A preview of President Assad's interview with a Turkish TV station, to be broadcast tonight (see 1026 GMT)
2040 GMT: Grad Rockets In Ma'arrat al Nouman. We've been talking a lot about Ma'arrat al Nouman in recent days. On the front lines of Idlib province, the rwebel stronghold is flanked by two important bases, both of which have proven impossible for the rebels to breach despite months of bombardment. The bases are equipped with heavy bunkers, dug in artillery, and are being provided air support by Syrian jets.
Interestingly, however, we've seen a lot of new rebel equipment show up near Ma'arrat al Nouman, including several Do-It-Yourself launchers for 122mm rockets, popularly known as Grads rockets after the BM-21 Grad. Even more interestingly, some of these weapons and rockets appear as if they have been shipped to the area, perhaps from other Assad bases where they have been captured. This suggests that the rebel command organization may be making the capturing of Wadi al Daif and the Hamidiyeh bases a priority:
2017 GMT: Wounded Rebel Commander Recovering. Riad al Assad, a rebel commander who was injured in Deir Ez Zor, is recovering in a Turkish hospital, according to a prominent activist:
Pic from FB: Col. Riyad Asa'ad is recovering well twitter.com/THE_47th/statu…— The 47th (@THE_47th) April 5, 2013
1926 GMT: Friday Protests. Welcome to the 752 day of the Syrian uprising. Every Friday since the start of the uprising, people of Syria have taken to the streets to protest the Assad regime. In the last several weeks protests were much larger, some of them bordering on huge, as protesters celebrated the two year anniversary of the uprising. Today's protests seem to have been smaller, which was perhaps expected, but protesting at all in Syria is still extremely dangerous, even in "liberated" areas, as many dead and injured protesters remind us each week.
Every Friday has a theme, voted upon by Syrians across the country. This week, the theme roughly translates to, "Refugees, the honor and dignity of our address," honoring those who have fled the violence. Looking at our own contacts, so many whom we've communicated have fled to neighboring countries. Their presence is missed by their friends and family, but also by activists who grew to respect their contributions of society.
Below are some of the videos from today's protests:
Also, each week we pay attention to the defiant wit of the people of Kafranbel. Today's theme concerns the focus of world attention, not on the crisis in Syria but on the antics of North Korea. Below are two of today's posters (click to see a full-sized image in a pop-out window).
1850 GMT: UN is so Broke it's Cutting Back Water Shipments. Most of the international humanitarian aid promised to UN efforts to help Syrian refugees has not been delivered. The UN is so "broke" that it will cut back water shipments, right in the middle of summer:
Unicef is currently providing water, sanitation, vaccines, education and other essential services in Jordan's Zaatari camp, which houses nearly 150,000 refugees.
So far the agency has only received $12m (£7.8m), or 19%, of the $57m it appealed for to fund its Jordan operations this year.
As a result, it will soon need to "scale back life-saving support", Ms Mercado said.
"In concrete terms, this means that by June, we will stop delivering 3.5m litres of water every day to Zaatari camp."
1816 GMT: Fighting in Rural East Ghouta. This morning there was news of heavy shelling east of Damascus, in a rural area near a factory run by a company called Tameco, a company that makes pharmaceuticals and baby food (map). Soon after it became clear why the area was being shelled, as there were reports of a regime armored convoy in the vicinity. It appears that this is one of the areas that is being used by the rebels to attack nearby bases, including the International Airport to the south.
It appears that the mortar and artillery attacks did not clear the rebels, as they've destroyed several armored vehicles. Beyond the video below, the LCC has posted another video of a third vehicle destroyed by an RPG-7:
The Tameco factory appears to be closed, and there was a fire there back in January, reportedly due to shelling.
1723 GMT: Rebels Capture Base Near Border Crossing. According to Reuters, Syrian rebels are now in control of a base that guard's the country's largest border crossing with Jordan:
Fighters from the Free Syrian Army captured the heavily fortified Um al-Mayathen garrison on the main Damascus-Jordan highway, several kilometers from Syria's' Nassib border crossing, after heavy clashes overnight with army forces that left dozens dead.
We're not 100% sure which garrison the article is referencing, however it is possible that it is a vehicle garrison just west of Um al Maithen (map), one of several positions we've seen bombarded by rebel moratsr and rockets this week. Also note the proximity of this location to southern Daraa city, an area where the rebels are already on the advance.
