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Syria Live Coverage: A "Humanitarian Tragedy"

See also Syria Audio Feature: Why Europe's "Embargo" on Arms to Insurgents is Not an Embargo --- Scott Lucas with Monocle 24
Bahrain (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Clashes Continue as Regime Claims Arrest of "Iran-Iraq-Lebanon Terror Cell"
Tuesday's Syria Live Coverage: Regime Fires SCUD Missiles on Aleppo?

2120 GMT: Jet Shot Down in Damascus? All day we've been tracking reports of a jet shot down in Damascus. The only problem is that it's unclear a jet ever crashed. However, a reader, Amir, finds this video. Much of it is a collection of videos from today that we have seen. The clip we had not seen is at about the 2:30 mark, when an explosion on the horizon, followed my a smoke cloud, reportedly shows the moment the jet crashed.

We're still not 100% sure what happened, though there are plenty of rumors that the pilot, a Russian, has been captured. We'd treat this as straight rumor until a video is released.

2105 GMT: Battle for Ashrafiyeh District of Aleppo. The rebels have set their sights on another district in norther-central in Aleppo, the Ashrafiyeh District. A microblogger finds several videos, including the one below which appear to show rebels firing mortars at Assad positions from the nearby railway (map):

This video is interesting, as it reportedly shows a Free Syrian Army commander using Google Maps to discuss his plan to attack the neighborhood (map).

Today was the 7th day of fighting here, according to some activists. At times, today's fighting was so intense that smoke filled the streets and visibility was reduced to almost zero:

2021 GMT: Rebel Push to Center of Daraa City. Yesterday, rebels made inroads in southeast Daraa city, capturing a checkpoint. This follows victories last week where rebels began to push into the city from the southwest. Today, multiple videos and eyewitness reports indicate that the rebels have pushed into the very center of the city. The Abbasiyah districs is on the northern edge of the southern district of Daraa al BAlad. There they have captured an Assad military checkpoint near a bakery and a mosque (map). The video below gives an idea of the intensity of the battle. The second video, taken north of here, shows the buildings near the mosque that were destroyed in the fighting:

This push appears to be significant. Just a little over a week ago, a rebel victory of this magnitude would have been unheard of in Daraa city. Now, it appears the rebels are taking checkpoint after checkpoint as they advance.

What's also important is that in one of the videos, the description says that the unit responsible was the "Unified Southern Brigade lead by Abu Hassan." That's important because as we wrote last week, the rebels have formed a new and unified alliance between the more moderate Free Syrian Army and the most moderate Islamist brigades, and that alliance started in Daraa province. This alliance, along with their new weapons, appears to be a key reason for the rebels turning the tide in the south. This video appears to match that pattern.

1818 GMT: Rocket attacks in Yarmouk Camp. This video, posted by the LCC just minutes ago, reportedly shows a surface-to-surface rocket being fired at the Yarmouk camp in Damascus:

It's not immediately clear to me where this weapon was fired from or where it landed, except that this looks like Damascus.

This was reportedly taken in the same area and shows "shelling" though that is sometimes a catch-all phrase for anything that explodes.

1732 GMT: Kurds and Insurgents. AFP reports that insurgents and Kurdish militias in northern Syria have ended three months of hostilities following a fragile agreement brokered by prominent dissident Michel Kilo.

Clashes have erupted periodically between the two sides since Islamist insurgents entered the city of Ras al-Ain last November and seized a strategic crossing on the Turkish border.

Activists say about 65% of the city's residents have fled because of the fighting, and those who have stayed behind have little access to food and other essential goods.

Negotiations led by Kilo, an independent, long-time opponent of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, began 15 days ago and ended with a weekend accord between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) military council and the Kurdish popular committees.

"The FSA signed on behalf of all rebel groups except the [Islamist] Al-Nusra Front, which did not take part in the last round of fighting. Still Al-Nusra took part in the talks and guarantees the agreement will not be broken," Kilo said. He added that Ghuraba al-Sham, the second-most powerful Islamist rebel group after Al-Nusra in the area, supported the agreement.

The most critical point in the pact was the "complete withdrawal of military forces from and displays of arms in the city," said Kilo. "There are very few fighters left in Ras al-Ain now."

In a statement issued on Sunday, Kurdish fighters and insurgents agreed, "We unite our energies in the battle of dignity against a bloody, authoritarian regime to build a free Syria in which all members of society can exercise their legitimate rights."

