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Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Disputing a Car Bomb in Damascus

CNN's first-hand report from the Damascus suburb of Tadamon, "What we find is a war zone"

See also Syria Audio Feature: The Escalating Issues of Refugees and a Transitional Government --- James Miller with Monocle 24
Bahrain Interview: The Life and Death of 16-Year-Old Hussam AlHaddad
Syria Snapshot: The Defecting Senior Officers in Jordan's Camps
Tuesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Bloodletting in Damascus Intensifies

2045 GMT: Syria. Despite all the violence, there are still protests, and those protests offer a united front against the Syrian government. It is the protests that first drew the fire of the regime, and it was the protests that first gave credence to the slogan "the people want the execution of the President," and it was the protests that first gave the Free Syrian Army legitimacy in the first place. Because of the violence, protests are smaller and less frequent - but even after more than 22,000 deaths, they are never far away.

The LCC posts a video claiming to show a night protest in Harasta, a suburb of Damascus where bombs and shells have fallen for days (map):

2015 GMT: Afghanistan. Yet another "Green on Blue" attack, where Afghanistan forces fire on NATO soldiers:

2004 GMT: Syria. 122 people have been killed today, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria:

58 martyrs were documented in Damascus city and its suburbs, including 2 unidentified martyrs in Moadamiyeh. 17 martyrs in Idlib, 16 in Aleppo, 10 in Homs, 7 in Daraa, 7 in Raqqa, 2 in Lattakia, 2 in Hama, 2 in Deir Ezzor, and 1 from Jableh who was martyred in Damascus suburbs.

See our note about the LCC reports.

Shelling and air strikes were the main culprits for most of the deaths today, according to activists. Areas in the northeast, east, southeast, west and southwest of the capital were shelled today, as the regime continues its efforts to dislodge insurgents and their supporters.

In the past, in Homs and Idlib provinces, the regime has used other methods to discourage dissent. There has been evidence that tanks have targeted water towers, removing fresh drinking water from the populace. Also, crops are routinely burned in areas where anti-government opposition is at its strongest. Now, the LCC has a dramatic (and unverified) claim from Hama:

1518 GMT: Syria. The Guardian's Mona Mahmood has spoken with Tamiem AlShami, commander in the Ahrah al-Sham brigade that was responsible for the attack against the Taftanaz helicopter base (see updates below). According to Al Shami, the brigades responsible were not part of the Free Syrian Army, but they had been planning the attack for weeks.

I was coordinating the forces who took part in the operation as well as weapons and how to use them. The operation lasted for 40 minutes. We were able to take out most of the defences at the base. We used a lot of fire against the helicopters at the base and could see with our own eyes how these helicopters were burning. Some of the helicopters were destroyed by tank shells. We used RPGs against the tanks inside the base which were shooting against us. After 40 minutes, when the Syrian army inside the base could not defend themselves, warplanes started to fire heavily at the area.

We have three martyrs who were killed during the operation and a few wounded. Only one was seriously wounded during the operation and he is under treatment now. When we set up the plan to attack the base, it was not in our calculations to keep it under our control. Our military expertise told us that it would be a big mistake to keep the base under our control. The regime will shoot and burn the site with its contents and people inside even if there are some Syrian army soldiers and officers there.

We stormed the base, burnt the helicopters, destroyed a lot of the terminals at the base and then pulled out safely. The regime now is attacking the surrounding areas like Danash and Taftanaz. We could not confiscate any weapons from the base because all the weapons were heavy, but we were aiming to destroy them. We could not move these heavy weapons, the planes were shooting from other bases nearby. At the same time, other members of Ahrar al-Sham were attacking Syrian army military headquarters nearby to stop them helping the troops inside Taftanaz base. We targeted them with mortars and rockets. The brigades were able to manufacture rockets with a 6km range. We used them in this operation.

So the claim being made is that the insurgent brigades destroyed 10 helicopters, inflicted casualties on the Syrian military, held off counter-attacks, and potentially destroyed or damaged several regime armored vehicles, all while only losing 3 fighters.

What's more amazing - based on the evidence we've seen, it's very possible that this is an accurate reporting.

