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Syria Today: Remembering a Mass Killing

Commander of the "Alawite Syrian Resistance" Mihraç Ural --- is he bragging about "ethnic cleansing"?

2040 GMT: The Internet is Down.

Another watchdog, Umbrella Security Labs, reports:

At around 18:45 UTC OpenDNS resolvers saw a significant drop in traffic from Syria. On closer inspection it seems Syria has largely disappeared from the Internet.

Brown Moses has checked Google, and this is the result:

However, the opposition still has plenty of ways to communicate. Satellite phones and other, more secret, methods have been established since the earliest days of the revolution. This blackout will have a significant impact on information coming out of Syria, but it's not a total blackout.

This is not the first time Assad has cut the internet. The last time, it was cut at the same time of surging insurgent advances and massive defections. The worry, however, is that this internet outage may be an attempt to hide something even more sinister, perhaps like the Baniyas massacre which was trending earlier today on Twitter.

2030 GMT: Internet Down in Syria.

The internet has been cut in Syria, according to a global internet watchdog and several other sources:

2000 GMT: US and Russia to Broker Transition.

The details are trickling in, but anti-Assad activists are already expressing their anger at statements emerging from US Secretary John Kerry after he met with Russia leader Vladimir Putin. What is emerging is that the United States will work with Russia to broker a political solution to the crisis. According to Fox News, that deal might even consist of the breakup of the country into various regions. From what is known, Russia agreed that they are willing to discuss a Syria without "certain persons" in it, and John Kerry has suggested that the US is willing to keep Assad in the picture.

At the end of the day, the takeaway is that a "roadmap" for peace will be discussed at another conference later this month.

So far, the US has been applying more pressure on the regime to push it to negotiate. But even that may soon change if Assad is willing to come to the table:

This is not a surprise to me. While Washington did approve the moving of Croatian weapons to the rebels, those shipments have never been in quantities large enough to end the crisis, and they appear to have stalled in recent months. Washington's goal has always been to push the regime to the negotiating table, and we've been saying that for a long time. Washington may have finally convinced Russia (and maybe even Iran) that the stalemate has been accomplished, and a negotiated settlement is the only solution.

See our February analysis, Syria Analysis: Washington Supports Arming of Insurgents So the Regime Will Negotiate

1906 GMT: Sulfuric Acid Attack?

There are reports that several children were killed and others wounded in a sulfuric acid attack in Al Qusayr, south of Homs. The area is the front line of battle between rebels forces and Hezbollah & regime allies. This video, reportedly taken on May 3rd, claims to show the victims. The doctor in the video says that these three children show symptoms of sulfuric acid, including a "yellow substance coming out of their mouths."

This video is graphic:

1822 GMT: Death Toll Rising.

According to the latest update from the Local Coordination Committees just a few minutes ago, 96 people have been killed so far across the country:

32 martyrs reported in Daraa; 30 martyrs in Damascs and its suburbs; 9 in Hama; 8 in Aleppo; 5 in Qunaitra; 5 in Homs; 3 in Deir Ezzor; and 3 in Idlib.

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.

1803 GMT: Rebels Advance in Aleppo.

North of Aleppo city, the Menneg airbase has been penetrated by rebel fighters who have been in the process of ultimately securing the entire base for several days. Pictures and videos reportedly show the rebels inside the perimeter of the base.

In the northern districts of Aleppo city itself, rebels continue to work to consolidate gains around the Central Prison, which has been surrounded for weeks. While rebels have been able to redress a renewed Assad offensive in the south, in the last month they have established at least nominal control of nearly 5 square miles of Aleppo's northern districts.

Al Jazeera, via Now Lebanon has posted videos and pictures, and has this update on the rebel advances in both locations:

“Rebels have tightened the siege on the area… and have cut all supplies [reaching] the Syrian army,” Al-Jazeera’s reporter in the Aleppo province said.

He added that the negotiations concerning Aleppo’s Central Prison were centered around the release of political detainees as well as women and children.

The same reporter went on to note that the regular army had requested to move its troops to a nearby area in exchange for handing over the entirety of the Minnigh airport, but the rebels refused.

1728 GMT: UN Peacekeepers Detained in the Golan.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has called for the release of the UN peacekeepers detained in the Golan:

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the detention of four UNDOF peacekeepers by armed elements in the vicinity of Al Jamla, in the area of limitation and calls for their immediate release.

The Secretary-General reminds all actors in Syria that UNDOF is mandated to monitor the Disengagement of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria. The Secretary-General calls on all parties to respect UNDOF’s freedom of movement and safety and security

1510 GMT: UN Peacekeepers Detained in Golan.

A picture has been posted on a Facebook page that reportedly shows the four detained UN peacekeepers (see previous update). We're posting it below because we were unable to find it after conducting a reverse-image-search, suggesting that this is the first time it has been uploaded, but the last UN peacekeepers were also from the Philippines.

1430 GMT: UN Peacekeepers Detained in Golan.

The same group that previously detained UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights has reportedly detained four more UN peacekeepers.

