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Syria, Libya (and Beyond) Liveblog: Defections Up, Dictators Down

See Also, Syria Special: US Ambassador Ford - "Protesters, Not Terrorists"

Libya, Syria (and Beyond) LiveBlog: Preparing to Fight for Bani Walid

1931 GMT: Two more videos of the large protests in Aleppo, at the funeral for Sheikh Alsgayna. Now Lebanon also has received reports of the same protest.

This could be VERY significant. The death of a religious leader, at the hands of the Syrian security forces, will not go lightly. The size of the funeral procession, and the presence of protests, combined with reports that the protest was broken up inside the cemetery, would suggest that this could become a local rallying call:

1924 GMT: A key piece of evidence. Earlier we reported that a large protest for a slain protester was disrupted in a cemetery in Aleppo. This video appears to show a very large protest at the funeral for Sheikh Alsgayna, killed by security forces in recent days. It's not video of the clashes, but it's evidence that there was a very large rally today in Aleppo:

1918 GMT: This video reportedly shows a sniper in the Bab Tadmor district of Homs, yesterday. The video is inconclusive, however. The cameraman appears (we think) to be saying that the sniper is a member of the Shabiha (plain-clothed "Ghosts," known for harsh tactics against protesters) but the gunfire that can be heard does not sound as if it is coming from this sniper. The insinuation is that the sniper is supporting other untis, but that is not confirmed in the video:

1906 GMT: According to the Guardian, activists are reporting that five unidentified bodies were found n the center square of Homs today, 1 of them female. The LCCS is calling what is happening in the Bayadah district to be an "invasion."

1902 GMT: Protests tonight in Nahat, Horan:

1854 GMT: Protests this afternoon in Almsevereh, Horan district, south of Daraa:

1812 GMT: The US State Department has asked Niger to detain all senior Qaddafi officials who have crossed over the border from Libya:

We have strongly urged the Nigeran officials to detain those members of the regime who may be subject to prosecution, to ensure that they confiscate any weapons that are found and to ensure that any state property of the government of Libya, money, jewels, etcetera, also be impounded so that it can be returned to the Libyan people.

All of them would be subject to the U.N. travel ban which is why we're working closely with the government of Niger

1805 GMT: US Ambassador Robert Ford has released a statement today where he says that the people being killed by the Syrian military are civilians, not terrorists. You can read the statement in our separate entry:

Syria Special: US Ambassador Ford - "Protesters, Not Terrorists"

1548 GMT: Large protests have been reported in the village of Kafr Nuran, southwest of Aleppo:

Also, video claims to show protests tonight in Izaz (A'zaz), north of Aleppo:

1546 GMT: Aleppo Alert - Shaam News is reporting that a funeral for a protester, killed in recent days in Aleppo, has been interrupted by security forces who raided a central cemetery in Aleppo.

We cannot confirm the report.

1533 GMT: Al Jazeera reports that Muammar Gaddafi's deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaim, has been captured in Tripoli.

1517 GMT: James Miller takes the liveblog from Ali Yenidunya, who did a great job of taking us through the afternoon.

Another video has surfaced showing 5 men who claim to be Syrian soldiers and 1 man who claims to be Lieutenant Uday Ali defecting from the Syrian army.

Again, I caution that too much should not be read into this video. It could be faked. Still, James wonders out loud... we've seen many of these videos, with more coming out recently, and now we're seeing higher ranked men. This man claims to have brought a small portion of his soldiers with him. The men give their names, and sometimes show ID badges. If these men are not who they claim to be, we haven't seen any piece of evidence that has proven that these videos are fake.

1430 GMT: Niger's Customs official Harouna Ide says Moammar Gadhafi's security chief, Mansour Dao, was at the head of the convoy when it entered the city early Tuesday.

1410 GMT: At least 31 people were killed and more than 23 injured when government airstrikes hit a mosque and other buildings in downtown Jaar on Monday. According to officials, it was a mistake and they wanted to hit "extremists" who were at the area of the attack one hour earlier.

1400 GMT: The Yemeni government demanded the French Ambassador's immediate departure. According to the Yemen Post, Ahmed Saleh, the president’s eldest son and contender to the presidency, would have ordered the ouster of all French embassy personnel since he felt that they were coercing against the regime by supporting the revolution.

1355 GMT: Emad Farzat was reportedly killed in Rastan today.

1350 GMT: Protest reportedly in Sarmeen, Idlib: protesters raising their shoes and chanting: "Bye bye, Bashar." 

1345 GMT: Video showing Syrian soldiers abusing a detainee on a bus.

1330 GMT: China will recognise Libya's National Transitional Council as the legitimate government "when conditions are ripe", the Foreign Ministry said, without spelling out what those conditions would be.

1325 GMT: Foreign Affairs (Cyprus-Syria Front). A curious story out of Cyprus, where President Demetris Christofias told an inquiry into the explosion of munitions seized from a Cypriot-flagged container ship, bound for Syria, that Damascus threatened Cypriot officials after the cargo was confiscated.

The munitions on board the Monchegorsk were held at a naval base in Cyprus for two years before they exploded in July, killing 12 people and crippling the island’s main power station.

Christofias said he had been under pressure from from “countries that play a decisive role on the international scene” to seize the cargo --- “The US Ambassador even used the name of Barack Obama” --- but Syria had asked for the ship to be allowed to sail to its destination. Damascus It threatened that refusal “would hurt Cyprus’s relations with Syria and the Arab world”. When he decided to hold the cargo, "negative reactions continued, mainly on the part of Syria, and later by Iran".

1320 GMT: Niger's Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum has denied reports that Muammar Gaddafi crossed into Niger.

