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Wednesday
Feb272013

Syria Live Coverage: The Fighting Near Aleppo's Historic Mosque

Insurgents in the Ummayad Mosque in Aleppo on Tuesday


2155 GMT: Massacre in Aleppo Suburbs. The LCC reports that a massacre has been committed near Aleppo, in a village near Al Safira. Here is their report:

Regime’s forces executed 72 martyrs from Malkieh village western of Sfeereh. 49 were identified while 23 martyrs remain unknown. Their bodies were burned.

Al Safira is the site of heavy fighting between the rebels and the regime. The rebel efforts there are being led by Jabhat al Nusra. The nearby chemical weapons depot is thought to be one of the largest of such facilities in the entire Middle East, and has been fiercely guarded by Assad's military.

As of now we have no pictures or videos of the incident, but we are looking. As such we have not independently confirmed the details of this story.

According to the LCC, 188 people have been killed nationwide today:

99 martyrs were reported in Aleppo, including 72 executed in Sfeereh ; 59 martyrs in Damascus and its Suburbs; 11 in Idlib; 8 in Hama; 4 in Homs; 3 in Daraa; 3 in Deir Ezzor and 1 in Raqqa.

2013 GMT: SCUD Missiles? There are many reports tonight that a series of missiles have been fired from the 155th battalion base north of Damascus, and are traveling north towards Aleppo. There is even this video (treat as very unconfirmed, but interesting) that reportedly shows one of the missiles in flight. The video was reportedly taken in Rankous:

This comes at a time that Human Rights Watch reports have concluded that over 140 people have been killed by ballistic missiles in a short amount of time:

The Syrian government launched at least four ballistic missiles that struck populated areas in the city of Aleppo and a town in Aleppo governorate during the week of February 17, 2013. The attacks killed more than 141 people, including 71 children, and caused immense physical destruction.

The extent of the damage from a single strike, the lack of aircraft in the area at the time, and reports of ballistic missiles being launched from a military base near Damascus overwhelmingly suggest that government forces struck these areas with ballistic missiles. Human Rights Watch visited the four attack sites, all in residential neighborhoods. Human Rights Watch found no signs of any military targets in the vicinity of any of the four sites, which would mean that the attacks were unlawful.

“I have visited many attack sites in Syria, but have never seen such destruction,” said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch, who visited the sites. “Just when you think things can’t get any worse, the Syrian government finds ways to escalate its killing tactics.”

1949 GMT: Hezbollah Leader Speaks. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, has held a press conference in which he denied that he has been in poor health. He also said that these rumors were part of a conspiracy against Hezbollah.

Interestingly, though we have not seen a full transcript, he seems to have made no mention of his deputy, Naim Qassem, who was rumored to have been killed yesterday in Damascus. In fact, he limited his discussions of Syria to discuss what he believes is a threat on the border:

On the Syrian file, Nasrallah said that "the armed opposition has taken over Syrian bordering villages which are inhabited by Lebanese Shiites," and added that these forces are performing a wide military campaign to take over all villages inhabited by Lebanese nationals in Syria.

"The Lebanese residents of the Syrian villages have inhabited those lands for hundreds of years, long before Sykes-Picot," Nasrallah said.

Nasrallah added that Hezbollah is completely against dividing Syria because this is an "Israeli project," and questioned the efforts that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and USA are doing to stop the fighting in Syria.

1939 GMT: Death Toll Rises. 96 people have been killed so far today, according to the Local Coordination Committees, though that number is expected to be updated soon:

52 martyrs in Damascus and its Suburbs, 21 martyr in Aleppo,11 martyr in Idlib, 3 martyrs in Daraa, 3 martyrs in Hama, 3 martyrs in Homs, 2 martyrs in Deir Ezzor, and 1 martyr in Raqqa.

1600 GMT: Hezbollah Denies Deputy Leader Killed in Syria. According to Russia Today (via Adn Kronos), Hezbollah's leader is set to deny the reports that Naim Qassem was killed in Damascus and that Nasrallah has been receiving treatments for cancer in Iran:

The denial was issued by Hezbollah sources cited by Russia Today's Arabic service, who claimed false rumours had been spread via social media.