1725 GMT: Hezbollah v. Insurgents. Turkish State news agency Anadolu claims that three Hezbollah members have been killed today in an attack by the Islamist insurgency Jabhat al-Nusra Front in a border town between Lebanon and Syria.

"Informed sources" said, "The attack targeted a Hezbollah patrol in [the Bekaa border town of] Zeeta, killing three of the party's members.”

The sources continued, “The party had an agreement with the Free Syria Army to neutralise these towns from the ongoing Syrian conflict. But Hezbollah has since the attack readied to deploy members in eight frontier villages."

A Hezbollah said Sunday that three Lebanese Shia, acting in "self-defence", had been killed by insurgents inside Syria.

1539 GMT: Who is Arming the Syrian Rebels? As many readers know, Eliot Higgins (Brown Moses) and I have been talking about foreign weapons making it into the hands of Syrian rebels, weapons that, when combined with new organization and strategies, has helped the rebels win a series of victories.

Journalist Michael Weiss, writing for Now Lebanon, analyzes who might be arming the rebels. Weiss suggests that it's possible these weapons are being moved from Croatia to Libya and on to Turkey and Jordan, eventually making it to Syrian rebel groups. However, Weiss also suggests that someone else, perhaps a western power, may be paying for the weapons and organizing their movements:

One Washington-based source close to the Syrian rebels suggested that Croatia “might be involved” but thought the Libya clearinghouse theory was more persuasive, particularly as new stockpiles of Libyan weapons have been appearing and disappearing from Mali. That said, the source believes that classroom training seminars bespeak “total formalization,” and because “the people getting these weapons are not Salafis or Nusra, that suggests a Western power” orchestrating or overseeing the entire effort.

In its reports on the EU arms embargo renewal, the Washington Post cited diplomats in Brussels and London who alleged that Whitehall was indeed intent on arming vetted and responsible rebels. While British Foreign Secretary William Hague denied such claims, saying his government merely wanted to “give assistance and advice that we’d been restricted in giving before,” he nevertheless left the door open a crack for further action. “We would have gone further,” Hague said.

From the looks of it, someone already has.

1518 GMT: Death Toll Rising. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 69 people have been killed so far today, most in Damascus:

47 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs, mostly in Hamouryieh massacre; 7 in aleppo; 5 in Homs; 5 in Idlib; 3 in Daraa; and 1 martyr in each of Deir Ezzzor and Hama.

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

1444 GMT: Jet May Not Have Crashed. When we watched the first video of the "downed jet" the possibility that it was an afterburner, and not a jet malfunction, did occur to us. In the last video we posted, however, the flames seem somewhat irregular, as if the afterburner was damaged. In another video, however, the jet does appear to be traveling fast and straight. Looking carefully, both white and black smoke are seen, so it is possible that the jet suffered damage, but this aircraft doesn't look like it's about to crash:

Unless there's video that shows the aircraft hitting the ground, or wreckage can be found, it's likely that the witnesses on the ground are mistaking the afterburner for damage to the aircraft.

1419 GMT: "Downed" Jet May Have Killed Dozens First. What's interesting about the claim of this jet that was reportedly shot down is that it may be the same jet that reportedly killed dozens of people in eastern Damascus. According to the CFDPC, 25 people have been killed by an airstrike in Hamoriyeh. Low quality videos claim to show the damage done by the jet in Zamalka, and the burning wreckage of the jet at a distance after it crashed, though there's not enough to go on to confirm that the jet has definitively crashed.

The Guardian has also posted 20 minutes of intense live footage reportedly showing the site in Hamoriyeh that was bombed.

1405 GMT: Rebel May Have Shot Down Another Jet. Several opposition sources are claiming that a Syrian jet fighter has been shot down over eastern Ghouta, the suburbs just east of Damascus. The CFDPC posts a video that they say shows a jet fighter being shot down over Hamoriyeh. The jet shows the aircraft making a high-speed low-altitude pass as heavy machineguns light up the sky. Suddenly, a flame jumps from the back of the jet. We never see it crash, however. The video below is a slightly better angle. The aircraft is clearly in distress, throwing off a very irregularly-shaped flame, as if it is leaking fuel perhaps. The plane disappears behind the horizon, and it does appear that is may have crashed, but we also never see it crash. The LCC says the jet crashed in Zamalka, and they have posted a video, but it may be the least helpful of the three.

