Fighting in Daraa city on Tuesday
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Mali (and Beyond) Live Coverage: France to Withdraw in March After Successful Military Operations? br>
Tuesday's Syria Live Coverage: Minister of Defense "We Cannot Be Broken"
2200 GMT: Intense Fight in Damascus. Today's fighting near Jobar in northeast Damascus was intense. At the height of the battle, incoming artillery and mortar shells lit large parts of the city on fire, however, it is unclear who was firing what. What we do know is that by nightfall there was still fighting in parts of Damascus, and the battle lines, at least for the moment, have changed considerably.
A Syrian microblogger has collected dozens of videos of the fighting in a post. This video reportedly shows the early stages of the battle for the the Harmala checkpoint:
Rebel soldiers in the streets near the battle, as the mosque and several buildings burn nearby:
"Samer" describes this video - "FSA targets a building where shabiha were hiding near Zamalka Bridge checkpoint."
2140 GMT: Rebel Mortar Attacks. This is something we don't see every day. Not only are these rebels in Idlib province using what appears to be a homemade mortar, they claim that the second video shows the mortar attacks against an Assad compound. We're not sure where exactly this is located:
1900 GMT: All Quiet on the Western Front. Perhaps that's an exaggeration, but the city of Darayya, a major suburb west of Damascus (map) has been under constant bombardment and attacks from Assad's airforce, tanks, artillery, and ground soldiers, for nearly two months. Today's rebel offensive against eastern Damascus seems to have drawn the fire away from Darayya, at least for a day:
For first time in 85 days, relative calm in Darayya. Regime forces did not try to enter area.— NMSyria (@NMSyria) February 6, 2013
1724 GMT: The Attack on the Harmala Checkpoint. The CFDPC has posted a video gallery of some of the fighters who attacked the Harmala checkpoint in Damascus (map, see update below). The key feature --- a heavy machinegun mounted to a 4x4:
The CFDPC also posted this video, reportedly showing smoke rising from Abbasiyyin square (map), an area where it seems the rebels were able to shut down traffic but were unable to take the square (also see previous update below).
1710 GMT: This Fight for Damascus is Different. At the start, the rebels who are attacking Damascus now acknowledged their previously ineffective attempt at taking the capital, and said that corrections have been made:
"Parts of the Damascus ringroad fell to us today. The road has been effectively the last remaining barrier between the Ghouta and the city," said Abu Ghazi, a rebel commander based in the eastern suburb of Irbeen.
"I don't want to give people false hopes but I think if street fighting reaches central Damascus the regime will not be able to quell it this time," he added.
A disorganized rebel advance on the city failed last year. But this time, he said, opposition fighters had established supply lines to support their offensive.
It's far too early to tell if this offensive will be effective in the long run, but The Guardian reports that the rebels have made some significant progress in eastern Damascus:
Several checkpoints were liberated or destroyed including the Harmala checkpoint which links the north-east suburbs to the city, [Leena Shami, spokeswoman for the opposition Damascus Media Office] said. She added: “This was a huge step for Free Syrian Army. But we still have no more news about whether the Free Syrian Army are going to move into Damascus or stay at the outskirts."
Shami said there had been fierce fighting around Abassin Square today. But rumours that rebels had taken the square were not true.
The Harmala checkpoint (we think here on a map) is on the key road running through this area. Below is a map of the fighting in Damascus.
View Syria - 2013 February 6 - EA Worldview in a larger map
The LCC says that this video shows the Harmala roadblock burning after the rebel victory:
Again, we see that the new offensive in the north and east appears to have been well organized, but the older offensives elsewhere appear to be ongoing as well.
1633 GMT: Palmyra. There are some suggestions that this morning's car bombing in Palmyra (map) may have been part of a larger rebel assault east of Homs, designed to further stretch Assad's airforce and tanks, his most effective weapons in this war. Reuters had this summary of the attack on the compound:
"The first car bomb struck at around six in the morning. The second one, which caused the larger explosion, broke through into the compound 10 minutes later," activist Abu al-Hassan said from the city.
He said tanks in the compound fired shells in response into an adjacent neighborhood, killing several civilians.
Roadblocks across the city also came under attack.
Claimed video of the first explosion.
The LCC published this report an hour ago:
The Free Syrian Army targeted the military intelligence checkpoint in Hajjar junction on Highway.
In other words, it's possible that this is part of the larger strategy, though various actions by separate armed rebel groups may or may not be that specifically coordinated.
Midan - the car bomb that exploded this morning outside Rabii Al-Ansari School in the Zahira area of Midan in central Damascus.
The number of casualties is unclear.
Earlier, a car bomb exploded in Palmyra, though the distance between the two events could suggest that this is a coincidence (see update 1222).
1440 GMT: LCC Opposition Group Backs Talks, and War. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria have released a statement on their own "Red Lines." The statement reaffirmed the LCC's position that Assad needs to leave power, human rights need to be respected, and war criminals need to be held responsible.
What's interesting is that, assuming these "red lines" are met, the LCC has said it will support a political settlement to this crisis. In the very same paragraph, however, they suggest that they will support the military overthrow of the Assad regime if these "red lines" are crossed:
The Local Coordination Committees in Syria (LCC) declares its unwavering adherence to the fundamentals goals of the Syrian revolution, first and foremost of which is the overthrow of Assad, his regime, and its symbols; as well as accountability for those who have blood on their hands and who have committed repeated massacres over a period approaching two years. In place of the regime, we demand the establishment of a civil, pluralistic, and democratic state.
