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Syria Live Coverage: Damascus Suicide Bomb Kills 42, Including Top Cleric

See also Syria Snap Analysis: Latest on the "Chemical Weapon" Attacks
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Thursday's Syria Live Coverage: The Uncertainties Over Chemical Weapons

2022 GMT: Evening Protests. In Al Raqqah, the regime is rapidly fading into memory as protesters take to the streets tonight:

1955 GMT: Rebels Advance in Aleppo. The rebels are successfully pushing deeper and deeper into southern and western Aleppo. Rebels have now captured an important mosque in the Saleh el Dine district (map). Videos showed the rebels capturing ammunition that was apparently stored inside the mosque by nearby fighters.

Below is a playlist of several videos showing rebel fighters advancing in Saleh el Dine and elsewhere today:

1900 GMT: False Positives. Yesterday, a video go our attention. It showed a discolored rooftop, damaged by a strange and foul smelling chemical bomb.

We checked it out and forwarded it to various weapons experts, and they think that it is a smoke round from a mortar. It makes sense - it would explain the sulfur smell, and smoke would probably discolor surfaces like this. Chemical weapons like sarin are odorless and colorless, and chlorine smells differently and has the potential to bleach, not stain.

Another microblogger has noticed a video of smoke being used in Babilla, Damascus.

1850 GMT: Death Toll Rises. 91 people have been killed so far today, according to the Local Coordination Committees:

23 martyrs in Damascus and its Suburbs, 19 martyrs in Daraa, 17 martyr in Hama including 9 martyrs were executed in field in Kernaz, 12 martyrs in Aleppo, Idlib, 5 martyrs in Raqqa , 5 martyrs in Idlib, 5 martyrs in Homs and 5 martyrs in Deir Ezzor

1830 GMT: Fighting in Hama City. Hama city is not ready to fall to the rebels, but away from the headlines in much of the rest of the country, rebels continue to fight Assad in the streets of the city, most notably in the Tareeq Halab district in the north. Today, several videos, including this one and the video below, show heavy fighting in the city:

1753 GMT: Fighting East of Damascus. Today, an Assad military convoy once again tried to attack Otabyah, the site of the claimed "chemical weapons" incident east of Damascus. It appears that a group of well-armed rebels again beat back the assault. Several tanks have been destroyed in the fighting over the last several days:

Meanwhile, rebel fighters have reportedly overrun a "shabiha" outpost that they've been attacking for days. They have won a significant amount of mortar rounds as a prize:

1736 GMT: Homs Under Attack. Earlier we posted video of a protest in the El Waer district of Homs (see entry 1355 GMT). That area has been heavily shelled, according to multiple sources. An opposition Facebook posted this update within the last 35 minutes:

heavy mortar shelling on the new district in Waar neighborhood.. 9 shells have fallen until now!

NOTE: Waar neighborhood is the main reservoir of internally displaced families in #Homs. about 600.000 people live there! Now it's under shelling by sadistic Assad regime!!

This was one video posted earlier in the day:

But the shells fell after nightfall as well. This video, and another, show them falling.

1535 GMT: Death Toll Rising. So far today, the Local Coordination Committees report that 56 people have been killed nationwide:

21 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its suburbs; 17 in Daraa; 5 in Hama; 5 in Raqqa; 3 in Homs; 2 in Idlib; 2 in Deir Ezzor; and 1 in Aleppo.

The Local Coordination Committees (LCC) is an activist network operating both inside and outside of Syria. They claim to use stringent verification processes to ensure that a member of the LCC can vouch for any information posted either on their Facebook page or their website. The LCC also populates a database of those killed in the Syrian conflict, which can be seen at the website for the Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria.

The LCC's casualty figures are often a mix of insurgents and civilians, and never include regime casualties. Syrian State Media has stopped reporting regime casualty figures.

Also see our description of the Local Coordination Committees and how we utilize their reports in the Columbia Journalism Review.

1508 GMT: Rebels Press Attack in Darayya. Darayya, west of Damascus, has long been considered an extremely important location, as it lies in a valley that leads up to the most important districts in all of Damascus. The rebels have long occupied it, but the regime has constantly hammered it, trying to dislodge the insurgents.

Not only have they failed to do so, there are new signs that the rebels are closer to pushing Assad's forces out of the districts of the city that they control.

This video was posted today by the LCC. It shows rebels planning to advance through three buildings in order to retake them and attack Assad's front lines from a different angle. This is a proven strategy, but it also shows that Assad is on the defensive in the suburb, despite his tanks that run through the streets firing indiscriminately at targets.

Rebel fighters fire through holes in the wall of buildings they've captured:

But Assad always fights back. This video, posted by the Yalla Souriya blog, reportedly shows an incoming shell landing in the city:

1355 GMT: Friday Protests. Every week, Syrian activists vote, on Facebook, to pick the theme of the Friday protest. Today's theme is "Chemical Weapons Will Not Stop Freedom's Prevalence." Below are just a few select videos of protests, as we get hundreds every week and cannot publish them all.

