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Syria Live: Insurgent Attacks in Central Aleppo

Insurgents attacks the Central Prison in Aleppo on Monday

See also Syria Feature: How "Independent Analysts" Are Breaking the Stories of the Conflict
Bahrain (and Beyond) Live: An Agenda for a National Dialogue?
Monday's Syria Live: The Deaths on Easter Sunday

1825 GMT: Death Toll Rises. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 75 people have been killed so far today:

36 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its suburbs; 11 martyrs in Quneitra; 11 in Aleppo; 6 in Homs; 4 in Daraa; 6 in Idlib; and 1 in Raqqa.

See update 1308 for a details on the casualty figures posted by the LCC.

1544 GMT: Devastation in Deir Ez Zor. Deir Ez Zor, in the east of Syria, is usually out of the international spotlight, but what's happening there is significant. Rebel groups, led by the Islamist Jabhat al Nusra, have captured most of the city. The airport, however, and a string of bases dug into the mountains, allow the regime to pummel the city. These targets have proven hard for the rebels to capture, despite their overwhelming firepower in the region.

The Guardian's Mona Mahmoud interviewed a member of Jabhat al Nusra today. He gave several interesting pieces of information about daily life there. He also commented on Syria's larger political situation, exposing a rift between Al Nusra and the main group of Syrian leadership:

He denied that foreign fighters were “strangers to Syria as Moaz al-Khatib claimed”, saying that actually that description fitted the leader of the Syrian National Coalition umbrella opposition group: “The real strangers to Syria are al-Khatib and his followers, who are based in Turkey most of the time, just talking and giving press conferences.”

The city, meanwhile, has been heavily devastated. Even if the fighting ends, the fight for survival for Deir Ez Zor's residents may be just beginning. This video, posted today by the LCC, reportedly shows damage to the College of Science. Other videos show the flash of explosions and the deep echoes of the fighting and shelling, as well as the smoke rising above the city.

1515 GMT: Rebel Rocket Attacks. Earlier, we posted what may have been a Rak-12 Croatian rocket launcher in Idlib. However, looking at a higher-resolution video, it seems this is a Type 63 launcher, the same kind that the regime has - many of these have been captured by the rebels.

Still, several videos reportedly show the Type 63 used near Ma'arrat al Nouman. Assad has several hardened bases nearby, and these are reportedly the target:<

Differentiating between the two weapons is difficult in lower resolution pictures and videos. However, it seems that more and more rocket launchers of all types are being used to target the regime.

1434 GMT: Islamists Ambush Regime Supply Lines. A reader, Alex, shares this video in the comments. It's interesting. It reportedly shows rebel fighters ambushing a regime supply shipment headed toward Zabadani (map). Zabadani, an area that was fully in rebel control a year ago, is still disputed. It is also geographically isolated, positioned in the mountains west of Damascus. It's particularly vulnerable to attacks like these, especially as the rebels are making more gains north and west of Damascus:

But it may be important for another reason. The attack was reportedly conducted by Jabhat al Nusra, a group with claimed links to Al Qaeda in Iraq, in conjunction with other Islamist brigades. A group calling itself Jabhal al Islamiyah, working with al-Hamzah bin Abdul Muttalib and Jabhat al Nusra, and another group called the Sham Islamic Freedom Movement. We're not sure, but this last group sounds like it is a title for the Islamist alliance. If this group is growing west of Damascus, it may have important implications for several reasons, so this will be important to monitor moving forward.

1406 GMT: Rebels Use Heavy Equipment to Attack. Yesterday had a theme - the use of heavy ordinance and armored vehicles to do heavy damage. But for a change it was the rebels who were conducting a show of strength, not just the regime.

Below are videos of rebel attacks in Ma'arrat al Nouman, Idlib province, and in the northeastern districts of Aleppo. The rebels used tanks, self-propelled howitzers, anti-tank guns, field artillery, heavy anti-aircraft machineguns, and other heavy equipment - to devastating effectt.

We're not interested in these videos because they're visually exciting. They suggest that a significant shift has occurred inside these areas. Heavy equipment such as this is extremely vulnerable to both artillery and airstrikes. Yet rebels now conduct these attacks with near impunity in many areas of the country. If Assad's airforce is ill-equipped to deal with such threats, and if Assad's artillery can no longer deter the use of this equipment in several key areas, it may suggest that the speed of rebel victories may increase. We can't draw that conclusion yet, but it is one trend that we will be following closely.

However, none of these battles was near Damascus. On one point most Syria watchers agree - Assad can survive at least as long as his bases in Damascus survive. Closer to the capital, Assad's airforce and artillery is stronger, better positioned, and better supported, so perhaps the use of heavy equipment in the capital is still impossible for the rebels.

We're beginning to piece together evidence, however, that a regime tank and armor convoy did in fact lose a significant battle near Damascus yesterday.

Adra (map) is east of Douma, Damascus. The suburb was once an Assad stronghold, a symbol of regime power east of the capital, containing a large and infamous prison, the base of the 39th brigade, and several Republican Guard outposts. The town, however, is under heavy attack, and is slowly slipping to rebel control, though large pockets of Assad resistance remain.