If the plane went down, there may be video of the wreckage soon.

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

1305 GMT: Damascus and Aleppo. The Local Coordination Committees claim regime shelling on the Damascus neighbourhoods of Tadamoun and Yarmouk and the suburbs of Harasta, Hamouria, and Erbeen.

Meanwhile, the pro-regime Al-Watan said that Syrian military is "valiantly defending" Aleppo International Airport, which is under "intensive attacks by gunmen".

1255 GMT: Negotiations. Russia and the Arab League have offered to broker talks between the regime and opposition.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke after hosting Arab League officials and the Foreign Ministers of Egypt, Lebanon and other countries in Moscow: "Neither side can allow itself to rely on a military solution to the conflict, because it's a road to nowhere, a road to mutual destruction of the people."

Lavrov and Arab League General Secretary Nabil ElAraby said their main priority was creating a transitional government to find a way out of the conflict.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem will lead a delegation to Moscow on Monday, and Russia is expecting a visit in March from the opposition National Coalition leader, Muaz al-Khatib.

1045 GMT: Damascus. A missile has struck the command centre of a leading insurgent unit near the capital, activists have said.

Sheikh Zahran Alloush, founder of the Liwa al-Islam Brigade, has been wounded in the early-morning strike near the suburb of Douma.

1035 GMT: Homs. Insurgents claim they have moved into the al-Qarabees neighbourhood in Homs, after fighting with regime forces.

If true, the advance would be a reversal of the trend in recent weeks, in which the Syrian military has retaken almost all areas of the city held by the opposition.

1015 GMT: Damascus. Jonathan Steele of The Guardian reports on the looming battle for the capital:

I visited a friend for lunch in the Christian area of Qassa one Friday, when the streets are always emptier than usual. But some couples strolled about and one set of parents pushed a pram, even though the air was split by the rattle of bullets. They sounded dreadfully near but in a built-up area noise reverberates and it was impossible to know if they came from 100 yards away or two miles.

The firing lasted all afternoon but we learned the cause only later. The armed opposition that controls the district of Jobar just beyond Qassa was trying to capture Abbasiyin Square, a symbolically important traffic hub. In the adjacent stadium, the government has placed mortars, artillery and tanks, determined not to lose a focal point often mentioned as a potential Damascus equivalent of Cairo's favourite protest site, Tahrir Square.

Damascus city centre may still be untouched by significant violence but the war has destroyed normal life throughout the city. Most roads that pass key government buildings are closed and, along with dozens of mobile checkpoints that soldiers and police erect without warning in order to scrutinise IDs and search car boots, this causes massive transport holdups across the city, making the daily commute an agony of irritation and unpredictability.

0545 GMT: Casualties. The Local Coordination Committees have claimed 159 deaths were documented on Tuesday, including those from Monday night's missile strike on the Jamal Badro section of Aleppo.

The LCC said 13 women and 22 children were among the dead. Sixty were killed in Damascus and its suburbs and 55 in Aleppo Province.

0535 GMT: Humanitarian Crisis. The lead United Nations official for humanitarian matters, Valerie Amos, has warned of a growing crisis, with a estimated four million people in need of assistance.

"We are watching a humanitarian tragedy unfold before our eyes," Amos told a news briefing on Tuesday. "We must do all we can to reassure the people that we care and that we will not let them down."

Amos said the insurgent-held north of Syria remains largely out of reach to aid operations. The regime still refuses UN convoys entry from Turkey into northern Syria, because most border crossings are controlled by the insurgent Free Syrian Army.

In addition to those in need inside the country, there are more than 850,000 refugees outside Syria, according to the UN, which also has claimed more than 70,000 killed in the 23-month conflict.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday that typhoid has broken out among an estimated 2,500 people in northeastern Deir Ez Zor Province, because of people drinking contaminated water from the Euphrates River.

"There is not enough fuel or electricity to run the pumps so people drink water from the Euphrates which is contaminated, probably with sewage," the WHO representative in Syria, Elisabeth Hoff, said.

Hepatitis A, another water-borne disease, is also spreading in areas such as Aleppo and Idlib as well as in crowded shelters for displaced people in Damascus, according to Hoff. She also said leishmaniasis, a tropical disease transmitted by sand-flies that causes skin ulcers resembling leprosy, is spreading, with 14,000 cases in Hasakah Province in the northeast.

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