Bashar al-Assad: New images released as slaughter continues in Syria

First, the latest tweets I am seeing at this hour:

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The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll in the Syrian conflict at 19,000 today, with 2,750 killed so far in July alone, as the Assad regime continued it murderous assault on the Free Syrian Army and opposition communities in Syria's two largest cities, Aleppo and Damascus with artillery, armor and helicopter gunships. As the FSA announced an ambitious new attempt to rid Aleppo of government forces, it is clear that the Battle for Damascus is far from over.

The Syrian Arab News Agency [SANA], the Syrian state run news outlet is back on the Internet today after being mysteriously absent for several days, with new images of Bashar al-Assad that are claimed to be taken today. They accompany this article:

President al-Assad Directs the New Chief of General Staff to Continue Chasing down Terrorists and Preserving Citizens' Security

DAMASCUS, (SANA) – President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday received Chief of General Staff of the Army and the Armed Forces, Gen. Ali Abdullah Ayyoub Read more

As you can see, this picture has been shot in the same setting as the earlier post-explosion images of Assad meeting with his new Defense Minister Gen. Fahd Jassem al-Freij that I published here along with pre-explosion photos of Assad with Kofi Annan and Assad with Ahmet Davutoglu, also in the exact same setting. This is the guy that is replacing General al-Freij at his old job. Again there is no audio and no way to date this photo. Also, all of the newly released photos are very small. The one above is the largest I found on the SANA site. This makes the kind of "Photoshoped" forensics to which the Huffington Post subjected the photos of Assad and al-Freij to very difficult.

If the earlier release of the images of Assad with General al-Freij were enough to convince you that Bashar al-Assad was alive and well and on post, then that proof has just been fortified. On the other hand, if you, like me, were suspicious of the earlier release because there was no way to date them, and the similar images from the past indicate that it could well be archive material, then this release should make you even more suspicious. There is also suppose to be a video of this encounter. Al Jazeera English ran about 5 seconds of it, again, no audio, but I have been unable to find it on the SANA website or anywhere else. Since there is no audio or way to date these, they really don't add anything to the proof that Assad is not dead or seriously injured than was offered by the first release. I think it just goes to make my point in the earlier diary that probably all his top generals have had their photo opportunity in that chair opposite Bashar al-Assad and there is a lot of precisely this type of material in the archives. I still need better proof, like a video with audio of Assad talking about recent events before I will give up my hope that Bashar al-Assad is currently sharing memories of happier days with Mummar Gaddafi.

7:48 PM PT: The new video of Assad al-Assad can be seen in the CBS News Online clip between about 1:00 - 1:09.

There are a couple of interesting articles in the MSM on the Syrian situation that I think are worth a read. Yesterday the NY Times carried a new piece by Eric Schmitt and Helen Cooper about the latest US attempts to "manage" the Syrian crisis:

Stymied at U.N., U.S. Refines Plan to Remove Assad

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has for now abandoned efforts for a diplomatic settlement to the conflict in Syria, and instead it is increasing aid to the rebels and redoubling efforts to rally a coalition of like-minded countries to forcibly bring down the government of President Bashar al-Assad, American officials say.

Administration officials have been in talks with officials in Turkey and Israel over how to manage a Syrian government collapse. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is headed to Israel in the next several days to meet with Israeli defense counterparts, following up on a visit last week by President Obama’s national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon, in part to discuss the Syrian crisis.

The White House is now holding daily high-level meetings to discuss a broad range of contingency plans — including safeguarding Syria’s vast chemical weapons arsenal and sending explicit warnings to both warring sides to avert mass atrocities — in a sign of the escalating seriousness of the Syrian crisis following a week of intensified fighting in Damascus, the capital, and the killing of Mr. Assad’s key security aides in a bombing attack.
Administration officials insist they will not provide arms to the rebel forces. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are already financing those efforts. But American officials said that the United States would provide more communications training and equipment to help improve the combat effectiveness of disparate opposition forces in their widening, sustained fight against Syrian Army troops. It’s also possible the rebels would receive some intelligence support, the officials said.
“We’re looking at the controlled demolition of the Assad regime,” said Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “But like any controlled demolition, anything can go wrong.” More...

The 911 Truth crowd will have a field day with that last quote. Too bad he doesn't work for the government.

This morning Reuters has excellence background on the planning that when into the battle for Damascus in:

How "Damascus Volcano" erupted in Assad's stronghold
By Andrew Osborn
Sun Jul 22, 2012 9:55am EDT

(Reuters) - As darkness descended over Damascus on Saturday, July 14, few of its 1.7 million residents could have had any inkling that an all-out battle to wrest the city from the grasp of President Bashar al-Assad was about to begin.

