Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: At Least 44 Dead in Airstrike on Ma'arat al-Numan
Friday, October 19, 2012 at 9:28 | James Miller
2227 GMT: Syria. The videos from Deir Ez Zor are terrible. While we cannot share them here, we have published a few in a separate video gallery (viewer discretion advised). It's dark, so impossible to count the bodies, but there may be dozens of videos like the ones we have posted - it's entirely possible that there are 75 bodies, or more, in Deir Ez Zor.
2208 GMT: Syria. Today's death toll could be staggering. According to the latest tally by the Local Coordination Committees,more than 230 people have died so far today:
69 martyrs in Damascus and its suburbs most of them were in Hamorya and Saqba massacres along with 9 martyrs were field executed in Yarmouk refugees camp and 4 were field executed in Qadam. 53 maryrs in Idlib most of them in Maarrat Alnoman massacre, 35 in Aleppo including 6 were found in Jam’eyat Alzahra, 24 in Homs, 18 in Daraa including 7 were field executed in Ma’raba and 4 were field executed in Inkhel, 14 in Deir Ezzor, 8 in Hama, 6 in Qunaitra and 3 martyrs in Raqqa.
LCC could also count 134 points at which the regime army randomly shelled civilians including 22 points [that] were bombarded by war planes. Regime forces also dropped explosive drums at 6 points which are Hamorya, Saqba, Shefoniya and Douma in Damascus suburbs, Maarrat Alnoman in Idlib and Western suburbs of Aleppo.
FSA documented 36 points of clashes with regime army and... 13 operations [conducted by the FSA] and... [the] capture many forces of regime army.
Even this number is already out of date. Several more casualties are reported by the LCC since this total, and a horrific story is emerging from Deir Ez Zor that more than 75 people have been found, executed by regime forces and dumped in a mass grave.
Now, a note on the casualty figures produced by the LCC:
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 a mix of insurgents and civilians, and never include regime casualties. Syrian State Media has stopped reporting regime casualty figures.
While we cannot confirm these reports, the LCC has proven to be highly reliable in the past.
An activist puts things in perspective:
And another activist expresses frustration of the media's coverage of this conflict:
2200 GMT: Bahrain. EA's John Horne reports:
Multiple reports from Bahrain indicate a tense and repressive situation in Al-Eker village, where a policeman died last night. Security forces have reportedly blocked all access to the village. Opposition society AlWefaq issued an urgent statement claiming that a "status of emergency was unofficially imposed by the regime forces" in Al-Eker
Around three hours ago, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights members Zainab AlKhawaja and Said Yousif Almuhafda tried to enter the village but were blocked at a checkpoint. Zainab described the village as "now completely surrounded by riot police". Security forces told her that "nobody is allowed in or out of Al-Eker village". She was also told by locals that "riot police have broken into more than 25 houses".
Zainab also spoke with a 15 year old boy whose leg was injured after " riot police threw stun grenades" into his house
Between the screaming of the women and children crying, they grabbed his brother and started asking him where their cousin is. When he said he did not know, the masked men attacked him and started beating him severely. When the boy asked the masked men to stop beating his brother, they threw a stun grande at him, injuring his leg. The police then attacked the women, spraying their faces with chemical spray.
There is also violence being reported in other villages in the country. Several shotgun injuries have been reported in Karranah.
2008 GMT: Lebanon. And now the denials - Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi has condemned the bombing, ashas Hezbollah:
Hezbollah also called on Lebanese to stand united and urged an investigation into the Friday explosion. The Syrian government has also issued a statement condemning the terrorist attack as a 'cowardly' move.
