A Syrian boy shout slogans against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a protest before the Arab League foreign ministers emergency meeting, at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo November 2, 2011 (Reuters).

Violence in Syria has continued without interruption, in spite of a deal between Damascus and the Arab League reached several weeks ago. Under the agreement, President Bashar Al-Assad was to halt the military crackdown against an uprising that, according to United Nations figures, has so far claimed more than 3,500 lives. The Arab-brokered plan called not only for Syria to end the violence, but to withdraw military troops and equipment from towns and residential districts across Syria. Assad also agreed to release all those detained during the uprising and allow the Arab League and foreign media to enter Syria and report freely on the situation. Middle East Voices is launching an effort to gather and highlight the most compelling and, in some cases, disturbing clips. Eyewitnesses or anyone in contact with sources on the ground are encouraged to submit images and video documenting events. Please send information and tips to syria@middleeastvoices.com.

Click here for December posts of our Syria Watch

Wednesday, November 30, 2011 – Syria Out of Chances

istanbul gold SYRIA WATCH: Turning Point in the Revolution

…Collective punishment techniques, laying siege to cities, bombing the mosques, using excessive violence against peaceful demonstrators, killing tens of people every day by pointing guns to its own people first by deploying armed gangs such as shabiha and then the army troops are reflections of the lack of comprehension of the Syrian Administration about legitimacy… Syria lost this last chance, like all the previous chances it was offered…

These were the words of  Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who today announced a series of tough sanctions it will impose on Syria.  These will include:

*Suspending the High Level Strategic Cooperation Council mechanism until a democratic administration comes to power in Syria.

*Imposing travel ban and asset freeze measures against some members of the Syrian leadership who have been reportedly involved in incidents where excessive violence and illegal methods were used against civilians; imposing similar measures to some known businessmen who are firm supporters of the regime.

*Maintaining the current practice of no sale and supply of any sort of arms and military equipment to the Syrian Army.

*Preventing transfer of arms and military equipment to Syria from third countries via Turkish territories, airspace and territorial waters to the extent Turkey’s international obligations allow.

*Stopping transactions with the Syrian Central Bank.

*Freezing of financial assets of the Syrian Government in Turkey.

*Stopping credit payments with the Syrian Government.

*Stopping transactions with the Commercial Bank of Syria, excluding current transactions.

*Announcing the suspension of the Eximbank loan agreement concluded for financing infrastructure projects in Syria.

Davutoğlu also said that Turkey could consider additional sanctions, depending on the Syrian Administration’s “attitude.”

Meanwhile, SANA, the Syrian state news agency, announced the release of another 912 prisoners.  This follows reports of earlier releases of 1,180  inmates on November 15 and 553 on November 5. The numbers given by the Syrian government have not been independently confirmed.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011 – Turkey’s Tough Talk

davutoglu1 SYRIA WATCH: Turning Point in the RevolutionTurkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu appeared on Turkish channel Kanal 24 today and said his country is ready for ” any scenario” if the Syrian crackdown continues. “We hope that a military intervention will never be necessary,” Davutoğlu said. “However, the Syrian regime has to find a way of making peace with its own people to eliminate this option.”  Davutoğlu also said Turkey, along with the international community, may recommend creating a buffer zone in Turkey.

If hundreds of thousands of people flee to our border, this would of course create a different situation. Some steps could be taken then together with the international community.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s Transport Minister Binali Yildirim said today that if violence in Syria continues, his country will open up new border crossings with Iraq, so that it could shift its Middle East trade routes to go through Iraq rather than Syria, with whom Turkey shares an 800-kilometer common border.

We continue to see large numbers of defections–this video purportedly shows a mass defection in Aleppo:

Syria’s anti-regime protesters continue demonstrations and prayer vigils, morning, noon and night, as this clip from Bab L’Amr in Homs, seems to indicate:

And the Local Coordination Committees continue their grim daily task of cataloging the dead in Syria: Today, they reported 16 dead, one of them a child, half of them in Homs.

Monday, November 28, 2011- Crimes against Humanity

moallem SYRIA WATCH: Turning Point in the RevolutionSyria today slammed the Arab League’s decision Sunday to impose sanctions against Damascus.  Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem called the sanctions “economic warfare” and promised Syria would retaliate. “Sanctions are a two-way street,” he said in a news conference today.  “We don’t want to threaten anyone, but we will defend the interests of our people.”

That the sanctions were coming was hardly a surprise; Al_Moallem said Syria had already withdrawn 95 percent of its assets in Arab countries.

Meanwhile, a new report by UN Independent International Commission on Syria presents evidence that high-ranking Syrian military officers all over Syria consistently issued orders to shoot at civilian homes and unarmed protesters.  The report, commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, also claims evidence of systemic torture and sexual violence against persons imprisoned during the uprising.

Investigators interviewed more than 223 people in compiling the report, which details chilling abuses:

Several methods of torture, including sexual torture, were used by the military and the security forces in detention facilities across the country. Torture victims had scars and bore other visible marks. Detainees were also subjected to psychological torture, including sexual threats against them and their families and by being forced to worship President Al Assad instead of their God…

One 20-year-old university student told the commission that he was subjected to sexual violence in detention, adding that “if my father had been present and seen me, I would have had to commit suicide”…

Defectors were tortured because they attempted to spare civilians either surreptitiously or by openly refusing to obey orders. A defector showed scars on his arms compatible with electroshock marks and about 30 stitches on his scalp…

The Committee says that Syria has failed its obligations under international rights laws and lays responsibility for these “wrongful acts” squarely on the shoulders of the Assad regime.  It’s recommendations to Syria:

  • Put an immediate end to gross human rights violations;
  • Initiate prompt, independent and impartial investigations under both domestic and international law to end impunity, ensure accountability and bring perpetrators to justice;
  • Pending investigations, suspend from the military and the security forces all alleged perpetrators of serious human rights violations;
  • Ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and introduce domestic legislation consistent with it;
  • Release immediately all persons arbitrarily detained and provide international monitoring bodies and the International Committee of the Red Cross with access to all places of detention;
  • Allow immediate and full access for the commission and outside observers, and other United Nations human rights monitoring bodies.