Another video showing regime tanks maneuvering outside the base during today's battle:

1508 GMT: Syria. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 66 people have been killed by regime forces so far today:

32 martyrs were documented in Damascus city and its suburbs including 2 unidentified martyrs in Moadamiyeh. 11 martyrs in Idlib including a woman, 8 in Homs, 8 in Aleppo, 2 from Daraa one of them was martyred in Idlib, 2 in Hama, 2 in Lattakia and 1 from Jableh who was martyred in Damascus suburbs.

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 numbers are a mix of insurgents and civilians, and never include regime casualties. Syrian State Media has stopped reporting regime casualty figures.

The Local Coordination Committees has proven to be a highly reliable source of news from Syria.

1410 GMT: Syria. A helicopter base was successfully attacked in Idlib province (updates below) - and now, the payback. Activists report that the nearby towns have been bombed by MIG fighters today. Specifically, Binnish (map), a key roadside town with strong opposition sympathies, may have fared the worst. This video reportedly shows the fall of a bomb on the town. As the cameraman is filming distant smoke, a shell or bomb screams nearby, and the explosion rattles the camera:

According to the LCC, Kafer Awaid (map) has also been bombed by warplanes, and "Many martyrs and wounded were reported due to warplane shelling at the town."

1401 GMT: Syria. A prominent figure in the opposition Syrian National Council resigned on Tuesday over the lack of effective response to the escalating violence in the country.

"Today we stand without protection against horrific massacres from Houla to Daraya and the blood of the people flowing in the streets of our towns and villages," said Basma Kodmani, based in Paris and one of few women in the council.

1358 GMT: Egypt. A judge has said former Presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik has been placed on a watch list at border points pending an investigation of alleged corruption involving the sons of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

"The investigative judge decided to put General Ahmed Shafik's name on the watch and travel ban lists based on investigations over his illegal allocation of 40,000 square meters of Alaa and Gamal Mubarak," Judge Osama el-Saeidy said.

Shafik, the last Prime Minister under Mubarak, left Egypt shortly after he lost in a run-off in June to President Mohamed Morsi. Alaa and Gamal Mubarak are in prison facing other corruption charges.

1351 GMT: Syria. The Guardian has spoken to a resident of the Ghouta region, the eastern suburbs of Damascus. The scene is ugly. Bombs fall, shells fall, gunfire rings out, and there has been no end in sight for days. Below is a short excerpt:

The Syrian army started to shoot in a mad way against al-Mahrieq district in Juber as well as al-Mahfier district in Ain Terma. We have more than 200 martyrs in these two districts.

The FSA are everywhere. They hit and run. It is no excuse for the regime to shoot any district by MiG just because there are one or two members of the FSA are in them. The FSA are attacking checkpoints and pull out but the civilians are not involved in that.

Most of the people here left but there are many who can't flee. People are using the basements at the buildings or houses as shelters but still they are scared that they will be subjected to a massacre like in Darayya.

Also, getting to these basements is not easy, there is a random shooting and most of the roads are blocked. The regime has forced the bakeries to shut down and prevented people who bring food to al-Ghouta from getting inside. There is a great shortage in food and medications here.

1317 GMT: Syria. We're still collecting videos from Taftanaz, and it appears that the military base was defended. In this claimed video, smoke can be seen rising from the air base, but a helicopter is airborne:

And here one can make out military vehicles moving on the base grounds. One can also more clearly make out how many helicopters were effected. It is entirely possible, looking at this video, that 10, or perhaps more, helicopters were damaged or destroyed in this attack:

1300 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage of the actual battle for the Taftanaz air base, where the Free Syrian Army may have destroyed between 5 and 10 attack helicopters (see update 1135):

There are many important things to draw from this footage. First of all, the geography matches what we know of the area, and it also matches other videos of the claimed assault on the base, adding further credence to the reports.

The second thing that can be glossed from this is that the battle appeared to be nearly one sided. In this video, tracer fire from heavy machine guns, likely the vehicle-mounted guns seen in the previous video, can clearly be seen. There does not appear to be any return fire, and none of the helicopters appear to be being scrambled. This suggests that the FSA was able to approach the base undetected - or, that the units defending the base fled or defected. These helicopters could easily dispatch these vehicles, and should have seen this attack coming from a long distance. Where are the soldiers who are supposed to be defending this base?