1946 GMT: Lebanon/Syria. Walid Jumblatt, a prominent leader of the Lebanese Druze and the head of the Progressive Socialist Party, speaks to Al Jazeera English. He points the finger directly at Syrian President Bashar al Assad as being solely responsible for the death of Wissam al Hassan. Jumblatt stops short, however, of directly blaming Hezbollah. Instead, Jumblatt requested the quieting of sectarian tension and the focus on the real problem - the Syrian regime:
1920 GMT: Lebanon. Only yesterday Saad Hariri accused Hezbollah of committing crimes in Syria.
“The Lebanese -- Shiites, Sunnis and Christians -- know very well, even from the mouths of senior Hezbollah officials, the nature of [the party’s] involvement in what it alleged to be ‘a jihadi duty’ alongside the machine of killings, repression, crackdown and subjugation facing the Syrian people,” a statement released by Hariri's media office.
“There is no longer anything that can help to cover up this clear crime committed by Hezbollah first against Lebanon before Syria, especially it is fully aware that the days of its ally in Damascus are numbered.”
1825 GMT: Lebanon. Saad Heriri has pointed his finger firmly at Syria's President for the assassination by car bombing of security official Wissam al-Hassan:
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Friday of being behind the huge car bomb which killed senior Lebanese intelligence official Wissam al-Hassan in central Beirut.
Asked by Future Television who was responsible for the killing, Hariri replied: “Bashar Hafez al-Assad,” giving the full name of the Syrian president. Hariri’s father, Rafik al-Hariri, was killed seven years ago in a bombing which his supporters blamed on Damascus and Hezbollah, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, one of Lebanon's most prominent leaders of the Druze community, and head of the Progressive Socialist Party, has also accused Assad of the crime:
1800 GMT: Lebanon. And now it begins - Saad Harari is speaking out against the assassination:
1731 GMT: Lebanon. More clashes are already being reported in the wake of the news of the death of Wissam al Hassan:
1721 GMT: Lebanon. David Kenner suggests that what has happened today in Beirut, the death of a very important intelligence officer in a car bombing, could be the start of a real horror story in the Middle East:
In Lebanon, each security branch is a fiefdom of a different political party. Hassan wasn't just a non-partisan official, but widely recognized as the central ally of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's Future Movement, the country's most important Sunni party. As FP contributor Elias Muhanna writes, Hassan had "long been the target of...ire" from Lebanon's pro-Assad political alliance. Hassan had been riding high: His branch had just arrested Michel Samaha, one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's staunchest allies in Beirut, on charges of plotting attacks against Christian areas on orders of the Syrian regime.
For Hariri and his anti-Assad allies, then, this looks like payback: They struck a blow against one of Assad's men, so the Syrian regime took revenge by killing the man who orchestrated the arrest. The backlash is already brewing: Lebanese press outlets have reported scattered clashes and blocked roads in areas of Beirut and the northern city of Tripoli that are typically flashpoints for violence.
Kenner ends by echoing our own fears: "The entire effort to keep Lebanon out of Syria's war could come crashing down."
1708 GMT: Jordan. It's looking more and more like what has happened in Amman was a simple ceiling collapse, and not an "explosion" as initially reported by the Associated Press. Clearly, however, tensions are high everywhere:
1700 GMT: Lebanon. This may be the event that triggers a series of major events across the Middle East. Lebanon has already been internally torn between whether to support Assad or not, with Hezbollah taking Assad's side and many in the Lebanese government, most especially General Wissam al Hassad, were pushing against Assad. This may be a catalyst for intense violence - then again, with the situation so confusing, it's still possible that quick leadership on the part of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Hasan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, could disarm this conflict.
One problem - fighting has already started.
1650 GMT: Jordan. BREAKING news:
1645 GMT: Lebanon. Who was Brigadier-General Wissam al-Hassan, killed in today's blast? Blogger and academic Elias Muhanna, who was written extensively on al-Hassan, offers this overview:
Wissam al-Hassan was one of the most important security figures in Lebanon. He headed up the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces (i.e. the Lebanese police), and was recently responsible for arresting Michel Samaha, a former minister with close ties to Syria, for allegedly conspiring to have explosives blown up all around Lebanon in a bid to create havoc. The move was seen as hugely destabilizing in Lebanon — because Wissam al-Hassan is very close to the March 14th coalition while Samaha had long been regarded as “untouchable” because of his connections to Damascus — and yet none of Samaha’s Lebanese allies demanded his release.
