BREAKING: Romney: "Syria is on the brink of a civil war!"

Last Updated 3:57PM PST
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While on a trip to the middle east designed to display his foreign policy credentials, presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke in Jerusalem about an hour ago. I caught it live on AJE. While most of the speech was dedicated to kissing up to Israel by trashing Iran, he took time out to comment on the situation in Syria with these words:

Syria is on the brink of a civil war!

Would you mind repeating that for the people of Allepo?

Most observers have long ago declared the Syrian conflict to be a civil war. The proclamations of the United Nations and the International Red Cross make that official in international law. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights just raised their estimate of the number of Syrians killed in this conflict to 20,000 as the Syrian government continues to pound resistive communities in Homs, Damascus, Idlib and Aleppo with artillery, tank fire, attack helicopters and jets dropping bombs. The Syrian Army is divided with the better part, in moral authority if not yet in numbers, having defected to form the Free Syria Army. Defections from the Assad regime continue to mount on a daily basis. Just yesterday Colonel Fawwaz Al-Sh-habi defected and joined the FSA. Now the Syrian Army and the Free Syrian Army are engaged in large desperate battles. Yesterday in one Aleppo neighborhood the regime committed 50 tanks. Yesterday in Syria another 180 people died from the regime's violence and 21 of them were children.

So Mr. Romney, what would a civil war look like?

Much more later. Check back....


People of AlBab celebrating its liberation today | 29 July 2012

Evening Demonstration in Qamishly 29 July 2012

BBC News had this report on Aleppo today:

No let-up in Aleppo battle as Syria vows to crush rebels
29 July 2012 Last updated at 07:57 ET

Shelling and gunfire have again shaken Aleppo as Syrian government forces battle rebels for control of the country's largest city.

A BBC correspondent who is just outside Aleppo says heavy fighting is reported in the city centre near the old fort but this cannot be verified.

Syria's foreign minister said on Sunday that the rebels would be defeated.

The head of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) has called for foreign states to arm rebel fighters.

"We want weapons that would stop tanks and jet fighters. That is what we want,"
Abdulbaset Sayda was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying at a news conference in Abu Dhabi.

He urged Arab "brothers and friends to support the Free [Syrian] Army".

Wealthy Gulf states pledged in April to pay the salaries of rebel fighters, while the US state department has acknowledged sending non-lethal aid (such as communications equipment) to the opposition. More...

Rebels capture al-Ahdath prison in Aleppo | 29 July 2012

Rebels destroy a military tank in Hanano neighbourhood | 29 July 2012

From the Al Jazeera Live Blog July 29, 2012 - 08:28:

Syria rebels fend off Aleppo assault

Syrian rebels held off an offensive by regime forces in Aleppo Saturday as the head of the exiled opposition called for heavy weapons and said President Bashar al-Assad should be tried for "massacres".

After massing for two days, troops backed by tanks and helicopter gunships moved on southwestern Aleppo where rebels concentrated their forces when they seized much of the northern city on July 20.

At least 29 people were killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, contributing to a figure of around 140 nationwide, amid growing concern about the risks of reprisals against civilians in the country's commercial capital.

The London-based watchdog said more than 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have now died since the uprising against Assad's regime erupted in March 2011.

Civilians crowded into basements seeking refuge from the bombing, with the Observatory's Rami Abdel Rahman describing the clashes as the "fiercest" of the uprising.

"There are thousands of people in the streets fleeing the bombardment. They're being terrorised by helicopter gunships flying at low altitude," said an activist, adding many had taken refuge in public parks.

The Guardian Live Blog is another good source Syria: Battle for Aleppo - live updates. At 17:24 BST, here is their summary of the latest developments:

• Regime helicopters have shelled the key city of Aleppo and clashes have continued on the ground between regime forces and rebel fighters, according to opposition activists. The Guardian's Luke Harding said the two sides are about 1.5km apart. Aleppo-based activist Mohammed Saeed told AP the shelling was most intense in the south-western neighborhoods of Salaheddin and Saif al-Dawla. The government said security agents were hunting down armed groups in Salaheddin. Video purported to show that a government shell had set a plastics factory ablaze in Aleppo.

• Shelling has also been reported by opposition activists in Damascus, Deraa, Hama, Homs and Idlib. There have been clashes rebels and government troops have been reported in Deir Ezzor and Hasaekeh. The Local Coordination Committees opposition activist group claims 21 people have been killed in Sheikh Miskeen, Deraa, alone by security forces. This report cannot be independently verified by the Guardian.

• The Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moualem, vowed that the rebels in Aleppo would be defeated as would the "conspiracy" against the country. On a visit to Tehran to meet his counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, Moualem accused Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey of supporting a plot hatched by Israel to destroy Syria. Salehi said the idea that there would be an orderly transition of power if the Assad regime fell from power was "a dream illusion".

• The Syrian opposition has appealed for its foreign allies to provide with heavy weapons to fight President Bashar al-Assad's "killing machine". The Syrian National Council (SNC) also said it would soon start talks on forming a transitional government to replace him. "The rebels are fighting with primitive weapons. We want weapons that we can stop tanks and planes with. This is what we want," Abdelbasset Sida, head of the SNC said. The SNC is an umbrella opposition group but has been riven by internal dissent and external criticism, questioning its legitimacy.