This is a developing story.

1245 GMT: Iranian Foreign Minister in Jordan.

Here are the established facts - Iran supports the Assad regime, and has been shipping supplies, and money, into Syria via airports from Deir Ez Zor to Aleppo and Damascus. One could argue that these supplies, as well as those coming from Russia and Lebanon, are propping up the regime. Iran also supports Hezbollah, and Hezbollah fighters have been actively engaged in combat against the Syrian opposition. Jordan, on the other hand, openly supports the Syrian opposition. They supported the move to push Assad out of the Arab League and have the opposition take that seat. Not only that, but it's now well established that Jordan has been sharing intelligence with some Syrian rebels, has been training Syrian rebels, and has been crucial in the process of arming some Syrian rebel groups with Croatian anti-tank weapons.

Today,Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi met with his Joradnian counterpart, Nasser Judeh, in Amman. He signaled that Iran is willing to negotiate an end to this crisis, and he encourages the Assad regime to sit down with the rebels as long as Jabhat al Nusra was not present:

"We have called for talks between the Syrian government and the peaceful opposition to form a transitional government," Salehi told a joint news conference with his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judeh in Amman.

"We have advised the Syrian government to sit with the opposition but not with Al-Nusra."

Salehi also rejected foreign intervention, an apparent reference to Israel's recent bombing of Damascus:

We refuse any solution forced from outside. We are against any foreign intervention in Syria. We have seen what has happened in some countries, which I will not name, after they faced foreign intervention. We don't want history to repeat itself in Syria.

We haven't hidden our position in supporting the Syrian people as well as the Syrian government. This is no secret, however, as we said in the past two years, we are in contact with the opposition, and we have spoken frankly to the Syrian government, urging it to have talks and negotiations with the opposition groups. We recognise the peaceful opposition, not including Jabhet al Nusra, and Al Qaeda, and other groups who are responsible for innocent bloodshed in Syria.

Israel would not dare to attack Iran, you can be sure of that. However we are ready for any worse case scenarios, but at the same time, we are sure that Israel would not undertake such an operation.

Jordan, for its part, sounded somewhere between evasive and conciliatory. Judeh downplayed reports that rebels were being trained in Jordan, and rejected the idea that the country would be used by foreign troops to invade Syria.

Is Iran serious about helping to negotiate a transition to a new government? Is Jordan serious that it is not willing to help outside forces overthrow Assad? So far, the actions of both nations have contradicted these words, but this could be a sign that the rhetoric, and the approach, is changing. Perhaps both sides are finally at the point where they believe negotiations are in their best interests.

With another day of intensifying fighting around the Damascus International Airport, and with a possible sectarian massacre of Sunnis in Baniyas still being uncovered, if a shift has occured, it's too early to see it working on the ground in Syria.

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

1151 GMT: Turkey Condemns Israeli Airstrikes.

Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has condemned Israeli airstrikes on Syrian military sites as “unacceptable.”

Erdogan stated that "No excuse can justify this operation," and that they were a “golden opportunity” for Assad to cover up atrocities perpetrated by government forces.

The Prime Minister suggested that "Assad is trying to cover up what happened at Banias by using the Israeli raids as a pretext."

1115 GMT:Mortar Shell Lands in Golan.

Another mortar shell fired from within Syria has landed in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, although no casualties or damage have been reported.

0440 GMT: Casualties

The Local Coordination Committees claim 90 people were killed on Monday, including 30 in Damascus and its suburbs and 18 in Aleppo Province.

The Violations Documentation Center puts the confirmed death toll at 59,688 since the conflict begin in March 2011, an increase of 134 from Monday.

Of those killed, 46,844 were civilians, a rise of 78 from yesterday.

0420 GMT: Last Week's Mass Killing in Bayada

It is a measure of both the "fog of war" and the pace of events that a mass killing in Syria disappears only a few days after it occurs.

Last Thursday scores of people were killed in the coastal town of Bayada, near Baniyas. However, despite claimed videos of the dead, it was impossible to establish the number --- activists were circulating assertions of up to 500 people, but a "safe" estimate from the lmited information available was at least 60.

The circumstances were even murkier. The Syrian military and pro-regime militia were generally blamed for the killings, with assertions of men being rounded up and executed and women and children killed in their homes. Why this occurred, however, was never established.

By the weekend, Bayada --- and the difficulty of finding out what had occurred --- had been set aside by the headlines of chemical weapons and Israeli airstrikes.

Last night, EA's James Miller followed up the story. While it is still not possible to guage the extent of the killings --- Miller evaluates available information to say "perhaps more than 100" --- he sets out the claims of continuing attacks on villages in the area, the removal of bodies, some of which were executed, and the discovery of a mass grave.

Miller also considers the troubling allegation of "ethnic cleansing" with the video of a commander of the "Alawite Syrian Resistance" who allegedly brags about the episode: "Baniyas must be soon besieged, liberated and cleansed....Baniyas is the only pathway for those traitors [insurgents] to the sea....Our job is to cleanse and liberate towns."

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