This was reportedly taken in Bustan al Qaser, Aleppo, very close to Assad's key bases in the southwest. Southwestern Aleppo has been brutally bombed by Assad's airforce. Every jubilant protester in this video is in severe danger. In fact, there is heavy fighting in the Saleh al Dine district, perhaps less than a kilometer to the west:

Al Raqqah, which has only fallen to the rebels in the last few weeks:

This protest in Al Waer may not be the largest, but this district was heavily bombed just yesterday. Not far from here, in the Khalidiyeh district, shells are exploding as the Syrian military is reportedly trying to storm the district:

1338 GMT: It's Not Just About Chemical Weapons. Yesterday there was a horrific attack against a mosque in Damascus, killing dozens, including a senior Sunni cleric who supports Bashar al Assad. At the end of the day, however, the vast majority of people killed in Syria were not killed by that attack. In fact, the Local Coordination Committees report that less than half of those killed in Damascus died in the bomb blast.

On Tuesday, chemical weapons may or may not have been used in both Damascus and Aleppo, but the vast majority of the people who died in Syria were killed by other means.

Every day, in fact, between 100 and 150 people are killed by gunfire, shelling, and airstrikes, but the vast majority never make it to the front page.

The people of Syria have noticed. Every Friday for the last two years there are protests in most towns and cities across Syria, and today the people of Kafranbel have a message about chemical weapons:

1325 GMT: Chemical Weapons Update. Two competing stories have come out in the last two days concerning chemical weapons. The first, a statement posted yesterday from the Syrian opposition in which they claim that Echothiophate, a chemical often found in insecticides, was used in Damascus and Aleppo. In both places, a Scud missile was used to deliver the chemicals.

The second - that no chemical weapons were used at all, according to US officials.

See our separate Syria Snap Analysis: Latest on the "Chemical Weapon" Attacks

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

1113 GMT:Damascus Bomb. President Assad has vowed to rid the country of what he has termed Muslim extremists responsible for the suicide bombing that killed 49 people in Damascus yesterday, including the prominent cleric and supporter of the regime Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti.

In a statement, Assad paid tribute to al-Buti by declaring "Your blood and your grandson's, as well as that of all the nation's martyrs will not go in vain because we will continue to follow your thinking to wipe out their darkness and clear our country of them.”

1050 GMT: Damascus Bomb. The opposition National Coalition, commenting on Thursday's mosque bombing that reportedly killed 49 people --- including a leading pro-regime cleric --- has said it believes "the terrorist Assad’s regime is directly responsible for this heinous incident".

The statement continued:


The Syrian National Coalition condemns without any hesitation, with the strongest expressions the terrorist bombings’ method that the Assad’s regime excelled in implementing to reach its filthy objectives. In fact, the regime doesn’t hesitate to bomb mosques, universities, bakeries and residential areas with scud missiles.


1000 GMT: Insurgent Weapons. The Red Cross has reported, after a five-day visit to Aleppo Province, of a great humanitarian challenge.

The visit included insurgent-held districts of Aleppo city such as Bustan Al-Qasr and Masaken Hanano.

"There are tens of thousands of displaced people in the governorate with no income and no savings who depend on assistance to survive," said Marianne Gasser, head of the Red Cross delegation, "Apart from the pressing humanitarian needs, several roads, hospitals, schools, other public facilities and world heritage sites have been damaged. Essential public services such as the distribution of power and water have also been disrupted as a result of the heavy fighting that has plagued the governorate over the past nine months."

The Red Cross has been unable to return to Aleppo city since July, when fighter started after insurgents established a foothold in neighbourhoods. However, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent --- which arranged the Red Cross visit --- has continued to deliver food and household essentials.


0840 GMT: Insurgent Weapons. State TV shows footage of weapons that the military claims to have captured from insurgents, including two Man-Portable Air-Defence Systems (MANPADs):

Casualties. The Local Coordination Committees claim 181 people were killed on Thursday, including the 42 who died in the Damascus suicide bombing.

The LCC reported 90 deaths in Damascus and its suburbs and 35 in Homs Province.

The Violations Documentation Center records 53,649 deaths since the start of the conflict in March 2011, an increase of 168 from Thursday. Of the dead, 43,028 were civilians.

0600 GMT: Damascus Bomb. Thursday's news was overtaken in the afternoon by a suicide attack inside a mosque in the capital. At least 42 people were killed, including the senior pro-regme Sunni cleric Mohammed Saeed Ramadan al-Bouti.

State media said at least 84 people were injured. Television footage showed wounded people and bodies with severed limbs on the bloodstained floor of the mosque. The area was sealed off by the military.

The opposition National Coalition condemned the attack, with head Moaz al-Khatib declaring, "This is a crime by any measure that is completely rejected."

Al-Bouti, believed to be in his 80s, has been a vocal supporter of the regime since the early days of Assad's father and predecessor, the late President Hafez Assad.

In recent months, Syrian TV has carried Bouti's sermon from mosques in Damascus live every week. He also hosts a regular television programme.

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