Wissam al-Hassan also has a very interesting role in the investigation of the Hariri assassination.
See Muhanna's original post for links to significant pieces by him relevant to al-Hassan.
1609 GMT: Lebanon. More details on the significance of the reported death of Wissam al Hassan:
Whoever was responsible, this could easily ignite tensions between Lebanon and Syria.
1604 GMT: Lebanon. Back from a phone conference to find some major news. Wissam al-Hassan, a top Lebanese security official, was killed in today's bombing in Beirut. John Horne reports:
As the dust settles and the scale of the bombing - and its targets - become known, the finger pointing begins.
Two Lebanese MP's have already accused the Assad regime. Kataeb bloc MP Nadim Gemayel, who represents Ashrafieh, the area where the bombing took place, said, "The Syrian regime is not [detached] from such kind of explosions, which is political par excellence". He added, in an interview with LBC Television which is politically affiliated with the March 14 Alliance, "“the Syrian regime is collapsing and is trying to move its crisis to Lebanon.
Similarly, speaking to Saudi owned AlArabiya, Future bloc MP Nohad Mashnouq said, "The explosion is a message sent from the Syrian regime to terrorize the Lebanese people."
1442 GMT: Turkey/Egypt EA's John Horne reports:
The New York Times reports on an emerging alliance between Egypt and Turkey, following the ousting of the former's previous dictator and the escalting crisis in Syria:
Egypt and Turkey are considering plans to lift visa restrictions and recently completed joint naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea. Turkey has offered a host of measures to bolster Egypt’s economy, including a $2 billion aid package. There is even talk of Turkey’s helping Egypt to restore its Ottoman-era buildings. A wider-ranging partnership is expected to be announced in the coming weeks when the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose party shares an Islamist pedigree with Egypt’s leadership, goes to Cairo
The collapse in relations with Syria may have prompted Turkey to speed up its alliance with Egypt, but the partnership is also rooted in the Islamist politics of the leaders of the two countries and their respective movements: Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., and the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi. This connection offers chances for a new Sunni Islamic bloc, even as each country offers a different understanding of how Islam and democracy can coexist.
1439 GMT: Kuwait. EA's John Horne reports:
Kuwait's ruling family issued a statement yesterday calling for obedience to the Emir.
The statement was published on state news agency KUNA and opens with a verse from the Quaran:
O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you. (Surat Annisa, verse 59)
The Council would like to reaffirm that any affair relating to the ruling family is not subject to publication in any form whether audio, visual or written.
His Highness the Crown Prince, in his capacity as President of the Council, would like also to assert His Highness the Emir's right to be obeyed.
The Council would like to reaffirm that any affair relating to the ruling family is not subject to publication in any form whether audio, visual or written.
This statement followed the arrest yesterday of two former MPs, Bader al-Dahum and Falah al-Sawwagh, accused of criticising the Emir during a large opposition rally on Monday. A third opposition politician was also brougth in for questioning. The rally was held days after the Emir dissolved parliament, increasing political tensions in the country.
Opposition politician Musallam al-Barrak, who appealed directly to the Emir in a speech at Monday's protest to not take Kuwait "into the abyss of autocracy", has so far not been arrested. He is reported as saying at the rally:
We will not allow you, your highness, to take Kuwait into the abyss of autocracy," he warned. "We no longer fear your prisons and your riot batons.
If your highness decides to change the election law by emiri decree, then you alone are responsible for complicating matters and you alone are responsible for resolving it.
A reader of academic As'ad AbuKhali's blog "The Angry Arab" sent the followingobservation about the significance of al-Barrak's comments:
The way this Kuwaiti opposition MP has broken the taboo of addressing the emir directly has set a precedent that will be difficult to reverse and is likely to be raising eyebrows in Gulf states. Twitter was going crazy with it. Historic indeed. Don't be deceived by the speaker though. He's a populist and will say anything to get the crowd roaring. But this really is unprecedented and is worth a watch.