Insurgents gave the operation a name that reflected their hopes of a successful surprise attack on a city long regarded as an impregnable fortress for the Assad family: "Damascus Volcano and Syrian Earthquake".

"There is no going back," Colonel Qassem Saadeddine, a spokesman for the joint command of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), told Reuters after the fighting had broken out. "We have started the operation to liberate Damascus." More...

And from EAWorldView we have this update today:

Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Fighting Reaches Aleppo
Sunday, July 22, 2012 at 10:36 | Scott Lucas

Sounds of fighting in the Saif al Dawleh section of Aleppo, Syria's largest city, this morning

See also Syria Snapshot: As Refugees Surge, Jordan Turns Some Away Syria Analysis: Why the Regime Could Lose Aleppo Syria Audio Feature: "Assad May Be Slipping from Power" --- Scott Lucas with the BBC Saturday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Story is Beyond Damascus

1905 GMT: Syria. Earlier today (see 0835 GMT) we reported, from an AFP photographer, that 150 "Islamist foreign fighters" had arrived at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey after it had been taken by insurgents.

Claimed footage of the fighters with an "Islamist" flag:

1900 GMT: Syria. A witness and activists have said. that the elite 4th Division, under the command of President Bashar al-Assad's Maher, drove insurgents out of the northern Damascus district of Barzeh and summarily executed several young men,.

"At least 20 Fourth Division tanks and hundreds of its members entered Barzeh this afternoon. I saw troops go into the home of 26-year-old Issa al-Arab. They left him dead with two bullets in his head. Seventeen-year-old Issa Wahbeh was pulled from a shelter and beaten and killed. Four other males in their 20s were killed this way," opposition activist Abu Kais said by phone.

1730 GMT: Syria. Back from a break to find the insurgency declaring its offensive to remove the regime --- Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem al-Ahmad of the Free Syrian Army said at a meeting in Turkey, "Right now, Assad's inner circle has been dismantled and Assad has lost his balance. This war is now being waged in the heart of Syria in Damascus."

Earlier, Col. Abdul-Jabbar Mohammed Aqidi, the commander of the "Unity Brigade", said in a video posted on YouTube of the weekend attack in Syria's largest city: "We gave the orders for the march into Aleppo with the aim of liberating it"

Aqidi called on government troops to defect and join the opposition, and said rebels will protect members of Assad's Alawite minority sect, "Our war is not with you but with the Assad family."

Images of fighting today in Sakhour in Aleppo:

1440 GMT: Syria. The Anatolia News Agency claims Turkey has sent military reinforcements to the southeastern province of Mardin on the Syrian border.

The agency said the military deployed ground-to-air missiles to barracks in the Nusaybin district.

1215 GMT: Syria. Video of Free Syrian Army members moving towards Aleppo last night:

1123 GMT: Syria. State news agency SANA is saying nothing about fighting inside Aleppo, reporting instead that security forces fought "armed terrorist groups" in Qebtan al-Jabal and Hayyan to the north and the town of Hreitan.

1110 GMT: Syria. A Turkish diplomat said a 25th Syrian general crossed the border overnight.

Seven generals have reportedly defected since Monday.

1100 GMT: Syria. The Kurdish site Rudaw summarises Saturday's clashes in the Syrian Kurdish city of Qamishli, with the regime facing the Kurdish Popular Protection Forces, a combination of the Kurdish National Council and the Democratic Union Party.

Sami Derwish, a Kurdish activist and protest coordinator in Qamishli, said fighting started when security forces tried to disperse Kurdish protestors:

Actually, we didn’t want such clashes to happen in Qamishli,” he said. “We hoped that we would be able to liberate Qamishli peacefully, like other liberated Kurdish areas. But when the fight is imposed on us, we will do everything to liberate our city from the forces of this tyrannical regime.

Syrian Kurdish fighters have taken control of other towns in the area this week. According to Rudaw, they sent the message to the Free Syrian Army saying that it is not welcome. Derwish said, "We have already clarified that we don’t need the FSA’s support at the moment because we want to liberate our areas on our own.”

The fighters said the regime was sending reinforcements to Qamishli while giving up towns such as Kobani, Efrin, and Amoudia.

It had been reported that the Kurdish insurgents had also taken Derik, but the regime still appears to have control, with one protester slain on Saturday.

1048 GMT: Syria. The Governor of Iraq's Nineveh Province has said that Syrian forces regained control of the Yarabiyah border crossing today.