Sunday, November 27, 2011 – Syria on its Own

Two weeks after suspending Syria’s membership, Arab League Foreign Ministers meeting in Cairo today approved tough sanctions against Syria.  Nineteen of the 22 Arab League members voted to impose the sanctions, which include a halt to transactions with the Syrian central bank and cutting off Arab government funding for projects in Syria.  Iraq and Lebanon, both strong trading partners, abstained from voting.

At a press conference after the vote, Qatar Prime Minister and Foreign issued a warning to the Assad regime that the next step could be international intervention:

If we, as Arabs fail, do you think that the international conscience will remain silent on this issue for ever?

Activists welcomed the League’s measures to pressure the Syrian regime, but express worries that the sanctions won’t have any impact unless the League sets up mechanisms for monitoring whether they are truly implemented and prevent any loopholes.  According to the LCC,

 

The sanctions leave open the opportunity for the regime to commit fraud and strip the sanctions of any substance, thereby prolonging the suffering of the Syrian people at the hands of an oppressive and brutal regime, and due to the sanctions’ longer term impacts.

 

 

 

Saturday, November 26, 2011 – Burying the Dead

The above video purportedly shows how protesters in Homs must improvise a hasty funeral under strained circumstances.

Meanwhile, a mass funeral took place in Damascus today, as reported by the Syrian Arab News Agency:

With flowers and laurel wreaths, twenty two army and security forces martyrs on Saturday were escorted from Tishreen and Homs Military Hospitals to their final resting place. The martyrs were targeted by the armed terrorist groups while they were in the line of duty in the governorates of Damascus Countryside, Homs and Hama. Solemn processions were held for the martyrs as they were carried on shoulders and covered with the national flag while the Military Band was playing the “Martyr” and the “Farewell” music.

Friday, November 25, 2011 – Running out of Time

Yazeed Al Harthi assad blood1 SYRIA WATCH: Turning Point in the Revolution

Courtesy Yazeed Al-Harithi

The Syrian President appears to have ignored the Arab League’s deadline for accepting a team of international observers and scheduling national dialogue. That means that the League’s Economic and Social Council will go ahead with a meeting tomorrow to discuss new sanctions. They are said to be considering a ban on all trade exchanges and financial dealings with Syria, which would certainly hurt an economy already crippled by the uprising. Also, the League is considering commercial flights to and from Syria, further increasing Assad’s isolation in the region. The League will also debate freezing Syrian assets, including those of Syrians living in other Arab countries, and suspending all Arab investment in Syria.

Meanwhile, the Local Coordination report 26 dead in violence that has continued across Syria, despite the Arab league deadline. And the Syrian military says six elite pilots and four technical officers were killed in an ambush at an air force base near Homs yesterday. According to the Syrian Arab News Agency(SANA), the Army regards it as “a dangerous terrorist escalation” and the work of international enemies of the regime. SANA quotes the military statement:

In this light, the General Command stresses the Armed Forces’ determination to carry out all tasks assigned to them and their permanent readiness to defend the security of the homeland and citizens, cut off the vicious hand that targets the Syrian blood and decisively confront all who threaten the homeland’s security and stability.

And the defections continue, as we see in this video from Daraa:

Thursday, November 24, 2011 -Forcing Assad’s Hand

The Arab League today issued an ultimatum to Bashar Al-Assad:  You’ve got one more day to agree to allow outside observers inside or face some serious sanctions-including banning commercial flights to and from Syria, freezing Syrian assets, including those of Syrians living in other Arab countries, and suspending all Arab investment in Syria.

Also today, France, concerned over the rising death toll in Syria, proposed that a buffer zone be created to protect civilian refugees and defectors, and there have been reports that Turkey might consider creating a buffer zone in Syria, adjacent to the Syria/Turkey border.  France’s  Foreign Ministry today officially recognized the Syrian National Council (SNC) as the legitimate representative for any talks on the Syrian situation.  Spain’s Foreign Minister conformed that all channels of negotiation with the Assad regime were officially closed, and the Spanish government will communicate with the SNC on all issues regarding Syria.

More than four dozen tanks and armoured vehicles descended on Rastan, a stronghold of army defectors along the highway between Damascus and Aleppo.   At least fifteen were arrested:

This video, produced by the Syrian television network  Ekhbariya Al Soriyah, details the Assad Army “finds”–weapons, medical supplies, etc.

Activists say as may as 200 busloads of security personnel descended on Rastan and spent the day combing the surrounding fields and villages in search of deserters in hiding.  The Syrian Free Press estimates that nearly 50 were killed and wounded in the operation in Rastan and more than 100 in the nearby village of Gharnata.  The names of only a few of those have been identified.   One source says as many as 15 army officers died in the raids.  The Syrian news agency say the military arrested 123 “terrorists.”

The Local Coordination Committees, by end of day, documented 35 were killed across the country, including a pregnant woman and two children.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 – Point of No Return?