The most significant news, however, is that this is a major military defeat for the Syrian regime. The Taftanaz base (map) is one of the key forward bases in the military operations on the road between Idlib and Aleppo. Furthermore, even with the base fully operational, the Syrian regime has consistently been dealt major defeats over the course of the last few months. In particular, the regime tried to make a full-scale assault on the opposition stronghold of Kafranbel (map), where their efforts were rebuffed and their losses were high. Furthermore, the FSA recently ambushed a military convoy in Ma'arrat Misreen (map) that was headed northeast to secure border crossings. In other words, even with a major helicopter base, the FSA has been winning victories in this area. Furthermore, in June the FSA reportedly destroyed at least 2 helicopters nearby.

In Idlib province, even in areas that the regime is identifying as having major strategic value, the Syrian military has proven ineffective at retaking territory or turning back the FSA's advance.

But if this is a war of attrition, then this news is even more significant. According to the Guardian, the regime only had 71 helicopters on August 10th. With the destruction of 5-10 here, and the loss of a helicopter in Damascus earlier in the week, this means that Assad's helicopter force has been reduced by between 7 and 15 percent in just 3 days.

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

1155 GMT: Iraq. Authorities say a one-star general is among five security officials killed in a series of attacks today.

Police said Brig. Gen. Nadhum Tayeh was driving to work early Wednesday when a carload of gunmen opened fire on him in Baghdad.

An off-duty army colonel was reportedly killed in a roadside bombing in northern Baghdad, while three policemen were slain and six wounded when their convoy was hit by a bomb in Kirkuk.

Three policemen were also killed in roadside bomb attack targeting Kurdish police chief Brigadier General Sarhad Qader in Kirkuk.

1135 GMT: Syria. Insurgents claim they have destroyed five helicopters at a military airport between the northern cities of Aleppo and Idlib.

Abu Mossab, a fighter who participated in the attack, said the insurgents shelled the Taftanaz military airport with two captured military tanks. The Umma Brigade, led by Libyan-Irish Mehdi Harati, announced the death of one of its fighters in the operation.

The Free Syrian Army said 10 helicopters were demolished.

Claimed footage of the assault:

1125 GMT: Libya. Minister of Interior Fawzi Abdel A'al has said he will not risk an armed confrontation with ultra-conservative Muslims behind a series of attacks on shrines sacred to Sufi Muslims in Tripoli and the western city of Zlitan.

Abdel A'al offered his resignation on Saturday but he said Tuesday that he had reconsidered and decided to stay in the job. He continued:

If we deal with this using security we will be forced to use weapons, and these groups have huge amounts of weapons. We can't be blind to this. These groups are large in power and number in Libya. I can't enter a losing battle (with them), to kill people over a grave.

The Minister said it was up to the country's religious bodies to stop the desecration: "If all shrines in Libya are destroyed so we can avoid the death of one person (in clashes with security), then that is a price we are ready to pay."

1045 GMT: Egypt. Charges have been dropped against Australian journalist Austin Mackell and his colleagues, who were arrested and accused of inciting violence in Mahalla in Feburary.

Authorities said the journalist gave money to children to throw rocks at a police station. The group was released after 56 hours but forbidden to travel outside the country while the case was pending.

Mackell responded, “The idea that the people in Mahalla would even have listened to some strange foreign journalist and betrayed their country somehow is absurd. It is part of the regime’s attempts to make Egyptians afraid of each other and ‘the others’.”

1037 GMT: Syria. A curious mix of economic claims from the Central Bureau of Statistics....

The Bureau said inflation rose to 36.1% in June compared to a year ago, as the cost of housing, water, electricity, gas, and transport increased.

However, the Bureau declared falls in the cost of food, with the price of meat down 5%, fruits 27.5%, and vegetables 47.4%.

1031 GMT: Bahrain. Minister of Justice Sheikh Khaled bin Ali al-Khalifa has reportedly ordered the immediate transfer of Sunni cleric Dr Adel Hassan AlHamad from one of the grand mosques in Riffa to another mosque in Tubli.

The cleric's supporters claim he is being punished for his sermon last Friday criticising the building of a new Roman Catholic Church in Awali, on land donated by the monarchy, as "an attempt to please Western nations". He urged worshippers to express their opposition, reminding them that they have previously drawn a "red line when it came to the leadership of this country", asserting the "rightful religion of Allah is far more superior and worthy of their support", and warning that "silence in such matters could drag divine consequences".