1438 GMT: Egypt. According to the Associated Press, "several thousand" protesters are demonstrating in Cairo "to demand the president and his Muslim Brotherhood supporters ensure the country's constitution represents all factions of society". The protesters are en route to Tahrir Square, the scene of violent clashes last friday between critics and supporters of President Morsi.
1423 GMT: Syria. Meanwhile, it's been another terribly bloody day in Syria. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 86 people have already been killed across the country:
29 martyrs were reported in Damacus and its suburbs; 14 in Idlib, including 7 in Maarshorein; 10 in Raqqa including 7 field-executed; 9 in Deir Ezzor; 8 in Hama; 6 in Homs; 6 in Daraa; and 4 in Aleppo.
See our note on the LCC and their published casualty figures.
Dozens of videos from Damascus and its suburbs show the wounded, treated in field hospitals, and the dead, prepared for funeral by their families.
1415 GMT: Lebanon. According to Lebanese NNA, at least 8 people have been killed and at least 78 have been wounded.
And the death toll could rise far higher:
1411 GMT: Turkey/Syria. EA's John Horne reports:
Turkey's Foreign Minister has called on major Western powers to take immedite action in Syria to avoid a humanitarian "disaster". Speaking to the Guardian, Ahmet Davutoglu said:
How long can this situation continue? I mean in Bosnia, now we have Ban Ki-moon [the UN secretary general] apologising 20 years after. Who will apologise for Syria in 20 years' time? How can we stay idle?"
We [Turkey] are doing all we can to help these people, using all diplomatic capacity to stop this bloodshed. But there should be a much more concerted effort by the international community. The best way we can see now is direct humanitarian intervention.
We want the international community to find a solution to resolve this issue inside Syria. All means can be discussed. But there must be proper humanitarian access. We have 145,000 refugees in Turkey but there are millions of people, two million people inside Syria who are IDPs [internally displaced people]. Those that are lucky can come to Turkey. They are the lucky ones.
So there has to be humanitarian access, a humanitarian mission inside Syria, and the international community must be ready to protect it. This is the question, whether it is a buffer zone or humanitarian access – how these people are to be protected inside Syria. We are calling for an international humanitarian mission to go into Syria and be protected to stop the refugee flow.
The international community must make a decision. Humanitarian access must be guaranteed by any means that is acceptable. These people are human beings. The winter is approaching. How will they survive the winter?
We're not bomb experts, but we've seen carbombs before, and to our untrained eye, the way the explosion has ripped apart that car suggests that this was a car bomb. So does this unconfirmed report:
1350 GMT: Syria. It's destined to be buried in today's headlines, but there are large Friday protests across Syria today. The Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre reports:
Today's protests have been called "America, are you not satisfied with our blood?", reflecting the frustration and anger of many Syrians that the US government does not support the revolution and is not doing as much as it could to stop Assad's slaughter. Despite the airstrikes, shelling and fighting protests are taking place in many places, as usual. The video shows Kafaranbel in Idlib province where the regular airstrikes haven't stopped them coming up with some good signs as always.
Many suburbs of Damascus are reporting larger-than-normal protests, in response to, and threatened by, the increasingly violent bombing and shelling campaigns against these areas:
Even in Darayya, a town that has been heavily hit by several waves of massacres, executions, and shelling, large protests have been held today.
See our separate feature, Syria 1st-Hand: Darayya --- 6 Weeks After the Mass Killings (Sands).
1340 GMT: Bahrain. EA's John Horne reports:
Human Rights First has issued a statement following the news from the Ministry of Interior that a policeman has been killed and another seriously injured (see 0935GMT entry). Brian Dooley from the organisation said:
News that a policeman has been killed and another seriously wounded will only deepen the human rights crisis in Bahrain.
These attacks increase the polarization in an already deeply divided society and are likely to set back prospects for peaceful reform.
