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Syria Live Coverage: Insurgent Attacks in Damascus

A regime tank depot in Jobar in Damascus explodes amid insurgent attacks

See Also Monday's Syria Live Coverage: Insurgents Capture Symbolic "Nuclear" Site
Syria Feature: The Surge in Foreign Weapons for the Insurgents (Higgins and Chivers/Schmitt)

2106 GMT: Hezbollah Convoy - continued. As many readers have pointed out, there is no strong evidence that the mine attack in the last video worked at all. We'll have to see if we get more videos or other news sources, but it's worth watching.

2049 GMT: Hezbollah Convoy Destroyed? Since this morning there have been rumors that a convoy of Hezbollah fighters was destroyed on a highway near Damascus. French media, citing Voice of Lebanon radio and an official in the Free Syrian Army, said that "senior Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah and Syrian officers" were targeted. An opposition Facebook page suggested that the officials were on a way to a security meeting and were destroyed by landmines placed on the road.

Now, Al Jazeera's Arabic channel has picked up the report, and has played video that they say shows the attack:

We're still calling this unconfirmed, but there's certainly enough evidence that suggests the attack may have indeed taken place.

2033 GMT: Death Toll Rising. As of their latest update, about an hour ago, 80 people had been killed across Syria so far, according to the LCC:

40 martyrs in Damascus and its Suburbs, 15 martyr in Aleppo, 7 martyrs in Idlib, 5 martyrs in Homs , 4 martyrs in each of Deir Ezzor; 4 martyrs in Hama, 3 martyrs in Daraa, and 1 martyr in Swaida.

1702 GMT: Ummayad Mosque in Possession of Rebels. The "Great Mosque" of Aleppo, the Umayyad mosque (map), has reportedly been captured by rebels today. Units of the Tahwid Brigade have been seen inside the mosque after they reportedly captured it today. However, as one can see from the videos, there's heavy damage to the once-beautiful building (also, note the gas masks on the rebels, a sight I don't think I've seen in Syria thus far):

Frankly, we're surprised that the rebels had advanced here. That area is a snipers den, and has been for many months.

1550 GMT: Fighting in Damascus. Damascus is a violent place today, but it's hard to see whether this is just an expected escalation after last night's surprise attack by the rebels, or whether this is the start of a new phase in the fighting. nterestingly, one of the newest flash points is Al Tall, north of the capital (map), an island of rebel control in a sea of Assad military bases. The town has been heavily bombed (or shelled by artillery, it's not clear which) and many casualties are reported.

There is also fighting in the Yarmouk Camp, Jobar, Babbilla, Qaboun, and Barzeh - though it's unclear if these areas are all just being shelled and bombed, or whether there are actual battles ongoing. As you can see from the map of Damascus, however, all these areas form a semi-circle that just a few weeks ago was much further to the east and is now pushing right up against the heart of the city:

View Syria - 2013 February 26 - EA Worldview in a larger map

The LCC posts this video reportedly showing shelling in Qaboun (map):

Fires burn in the streets of Ein Tarma (map) as the area has been hammer by Assad forces today:

1519 GMT: Rebels Assault Menneg Airbase. Yesterday we reported that a helicopter was shot down by rebels (using a Chinese FN-6) at the Menneg airbase in northern Aleppo (map). Euronews has additional videos of the aircraft crashing, but also they appear to interview one of the fighters who is holding the FN-6.

Today, that airbase is again under heavy attack, and some have reported that another helicopter has been destroyed. The video below reportedly shows a helicopter burning inside the base:

This video reportedly shows rebels firing rockets at the base from the back of a truck:

Heavy damage can be seen to the surrounding buildings, though it's possible that the 3 helicopters visible in the shot are operational:

1453 GMT: Fighting in Damascus. What happened last night is still unclear. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights suggests that a car bomb in the Qaboun area killed 5 security officials. However, by all accounts the fighting was more extreme than just that, and it's also unclear how an opposition group has that much detail about deaths of regime members. Here's the Reuters report quoting SOHR:

Five members of Syria's security forces were killed by a car bomb in eastern Damascus on Monday, and the blast was followed by heavy clashes between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, a monitoring group said.

The force of the explosion in the Qaboun neighborhood shook the Syrian capital at around 9 p.m., residents said.

The Associated Press said it was a "huge blast" and quoted state media SANA as saying that there were "multiple" casualties and at least one suicide car bombing:

In Damascus, they have advanced from their strongholds in the suburbs into neighborhoods in the northeast and southern rim of the capital, while peppering the center of the city with mortar rounds for days.