Final Khalid SYRIA WATCH: Turning Point in the Revolution

Courtesy, Khalid Albaih

Turkey’s president today said that the future of the entire Middle East could very well depend on what happens next in Syria.  In an annual inaugural speech to the London-based think tank Wilton Park, President Abdullah Gul had tough words for the Syrian regime: “We exerted enormous efforts in public and behind closed doors in order to convince the Syrian leadership to lead the democratic transition. Violence breeds violence. Now, unfortunately, Syria has come to a point of no return.” Gul’s remarks came a day after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued similar strong warnings to the Bashar al-Assad regime – and a United Nations human rights resolution condemning the eight-month crackdown on Syrian protesters.

Syrian media blasted the Turkish leaders as “servants of imperialists.” An editorial on the Syrian News website shot back at Turkey:

These things really sound like pure irony. The human rights are trampled and the Christians are oppressed in Turkey. Not to write about the persecution of the Kurds in southern turkey – this sometimes looks like a Turkish master plan.

As for events in Syria itself – video from the Bayada area of Homs seems to show what can only be described as a war zone – a Facebook group calling itself the Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Center says that the medic-driver and a woman that were in the ambulance died instantly when it was shelled by security forces:

 

The Local Coordination Committees reported that 15 died today, and, in an interesting bit of news, for the first time in the eight-month Syrian uprising, anti-regime protesters this evening demonstrated at the Justice Palace in downtown Damascus.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 – Assad’s Growing Isolation

omar al abdal cartoon cropped SYRIA WATCH: Turning Point in the Revolution

Courtesy, Jordanian cartoonist, Omar Al Abdallat

122 countries voted today in favor of a resolution at the U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee condemning Syria for its violent crackdown on protesters.  Meanwhile, in a televised speech today, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered a strong, personal message to President Bashar al-Assad:

“To fight against your own people ’til you die is not heroism; it is cowardice. If you want to see someone who has fought until death against his own people, just look at Nazi Germany, just look at Hitler, at Mussolini, at Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania.”

It was the first time Erdogan directly called for Assad to step down, and the message underscored Assad’s growing alienation from the rest of the region. The speech  followed an announcement yesterday that the Syrian National Council (SNC), working with the Arab League, will organize a national conference to prepare for the transitional period in Syria. An SNC spokesman says the council will submit a memorandum to the Arab Ministerial Council, outlining the structure of a transitional period in which “all political forces in Syria” will participate.

Meanwhile, the are indications of increasing military defections. The Local Coordination Committees (LCC) report today that Syrian Army Captain Eyaed Deek from Rastan has defected. In a video message, he invoked God and the Holy Quran, announcing his defection and his intention to join the Khalid bin Waleed brigade under the Free Syrian Army (FSA).  He also called on fellow officers, as well as the military rank and file, to join the FSA and “defend the Syrian people until we reach freedom or we meet our God.”

At the same time, there has been no let-up in the crackdown.  There are reports that four children were killed by security forces at a checkpoint in Houla: Shehadeh Qasim 15, Imad Ismail, 13, Abdul Qadir Raslan,10, Mosa Faramli, 11. Below is video purportedly of the funeral of two of those children, Imad and Abdul Qadir.

Other funerals took place across the country today.  The Syrian news agency reports on burial services for eight army and security personnel. Below is an excerpt:

With flower and laurel wreathes and while the Military Band was playing the music of the “Martyr” and the “Farewell”, eight army and security martyrs on Tuesday were escorted from Tishreen and Homs Military Hospitals to their final resting place. The martyrs were targeted by the armed terrorist gangs while they were in the line of duty in Homs, Idleb, Hama and Daraa. Official ceremony was held for the martyrs as they were carried up on their colleague’s shoulders covered with the national flag.

Monday, November 21, 2011

large1 SYRIA WATCH: Turning Point in the Revolution

Courtesy, cartoonist Eanarche

Any agreement between the Arab League and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad appears to be at an impasse, and the demonstrations and violence continue. The Local Coordination Committees (LCC) report that Homs was especially hard-hit today: Approximately 20 armored vehicles moved in to surround the Al-Bayada neighborhood. Security forces raided houses and arrested people who the LCC say appeared in an Al Jazeera television report yesterday about activist and Syrian Youth soccer team goalie, Abdul Basit Sarout. The LCC say seven were killed in Syria by late afternoon, six of them from Homs and one from Hama.

Gunmen at the Bab Hawa border crossing in northern Syria opened fire today on a convoy of buses carrying Turkish pilgrims back from the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. Turkish media say the buses were attacked when they stopped to ask for directions at a checkpoint. VOA has not yet confirmed the identity of the gunmen; the LCC say they were Syrian army and security forces:

Meanwhile, we are hearing that fuel has become increasingly scarce, particularly in Idlib and Homs. Daraa, Douma and Midan are also facing shortages, and nearly the entire country is enduring power cuts, some lasting days at a time. This video from the Al-Khalidya neighborhood of Homs shows citizens lined up to refill fuel tanks. “And the mayor,” complains one Homsi, “goes on TV and says there is no gas crisis!” Others complain, “The Arab League is just watching. The whole world watches Homs as we suffer.”

Russia today accused the West of being provocative in the Syrian crisis. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov complained that by telling the Syrian opposition to avoid dialogue with the Assad regime, the West is undermining peace in Syria.

The Syrian Arab News Agency today reports Assad met with a delegation of Russian journalists, academics and activists, thanking Russia for its objective perspective on the Syria crisis.

At least 20 were reported dead in violence across the country–15 in Homs, Houla and Qosair, and at least 3 in rural areas outside of Hama, which have been raided repeatedly this week by security forces.