1649 GMT: Jabhat Al Nusra Imposes No Fly Zone in Aleppo. EDIT - this video is from December 22. 2012.
Starting in three days, the Islamist rebel group Jabhat al Nusra will destroy any aircraft, commercial or otherwise, that flies over Aleppo. In a statement posted on Youtube, rebel fighters operating a zu-23-2 anti-aircraft gun claim that the regime is using commercial aircraft to deliver supplies to Assad troops, and so even commercial flights will be targeted. Al Jazeera English reports:
1545 GMT: Death Toll Rising. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 54 people have been killed nationwide so far today, mostly in Damascus:
36 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs; 10 in Aleppo; 3 in Daraa; 2 in Hama; 1 in Deir Ezzor; 1 in Homs; and 1 in Idlib.
1450 GMT: Rebels Prepare to Connect East with West. A microblogger shares an interesting video:
Markito suggests that the location of this video is on the highway east of Palmyra, at the center of the map below. Rebels, led by the Islamist Ahrar al Sham and Jabhat al Nusra brigades, have already captured Al Bukamal, Al Mayadin, and Al Raqqah to the east. Deir Ez Zor is in dispute, as these rebels have taken much of the city but have been unable to crack Assad's largest bases - the Deir Ez Zor International Airport, and the artillery bases dug into the high ground that overlooks the city. Meanwhile, the rebels continue to advance in Daraa to the southwest and in Idlib/Aleppo to the northwest, but Homs and Hama have been harder areas for the rebels to make inroads. Jabhat al Nusra and other groups have been attacking near Palmyra and in eastern Homs and Hama provinces for several months. If they are preparing to attack Palmyra, they could effectively link their wins in the east with the heavily populated areas in the west, opening a new front as well as a new supply route. The regime has been unable to answer this threat because its airforce, tanks, and artillery are so focused on Aleppo and Damascus.
View Syria - 2013 April 5 - EA Worldview in a larger map
This may be the hidden plan of the Islamist groups that are struggling to find support among the rebel leadership in the west, and especially in the southwest. Whichever group takes Palmyra may play a crucial role in the next chapter of this conflict, but there has been almost no attention paid to this location from most Syria analysts or the media.
The CFDPC, a network of activists who report from Damascus, have posted a video and picture gallery of the explosions, as well as the destruction afterwards. According to the activists, that bombardment has continued into the day as well.
The Guardian posts several videos as well, and reports that according to both the LCC and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 5 people were killed last night. That number may rise, however.
It's not just Barzeh that is being pounded by rockets and artillery. Southeast of here, both Jobar and Zamalka (map) are reportedly also being bombarded. Videos show smoke rising across the eastern districts of Damascus.
1359 GMT: Rebels Renew Attack on Al Safira. Al Safira, southeast of Aleppo (map), is important for many reasons. For starters, it's home to what may be the regime's largest chemical weapons stockpile, one of the largest such facilities in the entire region. That stockpile is guarded by an extensive base that has been fought over for months. Al Safira is also one of Aleppo's largest suburbs and is positioned on a key supply route for Assad's forces, and in recent weeks the regime has sent dozens of heavily guarded convoys down that highway to open those supply lines and drive the rebels back.
In recent days the rebels have once again pushed forward in the city, and today they have renewed their attack, according to several sources. The LCC reports:
FSA attaks Um Amoud checkpoint on the road to defense factories and kills number of soldiors and controls artilleries caliber 57 and caliber 23 in addition to a number of Dochka machine guns.
However, sources also indicate that the town has been shelled today, and some of the shells fell on a mosque. This video, apparently taken by one of the Islamist fighters in the town, shows some of the damage to the mosque.
Other graphic videos like this one show one of the field hospitals where the wounded were treated. Fatalities are reported.
1323 GMT: "Damascus will be liberated from Daraa." This week, the rebels made significant advances in Daraa province, not only capturing Dael and the home of the regime's Brigade 49, but also repelling Assad incursions in nearly every part of the province. Furthermore, the rebels continue to advance in southern Daraa city - yesterday's advances mean that the rebels are in control of almost the entire southern half of the provincial capital. When one keeps in mind that the rebels have recently captured towns and bases north of Daraa city, it's easy to see the precarious situation the regime's soldiers in the city are now in.
Daraa is important. It's control would provide the rebels with free access to Jordan's border, as well as a route to strike at Damascus, a short distance away.
The Associated Press has interviewed a soldier fighting with the rebels who sums up the importance of this week's news succinctly:
"Damascus will be liberated from here, from Daraa, from the south," declared an armed fighter, a rifle slung over his shoulder and a kaffiyeh tied around his face. Videos posted online by activists showed him and other unidentified rebels celebrating inside the Syrian army's 49th battalion in the village of Alma, on the outskirts of Daraa.