1334 GMT: Lebanon. The Guardian notes that the death toll is now somewhere between 4 and 8, but could rise further. They also clarify the location of the blast in Beirut:
As far as possible political targets are concerned, MTV station said the blast took place between the headquarters of the March 14 (anti-Assad) coalition and the Kataeb (Christian Maronite) party. Ashrafiyeh is a largely Christian district.
On the other hand, El-Nashra website said the explosion ripped through a building housing a branch of BEMO – a Syrian bank.
They also note that there is a dispute as to whether this is a car bomb or, as AJE's rula Amin is testifying, the bomb blast looks like it occurred inside a building.
1307 GMT: Lebanon. Al Jazeera's Rula Amin, and someone who witnessed the explosion, report live from Beirut:
1255 GMT: Lebanon. According to a journalist in Beirut speaking to Al Jazeera English, the neighborhood is a mix of commercial and residential buildings, and the explosion hit at the time when schools were getting out - the peak time for movement on the streets. If this is a car bomb, it was designed to inflict maximum civilian casualties.
1250 GMT: Lebanon. The Guardian notes report that the explosion took place near a Syrian bank, though it's not clear that the bank was a target. They also share this picture, which further suggests this was a car bomb. State media has also reported that it was the result of two car bombs. Again, all this news is unconfirmed as the explosion happened just about half an hour ago.
1242 GMT: Lebanon. Jess Hill, from the Global Mail, reports:
1234 GMT: Lebanon. A security source has told Reuters that "at least two people were killed and 15 wounded" following the bomb that exploded in Ashrafieh, the predominately Christian area of east Beirut. A witness on the scene told Reuters that they had seen at least one dead body.
EA's Scott Lucas adds this conflict to this breaking news:
Ashrafieh is the mainly Christian area in east Beirut - If this had happened three years ago --- indeed, it did happen repeatedly --- first suspect would be Syrian regime.
1230 GMT: Lebanon. Reuters reports that an "explosion rocked central Beirut during rush hour on Friday". Details are still emerging.
James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to John Horne and Scott Lucas for getting us started.
1046 GMT: Syria. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has reportedly rejected a Turkish proposal for a transitional government led by Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa.
According to Al-Anbaa newspaper, Ahmadinejad told journalists in Kuwait, " “This means we are imposing a foreign solution on the Syrians. The solution must be Syrian rather than imposed from outside and the Syrian people should decide through elections."
Ahmadinejad reportedly met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdog(an for 40 minutes earlier this week on the sidelines of a summit in Azerbaijan. The meeting occurred amid reports of a renewed attempt at an Egypt-Turkey-Iran "contact group" over the Syrian crisis.
1012 GMT: Syria. Insurgents claim that regime warplanes have again dropped cluster bombs in today's attacks on Ma'aret al-Numan.
Fighters showed an AFP correspondent debris from one cluster bomb and dozens of other bomblets that failed to explode on impact.
Electronic journalists and activists have been posting footage of the bombs this month. On Sunday, Human Rights Watch issued a statement accusing the Syrian air force of using the cluster bombs in populated areas.
The Syrian military has said it does not possess such weapons.
1005 GMT: Syria. The Joint Command for military and revolutionary councils, has said it is ready for a ceasefire during the Eid al-Adha holiday, as called for by United Nations-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, but only if several conditions are met:
0950 GMT: Tunisia. A co-ordinator of the opposition Call of Tunisia party has died in the southern town of Tataouine amid clashes between his supporters and those of the Government.
A Call of Tunisia official said Lotfi Naguedh died after he was beaten by pro-Government demonstrators who attacked his office.
Ministry of Interior spokesperson Khaled Tarrouche said Naguedh had died of a heart attack.
Ennahdha, the strongest party in the ruling coalition, expressed its condolences to Naqadh’s family and called for a judicial inquiry into the incident.
0945 GMT: Syria. Bjørn Holst Jespersen, via The Aviationist, has mapped both verified and "weak" reports of the downing of 10 planes and six helicopters, as well as attacks on airbases, by insurgents. Most of the incidents have been in Aleppo and Idlib Provinces.