Sunday, November 20, 2011 – Universal Children’s Day

One child is killed every 21 hours in Syria–so say the Local Coordination Committees, who have released a new report documenting 280 children killed so far in the Syrian uprising.  The report details the names, dates and locations of each child killed.  Homs has lost the largest number of children, 79; Hama, 55; Daraa, 44; Damascus, 31; Idlib, 26; Deir Ezzor, 20; Latakia,12; and Damascus,12.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad told Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper that he will continue with a crackdown against anti-government unrest in his country despite increased pressure from the Arab League to end it.  “I assure you that Syria will not bow down,” Assad said, “and that it will continue to resist the pressure being imposed on it.”  Meanwhile, The Arab League says it rejects amendments proposed by Syria to the plan earlier agreed upon. The League says that Syria’s counter proposal would amount to “drastic changes” and would alter the “essence” of the plan.  Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem held a press conference at 3 pm local time, in which he slammed the plan as a violation of Syrian sovereignty.  He also criticized the League itself, saying Arab countries are being used as a “tool” to take Syria to the UN Security Council.  Moallem said Syria does not want to fight–but will, if pressed to do so.  The Arab League will hold an emergency meeting Thursday to discuss the situation.

Footage purportedly shot in Idlib shows damage inflicted on a house by tankfire.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Local Coordination Committees (LCC) report 24 dead,  including one soldier. Among them are seven civilians from Kafr Takharim in Idlib; seven in Homs, four in Hama and one in Bokamal. The LCC also report that in Daraya, Suhaib Mohammad Al-Ammar, son of the detained activist Dr. Mohammad Al-Ammar, was detained on his way to his sister Maymouna’s home. She is the wife of the activist of Oussama Al-Nassar, who was previously detained and is currently wanted by security forces. Before Suhaib reached his sister’s home, he was arrested by the Air Force Intelligence Division at a checkpoint. When they discovered who he was, LCC says they took him to his sister’s house. In an attempt to discover Oussama’s whereabouts, security forces threatened that they would kill Suhaib and take Maymouna’s 4-month-old daughter away from her. In the end, they arrested Suhaib and told Maymouna that they would return him to her “in pieces.”

On Twitter, @edwardedark shared a video of a Syrian soldier firing a rocket-propelled grenade in Qousair, a residential area of the city of Homs:

SANA, Syria’s official news agency, reports that authorities have arrested 140 wanted men in various areas of Idlib. “The operation,” says SANA, “was carried out accurately after raiding some hideouts of terrorist groups based on cross-checked information and investigations.”

Friday, November 18, 2011 – “Expel the Ambassadors Day”

Protesters took to the streets after prayers today, calling on the international community to expel all Syrian ambassadors in their countries.  This week, France and Morocco joined the ranks of nations to formally withdraw their ambassadors.  France and Turkey today issued an appeal for the international community to exert greater pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to end the violent crackdown on protesters.

This video, reportedly from Aleppo, is deemed representative of similar “Expel the Ambassadors” protests across the country:

Syria announced today it will agree in principle to allowing Arab League observers into the country, but will take some time to study the matter. The opposition reacted with skepticism – Omar Idilbi, a Beirut-based member of the Syrian National Council, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying:

“We have warned in the past and we warn again that these are the methods of the regime to waste time. This is an attempt by the regime to gain more time.”

The Office of the U.N. Human Rights Council announced today that it could “soon” be holding a special session on Syria.  Next week, the U.N.’s Independent Commission of Inquiry will publish its report on alleged human rights abuses.

Today, the Local Coordination Committees and other groups report that as many as 20 have died across the country.  Apparently from Damascus, this video allegedly shows one victim, shot during a demonstration; a nearby witness can be heard crying, “Haram!” in compassion:

We also received this curious video, apparently showing Syrian soldiers pilfering fruit between rounds of shooting in the streets of Daraa:

 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

syria watch 17nov11 SYRIA WATCH: Turning Point in the RevolutionYesterday, we reported that Syrian security forces were moving into Hama and that residents were bracing themselves for widescale operations.  Now, we hear from Shaam News Network (SNN) that forces raided houses across the city today, arresting activists or their family members.  SNN reports that two full busloads of detainees were seen leaving the Al-Hamidiya neighborhood alone.  SNN is also passing along reports from the Douma Coordinating Committee that 3,000 prisoners are being held at a military airport in Mezzah, near Damascus–purportedly to be used as human shields ahead of any military action against the Regime or in case of international intervention by air.  VOA has no way of verifying this report. The Local Coordination Committees report that 19 died today, four of whom were defected soldiers.  Also among the dead were two children.

The Assad army has continued to bombard the Bab Al-Amr area of Homs today. SNN has provided disturbing and moving video of family and friends praying over the body of young  young man named Mohamed Al-Ghenn (above), killed today in Homs.  Due to its GRAPHIC nature, we will not publish on this site, but link to the video on YouTube instead.

Meanwhile, there has been a shift in the way international media are viewing events in Syria.  Reuters reports that Syrian army defectors may have killed or wounded 20 security police in an attack on a Damascus intelligence base.  Reuters also reports that Russia is warning that these incidents are bringing Syria to the brink of “civil war” and is urging that both the Syrian government and opposition stop fighting and start talking.  Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made the comments during a news conference after his talks with EU counterpart Catherine Ashton in Moscow today.  “Civil war” is a phrase  used by several  media outlets and international observers today–among them, the Atlantic’s Max Fisher.