The sources were quoted as claiming Hezbollah leader Hassan NasraIlah would also deny the reports in a speech due to be given later on Wednesday.

Earlier, reports were circulating that Qassem was killed in yesterday's destruction of a convoy near Damascus (see update 1337).

1438 GMT: Rockets over Damascus. The CFDPC, a network of activists reporting on Damascus, have posted this video which they say shows outbound rockets from the Mezzeh military airport in Damascus that hit the Hajar al Aswad neighborhood today. We can't confirm the date from the video, but we're very familiar with this camera angle.

Rockets have reportedly landed all over Damascus today, from Darayya in the west to Jobar in the east.

The Local Coordination Committees report that 62 people have been killed so far today, nearly half of them in Damascus:

30 martyrs in Damascus and its suburbs; 17 martyrs in Aleppo; 6 martyrs in Idlib; 3 martyrs in Daraa; 3 martyrs in Hama; 2 martyrs in Homs and 1 martyr in Deir Ezzor.

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

1359 GMT: New Foreign Weapon in Syria? Microblogger Markito0171 discovered a video reportedly showing a new weapon in Syria, a weapon that appears to be the American-made M47 Dragon anti-tank missile.

Eliot Higgins reports:

With a history of use in Iran, Iraq, Israel, and Jordan, as well as the US, it leaves the question of the source wide open, but hopefully the P/N reference will make tracking the origin much more straight-forward.

Snap analysis - don't pay too much attention to singular weapons found in Syria. There are many places this weapon could have come from. However, if we start seeing them more regularly, it might be a sign that yet another foreign weapons shipment has made it to this conflict.

1338 GMT: US Pressures Assad. More indication that the US government is ratcheting up their pressure on Assad - this time from the new Secretary of State John Kerry:

1317 GMT: Hezbollah Deputy Chief Reportedly Killed. Yesterday we posted very inconclusive evidence and several claims that a Hezbollah convoy had been attacked outside Damascus. Free Syrian Army officers suggested that the convoy contained Hezbollah officials and Syrian security officers, and a video showed some sort of IED attack against a car, but it was inconclusive as to whether the occupants were killed or who was inside the car.

Today, a Free Syrian Army General has claimed that Hezbollah's deputy chief Naim Qassem was killed in the attack:

The Free Syrian Army general command alleged early Wednesday morning that it killed Hezbollah’s deputy chief Naim Qassem in an attack on a convoy outside Damascus near the Lebanese border...

A rebel group had said in a statement that they attacked a convoy transporting Syrian general Mohammad Ali Durgham, injuring the officer and killing a number of Hezbollah members...

Hezbollah's Al-Manar television announced Wednesday morning that party leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah will give a televised address later in the day.

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

1030 GMT: The US and Weapons for Insurgents. The Obama Administration is acknowleding its consideration of "a major policy shift" to provide insurgents with equipment such as body armour and armoured vehicles and possibly military training.

At the same time, the Administration is maintaining the line that it "remains opposed to providing weapons".

Washington may also send humanitarian assistance directly to the opposition National Coalition.

Officials said US Secretary of State John F. Kerry will discuss the possibilities this week and next in meetings with allies in Europe and the Middle East.

Despite Washington's public denials, there is evidence --- including information and analysis posted on EA over the last month --- that it is already involved in provision of arms to insurgents, both via Turkey and via Jordan.

0638 GMT: Aleppo. The centre of attention on Tuesday was in Syria's largest city, as insurgents fought regime troops near the 12th-century Ummayad Mosque.

Video showed opposition fighters, some wearing gas marks, in a heavily-damaged mosque, part of which was burned during clashes last October.

State news agency SANA said "terrorists" had detonated explosives near the building's south wall, causing "material damage".

To the west of Aleppo, there were renewed attacks near the police academy, which is now a key regime military facility. Insurgents and Syrian forces shelled each other's positions, as the regime launched airstrikes in the area.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that 26 insurgents, 40 soldiers, and five pro-regime militia have been killed near the academy since Monday.

The Local Coordination Committees claim that 111 people were killed on Tuesday, including children and four women. Of the deaths, 51 were in Damascus and its suburbs and 50 in Aleppo Province.

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