Insurgents now control one of the three main border crossings between the two countries, with the other two in the hands of the Syrian army.

The Governor said of Yarabiyah, "The gunmen who were at the border crossing left at night, and in the morning, a Syrian force came and took control of the border again." He added that "the border will be open only to receive Iraqis from the other side."

1038 GMT: Syria. A series of messages from Alex Thomson of Britain's Channel 4:

1003 GMT: Syria. The State news agency SANA is back on-line, featuring the claim of the Governor of Damascus Province, Bashir al-Sabban, has said that "normal life" will return to the Midan section of Damascus within five days as "maintenance works will have been completed".

Midan was the site of six days of fighting between regime forces and the Free Syrian Army before insurgents withdrew on Friday.

0959 GMT: Syria. The US Ambassador to Jordan has said Washington has given $100 million in aid to the Kingdom to help host tens of thousands of Syrian refugees and to cope with cut-offs because unstable gas supplies from Egypt.

The latest aid is a supplement to the $660 million approved by Washington in December as military and economic aid to Jordan, which has received $2.4 billion from Washington in the past five years.

Jordan is hosting more than 140,000 Syrians, and the kingdom is building more camps to house the refugees.

See also Syria Snapshot: As Refugees Surge, Jordan Turns Some Away

0950 GMT: Syria. Claimed video of the Free Syrian Army trying, unsuccessfully, to take the Police Academy in Aleppo earlier this week:

Pro-regime footage celebrating the defeat of the attack:

Free Syrian Army insurgents celebrate the capture of the Al-Salam checkpoint, near the town of Izaz, on the Turkish-Syrian border:

0920 GMT: Syria. Witnesses say insurgents and regime forces have fought near the main intelligence base in the northern city of Aleppo today.

"Sounds of explosions from different areas are shaking the whole city. A heavy exchange of gunfire has been going on near the State Security Headquarters in al-Mouhafaza (district) since the morning," a housewife.

In and around Damascus, witnesses report helicopter gunships have bombarded the Mezze district, with insurgents withdrawing, the areas of Rukn al-Din and Qaboun, and the suburb of Barzeh.

0835 GMT: Syria. Questions over the insurgent takeover of Bab al-Hawa, on the Turkish border, escalated on Saturday with Turkish drivers accusing insurgents of burning and looting their trucks.

"We barely escaped when the rebel fighters took full control of the Bab al-Hawa border post in Syria," said Hasan Abbasoglu, who retrieved his vehicle from Syria after the looting. While the truck was not damaged, Abbasoglu said its cargo had been ransacked and he had to pay $700 in bribes to get the truck back.

The governor of Hatay province in southern Turkey blamed "independent groups" for the looting.

AFP claims that by Saturday evening, a group of about 150 "Islamist" foreign fighters --- who were not present when the post was taken on Friday --- were present. Some of the fighters said they belonged to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), while others claimed allegiance to the Shura Taliban. They said they had come from Algeria, France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Russian republic of Chechnya.

0815 GMT: Syria. A protest in Kafarsita in Hama Province last night:

0805 GMT: Syria. A few days ago, we noted the line being put out by US officials --- through journalists for the The New York Times and The Washington Post --- that they were "work[ing] on contingency plans Wednesday for a collapse of the Syrian government".

More signals this morning in the Times:

The Obama administration has for now abandoned efforts for a diplomatic settlement to the conflict in Syria, and instead it is increasing aid to the rebels and redoubling efforts to rally a coalition of like-minded countries to forcibly bring down the government of President Bashar al-Assad, American officials say....

Administration officials insist they will not provide arms to the rebel forces. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are already financing those efforts. But American officials said that the United States would provide more communications training and equipment to help improve the combat effectiveness of disparate opposition forces in their widening, sustained fight against Syrian Army troops. It’s also possible the rebels would receive some intelligence support, the officials said.

By enhancing the command-and-control of the rebel formations, largely by improving their ability to communicate with one another and their superiors and to coordinate combat operations, American officials say they are seeking to build on and fuel the momentum of the rebels’ recent battlefield successes.

“You’ll notice in the last couple of months, the opposition has been strengthened,” a senior Obama administration official said Friday. “Now we’re ready to accelerate that.” The official said that the hope was that support for the Syrian opposition from the United States, Arab governments and Turkey would tip the balance in the conflict....

Administration officials said the United States is also working with Syrian rebels to establish a transition process for the day that Mr. Assad’s government falls, including trying to set up a provisional government that would include representatives from opposing Sects — Alawites, Sunnis and Christians. “We need to make sure that what comes next has Alawite representation,” one administration official said Saturday....