Monday night's explosion struck about 800 yards from Abbasid Square, a landmark plaza in central Damascus. It was followed by several other smaller blasts thought to be mortar shells landing in various districts of the capital. The blasts and subsequent gunfire caused panic among residents who hid in their apartments.

There are already some surprising reports about the intensity of the fighting today. In Babbila, in the south of the capital (map), heavy mortar attacks and sniper fire has killed several people, and there are reports of a mosque collapse. Some videos may show the wreckage of buildings damaged by the fighting. Babbila is fairly far from the center, but the LCC reports that the FSA has destroyed a tank in the Midan district, much closer to the center of the city (map). We'll try to piece together the current situation in Syria's capital.

1426 GMT: Death Toll Rises. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 45 people have been killed so far across Syria:

21 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs; 9 in Aleppo; 6 in HOms; 3 in Hama; 3 in daraa; 2 in Deir Ezzor; and 1 in Idlib.

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

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

1157 GMT: Displaced Persons. Abeer Etefa of the World Food Program reports on her week in Syria among those displaced by the conflict:

1007 GMT: Russian Position. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has denounced "extremists" within the Syrian opposition whom he said were blocking the start of dialogue by making unrealistic demands.

Hours before meeting new US Secretary of State John Kerry in Berlin, Lavrov said said:

Several days ago we thought that the conditions had become more clear for the sides to sit at the negotiating table and begin discussing the future of their country. There emerged voices in favor of urgently starting such dialogue, without prerequisite conditions....

[However] blood continues to be shed and statements are being made which move away the prospect of starting dialogue.

"It seems that extremists who bet on an armed solution to the Syrian problem have prevailed in the ranks of the opposition at this time, including the so-called National Coalition, blocking all initiatives that could lead to the start of dialogue.

The Coalition had said last Friday that it was boycotting any international talks because of a failure to deal with regime killing of civilians, but it has relented and said it will attend this Thursday's Friends of Syria conference (see 0600 GMT).

On Monday, Lavrov met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem, who said the authorities in Damascus were ready to talk to insurgents.

0922 GMT: Death of A Journalist. Activists gave announced the death of cameraman Wael Hamoud Awel, working for "Baba Amr Network News", in Homs.

Awel was seriously wounded, leading to the amputation of his leg, on 6 February during regime shelling of the Baba Amr district.

0742 GMT: Regime Missile Attacks. Human Rights Watch, after visits to four site in Aleppo, claims, "The Syrian government launched at least four ballistic missiles...during the week of February 17...[that] killed more than 141 people, including 71 children, and caused immense physical destruction."

HRW adds that it "found no signs of any military targets in the vicinity of any of the four sites, which would mean that the attacks were unlawful".

The organisation compiled the list of casualties from cemetery burial records, interviews with relatives and neighbors, and information from the Aleppo media center and the Violations Documentation Center, a network of local activists.

0730 GMT: Casualties. The Local Coordination Committees claim that 135 people were killed on Tuesday, including 40 in Damascus and its suburbs, 25 in Aleppo Province, and 21 in Idlib Province.

0600 GMT: The Opposition Reverses a Boycott. The opposition National Coalition has withdrawn its decision to boycott Thursday's Friends of Syria conference in Rome.

The reversal followed a phone call between the group's leader, Moaz al-Khatib, and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

The Coalition had declared on Friday that it would not attend Thursday's international gathering, which is considering financial and political support for the opposition, because of the lack of a response to the regime's killing of civilians --- for example, those slain by the Syrian military's rocket and missile attacks last week on Aleppo.

Kerry said yesterday: "I want our friends in the Syrian opposition council to know that we are not coming to Rome simply to talk. We are coming to Rome to make a decision on next steps."

Khatib said on his Facebook page that the Coalition will join the Friends of Syria after Kerry and British Foreign Secretary William Hague "promised specific aid to alleviate the suffering of our people".

0545 GMT: Damascus. Insurgents launched a series of attacks inside the capital on Monday, with heavy fighting reported not only in the southern districts --- where clashes have been sustained for some time --- but also in northern areas such as Qaboun, Jobar, and Abaseen and even central locations.

As we discussed the situation after several hours of coverage, EA's James Miller said, "I'm not sure there's been a night quite like this. The fighting is in so many areas of the city."

For me, that raises the question: was this merely a "probing operation", albeit the most intense to date inside Damascus? Is it a one-off, or is this the prospect of more to come? Or is this the start of an offensive to not only attack but defeat President Assad's forces in some neighbourhoods in the capital?

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