 Wednesday, November 16, 2011

arableaguemeetingrabat SYRIA WATCH: Turning Point in the RevolutionTurkey and Arab League members meeting in Morocco today called for “urgent measures” to protect Syrian civilians from the repressive crackdown by the Assad regime.  They also said they opposed any foreign intervention in Syria.  The Arab League were meeting in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, where they were expected to make good on their earlier decision to suspend Syria’s League membership. The League will also ask experts to draft recommendations on economic sanctions on Syria. As these meetings were going on, protesters threw rocks and eggs at both the Moroccan and UAE embassies in Damascus.  Moroccan Ambassador Mohamed Khassasi told Agence France-Presse that as many as 150 demonstrators were involved–and that they also stripped the embassy of its flag. Also today, France withdrew its ambassador from Damascus, furthering isolating President Bashar Al-Assad. Today the Syrian regime celebrated the 41st anniversary of the “Correctionist Movement,” by which Bashar’s father, General Hafiz Al-Asad, seized power in November, 1970.  The Syrian Arab News Agency reports that “huge masses” turned out in public squares in “a number of Syrian provinces,” to celebrate the occasion and express their support of the regime. Meanwhile, we are hearing increased reports about Syrian Army defectors.  Today, defectors united under the banner of the Free Syrian Army ( FSA) attacked an intelligence headquarters near the capital, Damascus.  A spokesman for Syria’s Local Coordination Committees (LCC) told VOA the FSA has established a temporary military council, which will work  to weaken Syrian security forces. The LCC today also reported that 376 Syrians have been killed by Syrian security since Damascus agreed to the Arab League Plan. A group calling itself the Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre (SUIC) reports that security forces began moving into Hama today, bring with them tanks and 50 busloads of shabiha.  Residents of the city brace, it says, are bracing themselves for a “massacre.” At least 21 are reported to have died today, most of them in Homs and Idlib.  This  video is said to show a military convoy on route to Homs earlier today:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Assad Cartoon1 SYRIA WATCH: Turning Point in the Revolution

Courtesy, cartoonist Yazeed Al Harthi

The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) today reported that the government today released 1,180 detainees who had been arrested for their involvement in the protests–but who had not committed murder–these, says SANA, are in addition to the 553 detainees reported to have been released on November 5th on occasion of Eid al-Adha.

Amnesty international confirmsa report by the Syrian Observatory that prominent opposition figure, Khamal al-Labwani, the founder of the Syrian Liberal Democratic Union, has been released from prison, where he has been been held since November, 2005. Meanwhile, international pressure on President Assad is escalating. Today, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) said another Arab League summit would not be “worthwhile.”  Syria yesterday called for an emergency summit in order to ward off being suspended by the league tomorrow.

Today’s Poll

What poll question should we ask tomorrow? Send ideas to syria@middleeastvoices.com. United Nations Security Council members today issued a statement condemning the recent attacks against embassies and consular premises in Syria and urged the country’s authorities to protect diplomatic and consular property and personnel as required under Vienna Conventions.  Media reports say that pro-government demonstrators attacked embassies and consulates in several cities  Saturday. The attacks followed the decision  Arab League’s decision to suspend Syria’s membership tomorrow (Wednesday). Turkey announced today that it has canceled plans for oil exploration in Syria – and says it may also cut electricity supplies in the wake of attacks carried out by Assad supporters on its diplomatic missions.  Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey no longer has confidence in the Syrian regime, adding that Assad is in danger of being placed on a list of leaders who “feed on blood.” The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA today it has documented the killings of 38 civilians and 18 suspected army defectors in Daraa province yesterday ( Monday),  making it one of the the deadliest days in the eight-month uprising.  The group also says army defectors killed 34 Syrian soldiers  in fighting  in Daraa yesterday. At 1530 UTC, the LCC reported six dead, including two children.  The committees also offered the following testimony by a student at Syria’s International University of Science and Technology (IUST) in Daraa:

They started shooting at us from inside the campus. The demonstration was huge and wonderful and it lasted for about two hours, in conjunction with a pro-regime rally by Shabiha, who beat us with knifes and sticks.  They also expelled the police when they arrived because they didn’t treat us violently. Security forces stormed the campus and opened fire inside to terrorize us.  They also destroyed its furniture and dispersed the demonstration after they started beating students and used teargas grenades.  They also forced us to lie down and beat us with their feet, stepped on our bodies and forced us to chant for Bashar.  Some fainted from the severe beating.  Then security units and Shabiha stopped the buses leaving the campus, and Shabiha students pointed out the students who had participated in the demonstration, to beat, insult, and arrest them.  Tens of students were arrested; even the faculty and staff members weren’t spared from insults and humiliation.  Finally, the Arab University neighboring us supported us when they heard shooting and news about storming our campus, so security stormed it too.

The LCC also submits video purportedly showing security forces shooting at students at the IUST:   VOA has also received video showing damage to the Al Anwar Mosque in the Bab Amr neighborhood of Homs, an area of the city that has been one of the most hard-hit by security forces.

Tweet of the Day:  @samsomhoms…

…who highlights the dangers inherent in conducting everyday activities in some Syrian towns and cities during the government crackdown.