But as last week’s unexpected turn of events indicate, planning for the end of the Assad government, which administration officials insist will happen without saying precisely when, is virtually impossible. “What is the end? That’s the dilemma,” said one senior defense official. “No one knows what the end is. So it’s all about mitigating the risks.”

0755 GMT: Syria. CNN's Arwa Damon removes on a movement by residents of Yabroud, near Damascus, to forge a movement for change beyond ethnicity and religious denomination:

0710 GMT: Syria. After days of attention on fighting and the high-profile bombing in Damascus --- alongside the equally significant news of insurgent advances throughout the country --- another significant story emerged on Saturday.

The Free Syrian Army is on the streets of Aleppo, Syria's largest city.

There had been skirmishes this week in the Salaheddin neighbourhood, but it became clear yesterday --- even as regime troops and armour tried to clear the fighters there --- that this was not an isolated incident. The FSA claimed that its commanders were planning operations in other parts of Aleppo, a claim backed up by video and news of fighting in Sakhour.

So far this is a story of clashes rather than an offensive by the insurgents --- of the 140 deaths reported by the Local Coordinating Committees on Saturday, only 18 were in Aleppo Province --- but the symbolism of the challenge to the regime reaching its biggest city and the seat of its economic power is significant.

Can symbolism turn into a campaign, possibly one that will win the war against President Assad? James Miller offers an analysis in a separate entry.

Here are my related diaries on Syria:
BREAKING: Activists report toxic gas attack in Deir ez-Zor, Syria
Glenn Greenwald sees Islamist Terrorism as main issue in Syria
Will Syria's Assad make a chemical attack in Damascus on Saturday?
BREAKING: I know where Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is!
BREAKING: Massive Fire near #Assad's Presidential Palace in #Damascus, #Syria
BREAKING: Is Syria's Bashar al-Assad dead or dying?
BREAKING: Damascus explosion kills Defense Minister, other key figures
The battle for Damascus is coming
BREAKING: General Strike in Damascus
BREAKING: Intense fighting reported in Damascus now!
BREAKING: Syrian defector spills beans as important new defection reported.
Does Syria's Assad have something on Kofi Annan?
Tremseh Massacre in Syria: What we know
BREAKING: ~227 reported massacred by Assad's forces in Tremseh, Syria today!
Syria: Is Assad regime on the verge of collapse?
BREAKING: Russian Warships reported in Syria
BREAKING: #Russia changing on #Assad but not as fast as conditions in #Syria
UN Observers say violence in Syria is ‘Unprecedented’
BREAKING: Defection of major Assad insider reported in Syria
BREAKING: WikiLeaks releases 2.4 million #Syria emails
When did "Never Again" become "Whenever?" | #Douma
BREAKING: Incredible mass rally in Aleppo, Syria today!
BREAKING: HRW releases torture report on Syria
BREAKING: Syrian General defects with 293 to Turkey
BREAKING: Items not in the MSM on Syria
My response to Phyllis Bennis: Where is the non-violent opposition in Syria?
BREAKING: Syrian Air Force attacks Douma, 10m from Damascus, thousands flee
BREAKING: As Syria Burns, UN Blows More Smoke
BREAKING: Kofi Annan to propose Syrian unity gov't sans Assad!
BREAKING: Douma, Syria under massive attack, another massacre feared
BREAKING: Another mass defection from Syrian army
BREAKING: #NATO says No War in #Syria shoot down of #Turkey jet
NATO meetup tomorrow as more defect from Syria
BREAKING: Turkey calls for NATO consult on downing of jet by Syria
BREAKING: Senior Syrian Officers Defect
UPDATED: Russia reported to be preparing to evacuate from Syria
BREAKING: Syria fighter pilot defects
BREAKING: Britain stops Russian ship carrying attack helicopters for Syria
BREAKING: Russian troops headed to Syria
Qaddafi forces Strike Back in Libya
BREAKING: UN suspends mission in Syria
Libya & Syria - two videos - no comment
BREAKING: Russia denies supplying Syria with NEW attack helicopters
Syrian people rise up against the massacre
Another "Houla style" massacre in Syria
Fake Houla Massacre Photo: Was the BBC set up?
Idlib, Syria protest today on anniversary of Kent State killings
BREAKING: Massive protests in Syria following Friday pray
Syria is bleeding
Syria: Ceasefire faltering as mass protests breakout

Mon Jul 23, 2012 at 10:59 PM PT: This is when Assad swears in a new cabinet on June 26, 2012. Notice he had a voice then. Why so silent now?