The LCC declares its support for any political solution that is based on these fundamental principles. We have faith in the ultimate victory of the Revolution, the inevitable demise of tyranny, and the triumph of unity and activism in close coordination with the political, civilian, and military fronts on any initiatives put forth by political representatives.
1430 GMT: The Final Push for Damascus? Probably Not. This is far from your average day in Damascus, but it's also not likely a rebel push to ultimately take the city. For starters, while the regime is constantly losing ground, the rebels would have to chew through a considerable amount of Assad firepower to take the capital. They know this, as well.
However, the surprise success of the rebels in Daraa, as well as Aleppo, has caught the regime off guard and has caused them to scramble to react. Syrian convoys are reportedly screaming down highways near Damascus and in Daraa province in an attempt to get to the battlefields and check the rebel movements. However, if the regime feels significantly threatened in Damascus, this battle will draw forces away from responding to Daraa.
Furthermore, the rebels appear to be hitting areas of Damascus near areas where they have had some success in recent weeks, an attempt to expand on their gains. Furthermore, this battle will possibly take some of the heat off of rebel forces in Darayya, who have been surprisingly successful in defending a surrounded city for over a month.
Authorities in Damascus closed the main Abbasid Square and the Fares al-Khoury thoroughfare as fighters attacked roadblocks and fortifications with rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.
"The areas of Jobar, Zamalka, al-Zablatani and parts of Qaboun and the ring road have become a battleground," activist Fida Mohammad said from the district of Qaboun.
In the middle of a battle like this, one could follow the "where there's smoke, there's fire" rule, and assume that anywhere the government is shelling there are ongoing battles. Many parts of Damascus have been shelled so far today.
1400 GMT: New Rebel Offensive Against Damascus. A fresh assault against the capital has been launched against the capital, according to many of our sources. At least 6 rebel groups, including elements from the Free Syrian Army and elements from Jabhat al Nusra, have been part of the offensive, Journalist Hassan Hassan reports:
Six rebel groups, incl. Jabhat al-Nusra, declares: "Operation Epic in the Capital of Omayyads" to 'liberate' Damascus twitter.com/hhassan140/sta…— Hassan Hassan - ²حسن (@hhassan140) February 6, 2013
The Guardian also carries a report that Assad forces have already withdrawn from some areas in the south of the capital.
This video is a good overview of the fighting, and was taken somewhere near the Irbin and Zamalka area east of the capital (map):
Intense fighting in Jobar (map), where a reader shares a video of a call to arms being broadcast from a mosque:
Reliable sources report that there is intense fighting in Qadam, in southwest Damascus (map) and we've not-yet verified more reports of fighting in Hajar al Aswad, in south-central Damascus (map). In other words, this appears to have been a large and well-coordinated attack.
It comes on the heels of a surprise mobilization of rebel forces in Daraa and Aleppo, as well as near the Damascus International Airport (map) --- surges made capable partially due to a fresh infusion of foreign weapons. For details read our separate Syria Analysis: Someone is Arming the Insurgents...and It's Working
There is more fighting in Daraa, Aleppo, and Hama provinces today. Obviously, we will watch all these situations very closely.
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us to the afternoon.
1222 GMT: Car Bomb. A car bomb has exploded in a military intelligence compound in the eastern town of Palmyra on Wednesday, causing dozens of casualties among security personnel and militiamen, local activists said.
An explosive destroyed part of the back wall of the sprawling compound near the Roman-era ruins and then a suicide car bomber drove through, exploding the vehicle and damaging parts of the facility.
The activists said it was not immediately clear how many people had been killed in the blast and clashes which followed.
State media is claiming "two suicide terrorists blew up their booby-trapped cars...causing the martyrdom of several citizen" and injuries to dozens of others.
0955 GMT: The Opposition and Negotiations. Members of the opposition Syrian National Coalition have called for an emergency meeting to discuss the proposal of its head, Moaz al-Khatib, to negotiate with the Assad regime.
Al-Khatib has said since last week that he would meet Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa if the regime meets conditions such as the release of political prisoners.
Thirty of the Coalition's 70 members have sent a letter to its leadership demanding the emergency meeting, according to sources.
"The Coalition needs to convene to chart an urgent strategy after the reverberations of the initiative and seize on the momentum it has created, regardless of the reservations of some members," one Coalition official said.
The Syrian National Council, a bloc inside the Coalition, said al-Khatib made an "individual decision" and criticised his meeting with the Iranian foreign minister last weekend as a "stab to the revolution".
0615 GMT: The Opposition. The opposition National Coalition will open offices in New York and Washington, looking towards meetings with US officials and United Nations Security Council members.
A source said Najib Ghadbian, an Syrian-American professor at the University of Arkansas, will head the New York office.
0600 GMT: The Battlefield. On Tuesday, EA's James Miller put together a series of reports to describe an emerging military front in Daraa Province, where the Syrian uprising began almost two years ago. Backed up by videos, Miller depicted how insurgents --- "flush with foreign-made arms" --- had advanced near Daraa city and into the southwest third of the city itself.
Miller also noted how new types of weapons are showing up in the hands of the Free Syrian Army. For example, insurgents near Damascus Airport have been filmed with RPG-22s, which have been used by army such as Croatia's. If the weapons are part of a pattern, then the FSA is not being choked of arms supplies --- a theme in some recent press reports --- but is continuing to find outside backers as well as stocks from captured regime positions.
The Local Coordination Committees claim that 113 people were killed on Tueday, including 41 in Damascus and its suburbs and 41 in Aleppo Province.