"We will march to the presidential palace from here," said another fighter, amid bursts of Allahu Akbar, or God is great. The videos showed rebels from the Suqour Houran, or Eagles of Houran brigade, driving a Russian-made armored personnel carrier inside the base. "These missiles are now under our control," said a fighter, standing before a missile loaded on a truck.
Another video, posted by the Fajr al-Islam brigade, showed the rebels walking around the base as the heavy thud of incoming artillery rounds fired by nearby regime forces was heard in the background. A destroyed rocket, army trucks and radars were seen on the ground.
The article is flawed. For instance, it states that a Syrian jet, not a helicopter, fired into Lebanon this week. It also fails to mention that missiles captured by the rebels are surface to air missiles, S-75s we believe, not surface-to-surface missiles. Experts we've spoken to also suggest hat the rebels would have a hard time using such weapons without a significant radar network, which is why we haven't seen other large surface-to-air missiles used yet.
The AP article also includes an interesting quote from Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut, who says, "if Daraa falls, the rebels will come face-to-face with the Israeli army in the Golan." This sounds like alarmism. The reality is that Israel has tried to distance itself from fighting already going on in Daraa province on the border (or over it) in the demilitarized zone of the Golan Heights. There have absolutely been cross-border incidents, but it has yet to spark a full-scale Israeli intervention. Furthermore, it's entirely possible that if the rebels did capture all of Daraa province, there would be fewer cross-border incidents here, not more.
Still, the AP article gets one thing right - the rebels have their sights on Daraa province in the south, and if it falls it will alter the dynamics of this conflict.
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us to the afternoon.
"The needs are rising exponentially, and we are broke," UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado, said.
There are now an estimated 1.25 million refugees, three-quarters of them women and children, and 4 million people internally displaced.
"Since the beginning of the year, more than 2,000 refugees have streamed across the borders (into Jordan) every day. We expect these numbers to more than double by July and triple by December," Mercado said. "By the end of 2013, we estimate there will be 1.2 million Syrian refugees in Jordan --- equivalent to about one-fifth of Jordan's population."
1026 GMT:Assad TV Interview. An interview with President Assad by a Turkish TV station, conducted on Tuesday, is expected to be broadcast tonight:
In the interview, Assad blasts the Turkey Prime Minister, “[Recep Tayyip] Erdogan has not said a single word of truth since the beginning of the crisis in Syria."
The President also criticises the Arab League for recognising the opposition National Coalition as the representative of the Syrian people: "Real legitimacy is not accorded by organizations or foreign officials,” he said. “All these theatrics have no value in our eyes.”
0929 GMT:Chemical Weapons. The United Nations and Syria have not yet reached an agreement on the level of access that UN chemical weapons inspectors will have to investigate allegations of use during the conflict.
The Syrian Ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja’afari,said that only limited access is required in Aleppo, the site of an incident in which a possible chemical atack killed 26 people. The Syrian government and the opposition blame each other for the incident.
Angela Kane, the head of the UNOffice of Disarmament Affairs, noted that although the Aleppo incident would be the main focus of the investigation, the investigation will also consider other accusations that regime forces have used chemical weapons.
0915 GMT: Surviving. Facing the risk of snipers, people in Aleppo rush across open space:
Peter Maurer, President of the Red Cross (ICRC), said aid workers had been able to do make more trips into opposition-held areas in the past two weeks. He said they were "not pleasantly surprised" by what they found, with the need for food, sanitation, water and medicine increasing.
On Wednesday, the United Nations raised its estimate of people displaced in Syria to 4 million --- a sharp rise from the 2.5 million figure of last year.
The UN also increased the estimate of refugees outside Syria to 1.2 million.
The Violations Documentation Center reports 55,227 people killed since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011, an increase of 124 on Thursday. Of the dead, 44,096 are civilians, a rise of 105 from yesterday.0622 GMT: The Foreign Base in Jordan. In January, we began reporting on a covert operation by the US and other countries to train insurgents and supply them with weapons, using a base in Jordan.
Less than three months later, that operation is an open secret. And yesterday the Syrian regime decided to act on it, warning Jordan that it is "playing with fire" by allowing the foreign support of the insurgency.
The warning came amid insurgent advances on the Syrian side of the border and a statement by a Jordanian security official that the Kingdom has doubled its military force along the frontier.
A front-page editorial in the official Syrian daily al-Thawra accused Amman of adopting a policy of "ambiguity" by training the opposition fighters while at the same time publicly insisting on a political solution.
Interestingly, the Jordanian Minister of Information framed the Kingdom's build-up not as a response to Damascus but to the prospect of an "extremist" opposition: "Jordan can't sit idle and watch al-Qaeda and other militants seizing control of its common border with Syria. It must take proactive steps to arrive at a state of equilibrium in the security structure on the border."