View Syria: downed aerial vehicles. in a larger map
(Hat-tip to The Guardian)
0940 GMT: Saudi Arabia. The Washington Posthas noticed the protests and deaths in the Eastern Province, where demonstrators have been challenging the regime over detentions and rights:
The death toll here --- 14 civilians and two police officers since the beginning of last year --- is small compared with recent rebellions in other Arab countries, especially the civil war in Syria. And, unlike elsewhere, protesters here are not demanding the overthrow of their government.
They want long-denied basic rights: equal access to jobs, religious freedom, the release of political prisoners. But in the richest country in the Middle East, where even peaceful protests have long been banned, the clashes between police and demonstrators have become a big concern for King Abdullah and his ruling family.
See also Saudi Arabia Feature: An Introduction to the Protests, Prisoners, and Deaths in Qatif
0935 GMT: Bahrain. A Bahraini policeman has died of his injuries following a "terrorist bombing" after police confronted a protest on Thursday night, according to the Ministry of Interior.
Another policeman was injured in the clashes in Al-Eker, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) south of the capital Manama.
The protesters had chanted, "The people want to topple the regime" and "Down, Down [King] Hamad".
0931 GMT: Syria. Hamza Hendawi writes for the Associated Press of a siege by insurgents on the villages of Zahraa and Nubl in Aleppo Province.
Opposition fighters have surrounded the enclaves, with about 35,000 people, since they took control of much of the province in July. They have put roadblocks, checkpoints, and snipers around the villages, forcing the government to send in supplies by helicopter.
The insurgents claim Zahraa and Nubl are harbouring pro-regime shabiha who shelled, killed, and kidnapped people in nearby villages.
0918 GMT: Turkey. Another pipeline explosion in eastern Turkey has halted the flow of Iranian natural gas and wounded 28 soldiers in a passing military vehicle, Turkish government and energy officials said.
The cause of the blast was not clear; however, the insurgent Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on pipelines.
The gas flow from Iran was halted earlier this month after an explosion and resumed a week later.
0909 GMT: Bahrain. According to pro-regime Gulf Daily News, MPs have warned US Ambassador Thomas Krajeski "to keep his nose out of Bahrain's business", calling on the Government to take action over his alleged interference in domestic affairs and meetings with opposition groups.
Parliament voted unanimously for the motion, submitted seven months ago. Last October, the MPs passed a no-confidence vote on his appointment.
"[Krajeski's] comments and meetings are unacceptable for the majority of Bahrain's population because they are backing those who incite division rather than helping solve anything," said MP Hassan Al Dossary.
MP Abdulla Bin Howail added, "We respect the US and have friendly ties with them, but that doesn't mean they can interfere and tell us what to do."
0900 GMT: Yemen. At least 10 soldiers and 11 insurgents have been killed in an assault on a military base in the southern town of Shuqra, according to medical and military sources.
Sources said insurgents first attacked the coastal base with an explosives-laden car, then approached from the sea.
0850 GMT: Egypt. El-Sayed El-Badawi, the head of the Wafd Party and CEO of the Sigma media company, has been sentenced to three years in prison for writing a bad check to the Egyptian Football Association.
0450 GMT: Syria. At least 44 people died on Wednesday in the northwestern town of Ma'arat al-Numan, the target of regime airstrikes since it was claimed by insurgents more than a week ago. At least 23 of the dead are children.
Ma'arat al-Numan is in a vital location on the road between Damascus and Syria's largest city, Aleppo, where the opposition and regime forces have fought for almost three months, and its position near the Turkish border means it could be part of a "buffer zone" for the protection of civilians --- and effectively a safe area for insurgents.
At least 10 bombs were dropped on the town and its eastern outskirts, while insurgents continued to attack the nearby Wadi Deif army base, a key depot for tanks and fuel supplies.
The Local Coordination Committees reported that 230 people were killed by security forces on Thursday, including 69 in Damascus and its suburbs, 53 in Idlib Province, 35 in Aleppo Province, 24 in Homs Province, 18 in Daraa Province, and 14 in Deir Ez Zor Province.