1015 GMT: Syria. Brown Moses posts videos to claim the regime's deployment of "a new kind of cluster bomblet and the bomb used to drop them":

0955 GMT: Syria. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said that the establishment of a buffer zone for refugees inside Syria, an idea tested by Turkey this week, is "very complicated":

We are thinking about this. It is very complicated. We cannot do it without the agreement of the Turks and other countries....A buffer zone is impossible without a no-fly zone. To ensure the protection (of displaced people), there must be anti-aircraft and air assets.

0945 GMT: Kuwait. Jane Kinnimont writes a report for Chatham House on the state of the Kuwaiti Parliament:

The political crisis of June 2012 has emboldened Kuwaitis calling for constitutional reforms, above all to improve the functioning of parliament. Supporters of reform across the Gulf region hope that Kuwait will set a precedent by developing a genuine constitutional monarchy; conservatives think quite the opposite....

Kuwait's parliament has an adversarial relationship with the government. With neither the rights nor the responsibilities of governing, elected representatives largely function as an opposition to the royally appointed cabinet.

Parliament can veto government actions, but has few powers to propose solutions to problems. There are no clear mechanisms to resolve legislature-executive disputes, except for the outright dissolution of parliament by the ruler, which has become almost routine.

This state of affairs is widely blamed for a poor recent record of implementing government investment projects and the limited success in bringing in foreign investment. The perception that Kuwait's relative democracy hinders its economic development has negative repercussions for the perceptions of democracy in the Gulf region.

Parliament could be improved by the introduction of political parties and appointing MPs to ministerial positions, but there are broader questions about the functioning of an elected parliament in an oil-rich, state-dominated economy and the meaning of democracy where most of Kuwait's population are non-nationals.

0915 GMT: Iraq. Prashant Rao reports on the latest dispute challenging political development:

A bitter row between Iraq’s political blocs is threatening the future independence of the country’s election commission and is casting doubt on whether provincial polls due next year will be held on time.

Parties have been locked in stalemate for months over the selection of board members for Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), with the dispute leaving many to doubt whether those chosen will be able to exercise any independence whatsoever with provincial elections looming.

“Definitely, they (board members) will not be independent,” said Mahmud Othman, an independent Kurdish lawmaker. “It’s a bad way to build institutions, but that’s what is going on.”

Hamed al-Mutlak, another MP, admitted that while politicians wanted IHEC to be independent, “unfortunately, this is what is happening now.”

“It’s not ideal,” added the member of the mostly Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc.

The dispute stems from a months-long row between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki‘s bloc and opponents, all of whom are members of a unity government.

0815 GMT: Syria. In an interview with Addounia TV, President Assad has said "the situation is now better" in "a battle of wills"; however, he added that more time is needed to win that battle.

Assad rejected a proposal by Turkey to create buffer zones within Syria for refugees.

An advance extract from the full interview, to be broadcast this evening:

0700 GMT: Syria. Robert Fisk of The Independent, who has been publishing a series of articles based on talks with regime officials, offers a story of last week's killing of more than 200 people in the town of Darayya which is "different from the version that has been repeated around the world":

Senior Syrian officers told The Independent how they had "exhausted all possibilities of reconciliation" with those holding the town, while residents of Daraya said there had been an attempt by both sides to arrange a swap of civilians and off-duty soldiers – apparently kidnapped by rebels because of their family ties to the government army – with prisoners in the army's custody. When these talks broke down, the army advanced into Daraya, six miles from the centre of Damascus.

0600 GMT: Syria. As fighting and deaths surge around Damascus, the morning begins with a dispute over the specific incident --- a car bomb on Tuesday that killed at least 12 people and wounded 48. 

State media blamed the explosion, which hit a funeral at a cemetery in Jaramana, on unspecified criminals, while the opposition Local Coordination Committees declared, "The terrorist regime has resorted to sowing sedition between the different sects of using the method they are well-known for and perfected in other places and countries", a reference to past bombings by Syrian agents in Lebanon. Indeed, the activists claimed the pursuit of this campaign today:

This new crime occurred just a few weeks following the revelation of
the bombing plot of MP Michael Smaha of Lebanon which was going to be
implemented in Lebanon in coordination with the Syrian regime’s
security services with the aim of causing a sectarian conflict and
laying blame on the “Universal Conspiracy” and its followers and to
support its false claim of being “the minorities protector”.

The LCC said 140 people had been killed by securty forces on Tuesday, including 54 in Damascus and its suburbs, 29 in Idlib Province, and 24 in Hama Province.

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