1315 GMT: Syrian security forces killed at least 15 protesters on Monday before Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Arabi's visit to Damascus on Wednesday.

1310 GMT: Activists say that two people have been killed in the town of al-Restan near the central city of Homs.

1305 GMT: After a convoy of ten vehicles crossing into Niger, Colonel Roland Lavoie, the NATO mission's military spokesman, said:

To be clear, our mission is to protect the civilian population in Libya, not to track and target thousands of fleeing former regime leaders, mercenaries, military commanders and internally displaced people.

1215 GMT: The testimony in yesterday's trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and other prominent defendants was led by a senior police officer, General Hussein Saeed Mursi, who said he was not aware of any orders to use automatic weapons against protesters.

Mursi did say that police had been given clear instructions to use live ammunition to protect the Ministry of Interior from attack during the January uprising. He said the order was given by Ahmed Ramzi, a senior officer who is one of the defendants.

Police officials also discussed the use of ambulances to carry "weapons and ammunition because police vehicles were being attacked" by protesters, according to Mursi.

Two other police officers who testified later in the session echoed a similar line as Mursi. They said there were no orders to kill the protesters, instead, "the orders were to open fire in the air or at their legs".

The next hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

1145 GMT: Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, an NTC spokesman, told Reuters that the convoy crossed into Niger was carrying gold and cash taken from a branch of the Central Bank of Libya.

1130 GMT: Opposition fighters have reached an agreement with tribal leaders in Bani Walid to enter the town peacefully. They have also agreed with some tribes in Sirte to lay down arms.

1020 GMT: The UN's General Secretary Ban ki-Moon said that the organisaiton is ready to provide significant assistance to Libya's new authorities, ranging from police support to drafting a new constitution.

0700 GMT: It is Ali Yenidunya taking over now. Muammar Gaddafi's spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said that the Colonel is in good health and in good spirits somewhere in Libya.

Al Jazeera reports the latest on Libya:

Yesterday, we reported on two videos that appeared (to me) to show Syrian soldiers standing around a body of a man who appeared to be a Syrian soldier who was fleeing into Turkey. One of the consequences of being first to cover a story, especially since we don't speak Arabic, is that the details, especially ones that rely heavily on audio translation, can get a little muddled.

Yesterday, I reported (when I was nearly on my way out the door and did not have time to wait):


Warning, this is a graphic video. It claims to show soldiers surrounding the body of Abdul Salam Hassoun Asadi, a military sniper who who defected and was attempting to flee into Turkey. The video is apparently taken by soldiers in Bdama, Idlib province, moments after he has been shot in the head. There is a second, more graphic video, where the cameraman speaks, but we have no translation at this moment.

We have no way of verifying the details behind these videos.

Well, we asked the Twitterverse for a translation, and we got one that changed my understanding of the video completely:

Abdul Salam Hasson shot dead by a Syrian soldier while trying to flee to the Turkish border. Soldiers in the video are Turkish

The soldiers in the video are Turkish? I trust the translations, but now I have far more questions than answers. Are Turkish soldiers shooting people crossing the border? Why did they film this? Are they selling videos to the opposition as well (there are claims that the videos shot by Syrian soldiers have been paid for)? Why would they do any of this? Are they receiving orders to keep the border closed at all costs? Who is this man, Abdul Salam HAsson, who has been shot? Is he a civilian, or a soldier?

My brain hurts. I'm filing this under the "needs far more information" category.

Updates may be slim for a few hours, but we'll be working hard to cover what is sure to be an interesting day tomorrow, in both Syria, and Libya, and beyond.

It's obvious math, subtraction on one side and addition on the other leads to an unbalanced equation. In Syria protests appear to be getting larger and more widespread, slowly creeping towards Aleppo and the center of Damascus. On the other hand, the defection of Hama Attorney General Adnan Bakkour, while significant in its own right, may have sparked much wider scale defections within the Syrian military. Yesterday, I provided this analysis:

First, a disclaimed. With activists dying in the streets by scores, a single soldier defecting feels like a major victory to the activists. We've been hearing about defections since March, but so far it has been a very tiny trickle, a few here, 1 or 2 there. There is evidence, during the siege of Hama and Jisr al Shughour a few months ago, of whole units, or parts of whole units, defecting. The military then killed these soldiers, according to dissidents, when they refused to fire on civilians, though the government claims these men were killed by "armed gangs."

So is this any different?

Yes. First of all, some of these organizations and activists have been happy to report "Waves of defections" but have tempered their own enthusiasm with a count, or even a list of names. This is the first time that we have seen them report on defections on such a scale. Also, it appears that the defections are happening all at once, and in various regions across the country.

It's way too soon to assume that this is some major coup, but what it does show is that Assad does not have a totalitarian grip on his army. The most important thing it shows, however, is that the daily violence and deaths have not deterred the protesters, but they have started to have palpable impacts on the military.

So, maybe this is a step towards a tipping point, or maybe this is just the purging of a minority opinion from the Syrian military and government. Though the data is too limited to form a conclusion, the topic could be critical to the survival of the Assad regime. If the army starts to see a large increase in defections, and those who are in power also begin to turn from the regime, those who hold the economic and cultural power may be convinced to join the protests...

If not out of conviction, then out of self-preservation.

In Libya, yesterday we reported that the head of Muammar Gaddafi's security brigades, Mansour Dhao, had defected and entered into Niger. This is significant for one main reason, if more high-ranking officials continue to jump from Qaddafi's sinking ship, perhaps the Qaddafi supporters will realize that negotiation, not suicide, is the best way forward.

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