Yesterday, several interesting videos reportedly show rebel fighters destroying a tank convoy in the city (I should note, we're not 100% confident of the location of these videos yet, but several sources think it may be near Adra - we're fairly confident they are the same battle, though). The first video is interesting - a group of fighters shoot small arms at several regime tanks. This is dangerous, as they have almost no chance of destroying them this way. However, a group of fighters flank the tanks. We don't see the whole battle, but it appears that they capture and/or destroy several vehicles. The rebels in this video prove that they can stand toe-to-toe with Assad's armor because they have chosen appropriate tactics, not because of overwhelming force. The video is also a perfect illustration of how tanks without infantry support are extremely vulnerable. Assad relies more on tanks now than infantry as they are less prone to demoralization, surrender, and defection:

The second video is somewhat less illustrative, but it shows that an entire tank and armor convoy has been defeated by the rebels, not just the two in the previous video.

If we can confirm the location and details of this battle, it may tell us a lot about how effective the rebel fighters are, even without their heavy equipment that they're using elsewhere.

Several notes - a video shows destruction in the town of Adra, the result of shelling (or bombing, we think the narrator says). Another video, which may have been taken near Adra as well, reportedly shows rebels firing a homemade launcher for captured regime Grad rockets.

1308 GMT: Death Toll Rising. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 50 people have been killed so far today:

28 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its suburbs, among them 10 martyrs in Hajar Aswad neighborhood; 7 martyrs in Quneitra field executed in Dnajieh town; 5 in Homs; 4 in Daraa; 4 in Idlib; 1 in Aleppo; and 1 in Raqqa.

Yesterday, one contact told me it was as if all of Damascus was on fire. Smoke could be seen rising over every corner of the city, and the elevated death toll in the capital was the result of heavy shelling and rocket attacks. Today, we hear more of the same. From east to west, and across the southern districts, Damascus has been heavily shelled.

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 cooperates with an independent organization to populate 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.

It should be noted that the VDC has been down since Friday. The SRCC, another group which tracks daily casualties, has not made regular daily updates for several weeks. According to Rafif Jouejati, the LCC spokesperson, they are suffering from technical difficulties.

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

1153 GMT: Kidnapping and Threat of Retaliation. The regime has given the kidnappers of eight Alawite workers until midnight Tuesday to hand over their hostages, threatening to destroy the region of Wadi Khaled in north Lebanon if its demands are not met, residents have said.

A resident said flyers were distributed in Wadi Khaled, near the border with Syria, with the threat.

The Lebanese al-Ahmad tribe, based in the area, said they were ready to free the eight in exchange for the release of Ahmad Mahmoud al-Ahmad, who has been held by Syrian authorities for more than year.

1133 GMT: Deprivation. AFP profiles the struggle of people in Khirbet al-Khaldiya in northern Syria.

"We eat herbs and collect stagnant rainwater to drink and wash in," says 24-year-old Hisham, his head covered in a red and white checkered keffiyeh scarf.

Hisham, who sports a budding blonde beard, was about to enter university when the fighting that has engulfed Syria erupted in 2011....

In Khirbet al-Khaldiya, a makeshift camp near the Turkish border, Hisham shows off a nearly-dry rivulet of water, infested with fungi and insects, surrounded by a swarm of children, many of whom have contracted skin infections because of the dirty water.

Naida, 35, has seven young children. She bathes them in the infested water because the nearest clean water supply is several kilometers away.

"We pick herbs like mint and mallow in the countryside and we cook them. We don't have anything else to eat," she says.

"My husband used to work in a quarry, breaking stone, but now we have no more resources and no one to help us. Once we brought a kilo of potatoes per family -- how can we all live on a potato a week?">

1119 GMT: Aid. The World Food Programme is calling on the regime and insurgents to allow humanitarian aid to pass safely into conflict zones.

The group says it faces “enormous challenges” reaching areas of rural Damascus, Quneitra, Daraa, Deir Ezzor, Raqqa, and many parts of the north, particularly Aleppo and Idlib:

WFP’s Muhannad Hadi said:

It has become a struggle now to move food from one area to the other with our warehouses and trucks getting increasingly caught in the crossfire. We are sometime left with the difficult decision of calling off the dispatch of food to a place where we know there is dire need for it.

WFP food trucks have been stopped at checkpoints. Some have been forced to turn back, and some have been hijacked.

In March, three trucks, loaded with food for 17,000 people in Al Hassakeh, were looted by an armed group in rural Deir Ezzor.

0852 GMT: New Weapons. The Croatian-made RAK-12 rocket launcher, first noticed inside southern Syria by EA's James Miller this weekend, has now been spotted in Idlib Province a similar weapon is seen here, the Type 63, likely captured from the regime, near al-Fuah and Kefriya.

Insurgents of the Islamist faction Ahrar as-Sham say the system has been deployed in response to daily attacks from pro-regime militia on cities and towns in Idlib Province with rockets, mortar launchers, and artillery killing many civilians: "We bombed the Shabiha centers and Assad's forces in the towns of al-Fuah and Kefriya with rocket launchers and we succeeded in inflicting damage.

0523 GMT: Aleppo. News emerged throughout Monday of insurgent attacks in Syria's largest city.

The most dramatic footage came from the Central Prison, where videos showed the opposition using an anti-tank weapon or Howitzer. Insurgents of the Liwaa al Tawid Brigade, an Islamist faction working with but not part of the Free Syria Army also attacked the nearby Jandalla Roundabout, with video pointing to use of a tank.

The Local Coordination Committees claimed that 146 people were killed on Monday, including 55 in Damascus and its suburbs, 31 in Homs Province, 25 in Idlib Province, and 18 in Aleppo Province.

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