Getting out home after sun set here in #Homs city is like a suicide attempt.  i was almost shooted twice in just about 15 minutes #Syria

Monday, November 14, 2011

Khalid grim reaper SYRIA WATCH: Turning Point in the Revolution

Courtesy, cartoonist Khalid Albaih

At 1700 UTC, the Local Coordination Committee (LCC) reported thirteen dead so far, ten of them in Homs alone.  Among the dead was Raed Allal of Jobar, who was was killed during the army’s random shelling as he attempted to bring food and other relief supplies into the besieged Baba Amr neighborhood. A follower on Twitter forwarded us a disturbing video, showing bodies of torture victims which had been dumped at the edge of a street in Homs. WARNING: Due to the graphic nature of the video, we have decided not to embed it in this site. It can be viewed on YouTube. The LCC today released a comprehensive 70-page report, Human Rights Violations Committed by the Syrian Regime 15 March to 15 October.  The report not only chronicles systematic abuses across Syria during the Arab Spring, but includes a detailed listing of more than 160 Syrians who have died in detention. Meanwhile, international pressure on Assad is mounting.  Jordan’s King Abdullah today said he believes Assad should step down, the first such call by an Arab leader. Syria continues to react angrily to the Arab League’s threats of suspension.  Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said today that the Arab League vote to suspend Syria is “illegitimate” because it was not unanimous among the 22-member states.  Meanwhile, the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reports that “millions” of pro-regime Syrians took to the streets Sunday to “express rejection and denunciation of the Arab League’s decision on suspending Syria’s membership in the League.” “Since the early morning,” SANA says, “millions flocked to the public squares in Damascus, Aleppo, Tartous, Lattakia, Sweida, Hasaka, Daraa, Raqqa, Deir-Ezzor, Hama and Idleb to stress that Syria has carried the torch of culture and Arabism and it will always remain steadfast.” We are reminded of a cartoon by the renowned Syrian political cartoonist, Ali Farzat, which he entitles, “Rally,” reproduced below:   better rally SYRIA WATCH: Turning Point in the Revolution   Interestingly, the LCC have circulated a video which they say shows security forces at Damascus University Sunday, closing the doors to the Electrical and Mechanical Engineering faculty in order to force students to participate in the pro-regime demonstration: The European Union has imposed a set of new sanctions on 18 yet-to-be-named Syrians associated with – or benefiting by – harsh government repression of Syrian protesters.  The sanctions likely include visa and travel bans, as well as the freezing of assets. The E.U. will also suspend disbursing European Investment Bank loans.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Saturday’s vote by the Arab League apparently has had no affect on the Assad regime’s intention to violently squash the opposition.  This video sent to us reportedly shows snipers poised on the roof of a cultural center in Hama: We also received this footage from the ground in Hama, showing security forces shooting at protesters:

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pressure continues to rise against Assad.  The Arab League today took its strongest action to date, voting to suspend Syria’s membership by Wednesday, November 16th, if the Assad regime does not immediately end its bloody suppression of protesters.   The move came during an emergency meeting in Cairo;  Yemen, Lebanon and Syria were the only countries to vote against the measure, while Iraq abstained from the vote altogether. Assad’s supporters tried to break into Turkish missions today, angry over the League’s decision. Meanwhile, the crackdown continues.  Video sent to Middle East Voices shows what is said to be a group of Syrian soldiers, defecting from the army.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Activists report that as many as 30 people may have been killed in Syria even before Friday prayers – these numbers are difficult to confirm, as each group and city offers continuous updates, and the numbers often conflict. Local Coordination Committees (LCC) reports, for example, that the final death toll yesterday was 36. Other sources on Twitter and Facebook suggest that number may have been much higher. But observers agree that it is not only numbers that matter; it is also the trend . Dozens are dying every day in Syria, and every day, thousands are turning out to mourn their deaths. Events today in the Damascus neighborhood of Barzeh were an indication of events across the country. Following prayers, protesters gathered to participate in a funeral of those who had died in protests yesterday. This video was apparently shot in Barzeh two days ago, November 9, but reports are indicating that there was similar chaos and violence today: VOA also received this first-person account by one of a group of youths who turned out to participate in today’s funerals in Barzeh. We reproduce the letter in its entirety because we feel that it captures the fear and confusion of Syrians across the country under the crackdown against dissent:

I received a message from a friend at the early hours of the day asking me whether or not our plans were still on. We had agreed the day before that we should either travel to Homs to participate in the daily funerals, or stay in Barzeh, in case there was going to be a funeral for the martyrs who fell yesterday. At 10:30, it was announced by the mosques’ minarets that the the funeral of the martyrs of Barzeh would take place after Zuhr prayer. At the appointed time, we all got together near the Salam Mosque. Some of us came from Abbasyeen, others from Shaalan and the rest were from Barzeh. People gathered around us, as many of us were new to the people of the area and we had girls (“Hareem,” as the people said) among us. We managed to convince them that we came to the area to participate in the funeral, and we told them that their martyrs were the martyrs of the whole of Damascus. They welcomed us and explained the tragedy of what happened in the previous day, when the Assad forces killed 9 people and wounded more than 70. Some of them were talking while others were listening. One of them started to ask us personal questions and tried to get closer in order to hear our conversation; I think he was a spy from security forces. As the funeral started at 10:30, people started to chant for the martyrs; they had very high spirits and their voices lifted higher and higher. Girls were standing at the back, and when the martyrs were brought out of the mosque they started to make sounds of ululation (which is a ritual that is normally practised in celebrations) to express how proud they were of the martyrs. I could not suppress my extreme urge to cry anymore; I remembered the days of foreign occupation of my country and how they used to execute the rebels (revolutionists, as we described them) in the olden days; but the pain now was much worse, as our martyrs today fell by the bullets that came from the Syrian forces, the traitorous Syrian security forces. People tried to persuade the ladies not to go ahead with the funeral any further, so that they would be safe; but every single girl at the funeral weighed a 100 times more than a man in terms of courage. One of them said, “I did not come here to freak out and not participate at the funeral.” All the ladies eventually insisted on walking with us and participating in the funeral and the demonstration. We walked from Salam mosque to Barzeh cemetery. When we arrived at the main road we found that security forces had blocked the roads and besieged the neighbourhood of Barzeh. I felt very disappointed at that point, as I was expecting the whole of Damascus to come to Barzeh to take part in the funeral. The numbers were not that big, especially after the burial was over, as many people dispersed, and only about 100 stayed with us. We then started a demonstration in Barzeh, chanting for toppling the regime and singing the Qashoosh song (“Syria Wants Freedom”). We were told that security forces are raiding the area, so free people of Barzeh showed us the way to get out. We escaped through a narrow path, but before we arrived at my house (which was in Barzeh), we were told that security forces had blocked the area, and it was not safe to us to go ahead. One of the good people in the area invited us to hide in his house. We were 10 men and ladies, and he invited us to share some coffee and fruits while we stayed at his house. We stayed for around one hour, chatting about politics. We were like a random sample from the community, representing most of its social classes and sectors. We chatted as if we were old friends. We talked about the fear that the regime had implanted in all of us, especially the fear of minorities. We agreed that the main cause of that fear was the total ignorance about one another, which has been further deepened by the regime’s strategy over the year to implant that ignorance and fear inside us, so that we feel that the regime is the only safe option for us. We were then told that security forces had left the area. My house was only one street away from the house where we had been hiding. We thanked the landlord who had offered refuge to us for his kindness and protection. He and his sons accompanied us to my house. We stayed inside watching security forces (which had returned back to raiding some houses and inspecting cars).

