighting today in Aqraba, between the capital and the international airport (map). The area, however, seems to be occupied by regime tanks, tanks which the rebels have been chipping at for days. This video reportedly shows an RPG attack against a tank today:
The LCC also says that the area was hit by "barrel bombs," makeshift explosives dropped from Assad aircraft. A video shows what appears to be a residential neighborhood devastated by the explosions.
21 mrtyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs; 17 in Idlib, most of them in Khan Shaikhoun; 12 in Aleppo; 5 in Raqqa; 5 in Homs; 4 in Hassakeh, 3 in Deir Ezzor; 2 in Hama; and 2 in Daraa.
1640 GMT: Opposition's 8-Point Plan. The National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the primary opposition leadership group, has released an 8-point plan for an end to this crisis. Most of the plan is predictable - it calls for the establishment of an inclusive society, one that is accepted and supported by all the key international and regional players, including the United states, Russia, and Iran. To us, however, the two key points are numbers 2 and 3:
2. Bashar Assad and security leadership who are responsible for the current destruction of the country are outside the political process and must be held accountable for their crimes.
3. All Syrians will be part of any future political solution, including those currently serving with the state institutions, Ba'athists, political, civil and social forces as long as they did not participate in any crimes committed against other Syrians.
In other words, everyone can vote for the next government, but Bashar al Assad, and other key players in the security and military institutions, will not only be excluded from the process, but will face prosecution.
With the rebels closing in, this raises an interesting question - will any more Syrian leaders jump ship or turn on Assad so that they can be part of the process and not part of the prosecuted?
1623 GMT: Protests on the War's Front Line. The CFDPC, a network of activists working to report on Damascus, has also posted some amazing protest videos. What's remarkable about them is that many of the locations that are reporting protests are literally on or very close to the front lines of the battle for the capital. For instance, this video was reportedly taken today in Saqba, ground zero for the new fighting:
And this video was reportedly taken in Kafar Batna, another frontline location that was heavily bombed just yesterday, and possibly will be again today:
1613 GMT: Fighting in West Damascus. The CFDPC has a series of important updates about an important western suburb of Damascus, Madamiyah (or Moadamiyeh, here on the map). According to their latest report, there has been heavy shelling in the area, from artillery and regime rockets launched from nearby military bases. However, they also report that there is fighting on the outskirts of the suburb. This video reportedly shows a tank firing in the area today.
As you can see from our interactive map of the conflict in Damascus (which is still a work in progress, and is very incomplete) Moadamiyeh holds a strategic location between Darayya and the regime strongholds in northwest Damascus:
View Key Assad Strongholds in Damascus - EA Worldview in a larger map
1558 GMT: Fighting in East Damascus. This rebel offensive against Damascus has been described by rebel commanders as a "two steps forward, one step back" strategy. The plan is not to hold territory, but to soften Assad positions and keep the initiative in their favor, dictating where Assad fights his battles. The focus, however, is on ?Jobar, viewed by many as their route into the capital in the east.
Heavy fighting is reported today in Zamalka (map), just east of Jobar. This video reportedly shows some of the fighting.
In recent days the area has been heavily bombed, and many tanks were spotted in the area yesterday. Most of the tanks in the videos still work. However, the video below shows onetank being destroyed, reportedly at the hands of rebels yesterday:
1520 GMT: Friday Protests. Every Friday for more than 2 years the Syrian people have taken to the streets to protest the Assad regime. Despite the bullets and shells, bombing, arrests, teargas and rain, protests each Friday are found in nearly every corner of Syria. Today is no exception.
Every protest also has a theme, voted on by activists on Facebook. Today's theme roughly translates to "We don't need help, God is enough," or a variation, "God is our champion," an apparent reference to how the Syrians feel abandoned by the rest of the world and besieged by their own government.
This video was reportedly taken at a protest in Sarmada, Idlib, no stranger to the wrath of Assad's airstrikes:
A funeral for a martyr turns into a protest in Khan Shiekhoun, Idlib:
This was reportedly taken in Al Dar Al Kabira, Homs, just northwest of the city - and very close to Hasiweyah, the site of a terrible massacre by unknown assailants in January.
A crowd marches in South-central Aleppo, not far from the front lines:
This week's message from Kafranbel could use a better translation, but the point is still clear - when will the world intervene to stop Assad?
There are hundreds more videos of protests today, but these are just a few samples.
14 martyrs in Idlib were reported, most if them in Khan-Sheikhoon; 11 in Damascus and its Suburbs; 9 in Aleppo; 4 in Hassakeh; 4 in Raqqa; 2 in Hama; 2 in Homs; and 1 in each of Daraa and DeirEzzor.
1437 GMT: Intense Battle for Aleppo Airport. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 150 government and rebel fighters have been killed in two days of fighting for the Aleppo airport, a major strategic base of operations for Assad's military:
The director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul-Rahman, said the casualties are almost evenly divided between opposition fighters and troops loyal to President Bashar Assad.
Rebels launched a major attack on Aleppo's civilian airport and the adjacent Nairab airfield on Wednesday. So far, the rebels have captured most of the "Brigade 80" base, which is responsible for protecting the area, as well as an army checkpoint. The airport itself and the military airfield, which have their own defenses as well, both still remain in regime hands.
Fighting continues near the airport today.
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started.
Insurgents led by Jabhat al Nusra seized al-Shaddadeh on Thursday after fighting which killed 30 of their fighters and 100 Syrian troops, according to activists.
0735 GMT: Bodies at a Regime Infantry School. Almost 50 bodies of regime troops, some in mass graves and others in shallow ones, have been discovered at Aleppo’s Infantry School, according to a fighter with the insurgent Tawhid Brigade.
The fighter said some of the soldiers appeared to be executed by their own side --- possibly while fleeing or defecting --- while others died during the battle for the school.
Insurgents claimed the base late last year. Syrian forces carry out regular airstrikes on the area.
A reporter for Syria Deeply said, "A row of inoperable tanks sits parked in the center of campus, waiting for spare parts and mechanics to service them before they can be used in the battle against the Assad regime. A small group of rebels keeps watch at the gate, forming a checkpoint on one of the main roads leading to the eastern and northern parts of Aleppo."
0550 GMT: Insurgent Advance. There was more progress for insurgents on Thursday, with news of the capture of towns and Syrian military positions in the south and east and the downing of two regime jet fighters
An opposition force led by the Islamist Jabhat al-Nusra took the town of al-Shaddadah, near the Jbeysa oil field in Hasaka Province on the Iraqi border. In the south, insurgent claimed a defensive base near el Sahoah in Daraa Province.
Both regime jets were downed in Idlib Province as they carried out raids on insurgent-held areas.
The Local Coordination Committees claimed 154 people were killed on Thursday, including 46 in Aleppo Province, 33 in Damascus and its suburbs, and 25 in Daraa Province.