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) today issued a report which documents accusations of torture and killings in the city of Homs. In the report, entitled, “We Live as in War,” HRW concludes that the “nature and scale of abuses committed by the Syrian security forces,” not just in Homs but across Syria, constitute “crimes against humanity.” This type of crime differs from war crimes, HRW says, in that “crimes against humanity can also be committed during times of peace, if they are part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population.” The watchdog group calls on the Arab League to suspend Syria, and recommends that Damascus be referred to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The official Syrian news agency, SANA, meanwhile reportsthat Syria’s Permanent Representative to the Arab League, Yousef Ahmad, has presented an official memorandum to the League, welcoming a visit by a League mission to Syria and expressing Syria’s intention to cooperate with the mission. Ambassador Ahmad said Syria is commitment to the Arab work plan, which SANA says was approved by the Arab League Council today, and that Damascus was serious about implementing the plan. He added  that most articles of the plan have already been implemented.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Jeffrey Feltman, an Assistant U.S. Secretary of State, has told a Senate panel in Washington, DC, that some Arab leaders – whose names he wouldn’t mention – have been offering President Bashar al-Assad safe haven in their countries as a means of luring him out of office in Damascus. At the same time, Feltman warned lawmakers that if the uprisings in Syria become armed, this would complicate efforts geared toward bringing an end to the regime. For details, click here. Meanwhile, the Syrian Arab News Agency reports that Syrian Foreign and Expatriates Minister Walid Al-Moallem expressed hopes that the Arab League would ignore Washington’s call to boycott Syria. Al-Moallem also declared Syria’s commitment to the plan agreed upon with the Arab League. He said that Syria has complied with “most” of the terms of the agreement, in spite of “misleading” reports by some television networks. He also said that Syria’s ambassador to the League would brief the League on the specifics of Syria’s compliance. By 1300 UTC, the Local Coordination Committees (LCC) in Syria reported six dead – four in Homs, one in Hama and one in Idlib; the AP wire service reports 15 dead across Syria, including an eight-year-old girl and six soldiers. The Facebook site Syrian Days of Rage reports that cities across Syria have called for a general strike in protest of the crackdown in Homs. Video purportedly from Amouda shows the town was shut down completely: Daraa, too, according to this video account, was eerily quiet. By 1900 UTC, the LCC have reported 30 dead, half of them in Homs. Among the casualties was an infant, who died in hospital after security refused to allow the transportation of blood for a life-saving transfusion. In Damascus, some 3000 mourners came out to attend the funeral of five separate victims of yesterday’s violence. In other stories, the London-based Strategic Research and Communication Centre (SRCC) reports that Syrian National Council President Burhan Ghalioun has expressed concern about 13 documented kidnappings of Syrian dissidents in Lebanon, calling on that country to protect all civilians there. Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Michel Suleiman says that Syria has expressed “regret” for unintentional violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty. Syrian military have reportedly made incursions into Lebanon in an attempt to go after Syrians in hiding. SRCC also quotes the French Ambassador to the UN, who has criticized the United Nations Security Council for what he perceives as apathy to the situation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011 – Day Four of Eid al-Adha

Reports in the Arab media suggest growing divisions within the Syrian opposition. When four members of the Syrian National Coordination Committee (SNCC) arrived for a meeting at Arab League headquarters in Cairo today, Syrian protesters threw eggs at them. SNCC head Hassan Abdel Azim broke through the chaos and made it into the building in time for a meeting with League Secretary General Nabil al-Araby. The other members of the delegation were escorted away.

Many Syrians are angry at the League, whose peace peace plan, they believe, neglected to include the protesters’ biggest demand: The full removal of Bashar al-Assad from office.
nocommment1 SYRIA WATCH: Turning Point in the Revolution
Meanwhile, the London-based Strategic Research & Communication Centre reports that the Syrian National Council (SNC) has called on the League to take tougher measures against the Assad regime for violating last week’s agreement – an agreement which France, incidentally, has declared officially “dead.” The SNC is asking the League to suspend Syria’s League membership, impose tough economic and diplomatic sanctions and recognize the SNC as the sole representative of the Syrian people. The opposition group is also asking for all war crimes committed in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, and for journalists, humanitarian workers and international observers to be allowed into Syria to document abuses and provide help to those in need.
France has said it is willing to recognize the SNC.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights today reports that six people were wounded in the Barza neighborhood of Damascus, after security forces opened fire on mourners at the funeral of someone killed earlier in the same neighborhood.
This video purportedly shows forces firing on protesters in Damascus today: The following video has been disseminated as evidence of a military presence in the Tabiyat area of Latakia:
Ugarit news has released this video purportedly showing the army firing randomly today in the Bab Amr area of Homs , a neighborhood that has been among the worst-hit during the military siege. According to sources, citizens have been subjected to constant shelling by rockets, cannon and anti-aircraft guns; ambulance crews are prohibited from getting in or out to treat or evacuate the wounded; food is scarce and medical supplies have, according to Syria’s Local Coordination Committees (LCC), all but vanished; communications, electricity, heating fuel and other utilities are cut off; and hundreds of displaced families remain homeless.
SHAMSNN submitted this video, in which a housewife shows the damage inflicted on her house by military shelling:

Meanwhile, in Hama, citizens mourn at a funeral for Staff Sergeant Ibrahim Shaheed Muhammad, reportedly killed because he refused to fire on unarmed civilians. The LCC reports that 2,000 soldiers, tanks and armored vehicles raided the city last night and have set up base in the state security center.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011 – Day Three of Eid al-Adha

The news getting the most attention in social media this morning is yesterday’s announcement by Ivo Daalder, the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, that the organization has not planned – or even thought about – military intervention in Syria. Daalder said that without certain conditions, NATO would have no reason to intervene: “Demonstrable need, regional support, and some legal basis for action…None of them apply in Syria.” Daalder said he hasn’t seen evidence that air strikes would even be effective in Syria; furthermore, he said, neither the opposition nor the Arab League have asked for NATO to step in – and the U.N. Security Council has said “no” to any action in Syria. Also getting some attention in cyberspace is a speech given by Syrian National Council head Burhan Ghalioun Saturday, which continues to generate buzz in internet circles. In the nearly eight-and-a-half-minute speech, the 66-year-old political scientist outlined what some consider to be the the clearest vision so far of a post-Assad Syria, insisting that the opposition will not have any dialogue with Bashar al-Assad until he steps out of office forever. But it is unclear whether Ghalioun himself could be considered for a future leadership role. Meanwhile, across Syria, according to other videos circulating, demonstrators spent this third day of Eid in the streets. These protesters in Idlib chanted, “We’ll defend our freedom with our souls and our blood!” By 1700 UTC, Syria’s Local Coordination Committees reported morning protests across the country in solidarity with Homs and other cities under siege; the LCC reports 11 dead at this hour, including a four-year-old girl. There was gunfire in Hama: According to this video, protesters in Aleppo dyed the water in this fountain red, symbolizing the blood being shed across the country: Also, Syriamap today released a detailed map chronicling protests in the city of Homs. The map can also be viewed on Syriamap’s website. homs final 1111081 1024x660 SYRIA WATCH: Turning Point in the Revolution Renowned Syrian cartoonist Ali Farzat offered this image of Homs “pregnant” with revolution: homs SYRIA WATCH: Turning Point in the Revolution In other stories coming out of Syria, the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported on a children’s festivaltaking place at the Damascus Citadel today, featuring games, entertainment, carnival rides and other amusements–saying the festivity reflects “happiness and pleasure during Eid al-Adha.”

November 7, 2011 – Day Two of Eid al-Adha

The Syrian National Council (SNC) today called Homs a “humanitarian disaster area.” In a mailing to VOA and other media outlets, the SNC said it was calling on the United Nations and its humanitarian organizations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the League of Arab States and all international bodies concerned with human rights, asking them to: 1. Condemn the Syrian regime’s attack on the city of Homs in the strongest terms and urge the Syrian regime to cease fire immediately; 2. Declare the city of Homs a humanitarian disaster area, and the apply international legislation that would provide medical assistance, aid and relief, and the movement of organizations at the international level to stop the massacre committed by the regime; 3. Provide international protection for civilians, allowing them to be evacuated from areas under attack to safe locations; 4. Immediately dispatch Arab and international observers to the city of Homs to oversee the situation on the ground and prevent the regime from continuing to commit “brutal massacres.” 5. Document any crimes committed by the regime and submit them to the International Criminal Court in preparation for the trial of those responsible. By 1900 UTC, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria report that 9 Syrians have died today – among them, a woman and two young girls, in Homs, Hama and in the Damascus suburb of Kesweh. Activists submitted this video from Douma, which shows armed military personnel being transported in ambulances: This video, purportedly shot in the Damascus suburb of Douma, seems to provide evidence of continued military deployment: Video apparently coming out of the Damascus suburb of Saqba is punctuated with the sounds of gunshots. Video uploaded to YouTube showed an unknown little girl apparently falling victim today to the bloody crackdown on Homs. WARNING: Because this video is disturbingly graphic, we chose not to publish it on this site, but opted to provide a link. As these events took place, the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA)reported that Assad performed the Eid al-Adha prayer at the Governorate Building in al-Raqqa, where he later met with a number of clan seniors and other political, economic and social figures. The Syrian leader was quoted by SANA as saying, “We have no choice left but to win any battle that would target our sovereignty and national decision.”

Assad Sucker2 SYRIA WATCH: Turning Point in the Revolution

An image of a diabolic likeness of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad as disseminated on Twitter by @KareemLailah

 SYRIA WATCH: Turning Point in the Revolution

Cecily Hilleary

Cecily began her reporting career in the 1990s, covering US Middle East policy for Dubai-TV English. She has lived and/or worked in the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf regions, consulting and producing for several regional radio and television networks and production houses, including MBC, Al-Arabiya, the former Emirates Media Incorporated and Al-Ikhbaria. She brings to VOA and MEV a keen understanding of the region's top social, cultural and political issues.