• The Arab League chief, Dr Nabil Elaraby, described the situation in Syria as amounting to war crimes and said those responsible will be held accountable internationally, Egypt's state news agency said on Sunday

• Jordan opened its first tent camp for Syrians fleeing violence in their country. "Reality has pushed us to open this camp," Interior Minister Ghaleb Zoubi told a gathering of aid officials during the camp's opening in the hamlet of Zataari, about 11 kilometers (7 miles) from the Syrian border. Some 142,000 Syrians are seeking refuge in their southern neighbour and the figure is growing daily by up to 2,000.

• Three Chinese warships crossed into the eastern Mediterranean today, joining 10 Russian warships and three US aircraft carriers, as well as dozens of Turkish military vessels.

Assad's warplanes fly over Haretan Aleppo | 29 July 2012

FSA group doing emergency medical aid for a few Assad soldiers after taking checkpoint. | 29 7 2012

Moment Military helicopter launched a missile on Salah Aldeen in Aleppo is captured | 28 July 2012

no comment | 29 July 2012

The opposition may not be defeated yet in Aleppo but the Syrian Foreign Minister says they soon will be according to todays ahramonline:

Rebels in Aleppo 'will definitely be defeated': Syria

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem says the gathering of rebels and anti-regime forces in the city of Aleppo to fight the government will definitely be defeated
AFP , Sunday 29 Jul 2012 | Last Update 22:19
Rebels fighting government forces in Syria's commercial capital Aleppo "will definitely be defeated," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said on an unannounced visit to key ally Iran on Sunday.

"We believe that all the anti-Syrian forces have gathered in Aleppo to fight the government... and they will definitely be defeated," he told a joint news conference in Tehran with Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.

His assertion came as Syrian troops, backed by air power and tanks, pushed on in the second day of an assault on the northern city of Aleppo, sparking international fears of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Salehi warned that, if the Syria conflict worsened and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad fell, the consequences "would engulf the region and eventually the whole world."

He added that "it's naive and illusory to think that, if a (power) vacuum opens up in Syria and the government changes, a new government could be easily established."

He urged Syria's neighbours to think hard about the situation, otherwise "everyone will lose," and said Assad needed more time to carry out promised reforms. More ...

Today from EAWorldView we have this report on Syria:

Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Inside and Outside Aleppo

Sunday, July 29, 2012 at 7:25 | Ali Yenidunya

2035 GMT: Syria. Christian Science Monitor correspondent Scott Peterson, who has just returned to Turkey for Syria, has spoken of the battle in Aleppo:

It was a very up and down fight at the very early stages....I think [the victory] took the rebel forces by surprise a little bit. They claimed they knocked out eight tanks....

It was surprising to feel the degree of optimism that some of the rebels there felt. Of course what they were concerned about wsa that the quality and the volume of the shelling...was going to yield kind of a destroyed neighbourhood.

Peterson said the supply of weapons to the insurgents markedly increased in the past few days, with many more rocket-propelled grenades and even DShK or "Dushka" anti-aircraft guns appearing.

1755 GMT: Syria. The Muslim Brotherhood has denounced President Assad, his allies Iran and Russia, and the international community for "silence" and failure to protect civilians.

The Brotherhood said Assad was "legally and morally responsible for the death of every victim in Syria" and Iran and Russia were "drowning in the blood of the Syrian people".

The Brotherhood also said the international community was "a partner" to violence in Syria, "by standing silent for too long...and failing to respect its obligation under international law to protect civilians".

1725 GMT: UAE. At least 10 more dissidents have been arrested in recent days in a widening crackdown, according to activists.

At least 40 dissidents have reportedly been seized since March and 20 since 15 July when officials said they were investigating a foreign-linked group planning "crimes against the security of the state".

1645 GMT: Syria. An insurgent commander in Boustan Alkasr in Aleppo Province has told Luke Harding of The Guardian:

The Free Syrian Army has several hundred soldiers stationed inside Aleppo, and in total a bigger force in the area of around 2000. The regime has 100 tanks, we estimate, and about another 400 troop carriers and armoured vehicles. They also have 43 buses of Shabiha that have been brought inside Aleppo, with around 1500 soldiers. And the regime has helicopters.

Harding reports the insurgents, who entered Aleppo on 20 July, remain in control of a crescent-shaped portion stretching from the east to the south and are encamped in villages near Anadan, 13 kilometres (8 miles) to the north. The Free Syrian Army has set up a network of checkpoints in the neighbourhoods it controls, run by young militia fighters, many of them extremely nervous.

The journalist adds different insurgent groups inside the city are struggling to communicate with each other. They are using walkie-talkies, as the Internet and other services erratic.

1515 GMT: Syria. There have been reports of heavy casualties in Sheikh Miskeen, in Deraa. The Local Coordination Committees says:

The number of martyrs has risen to 21, due to fierce shelling and amid an attempt to raid the area by regime forces Some were slaughtered with knives.

1500 GMT: Syria. Al Jazeera Arabic reports that the Free Syrian Army is in complete control of eight neighbourhoods in Aleppo city.

1445 GMT: Syria. The Assad forces are reportedly killed two non-Syrian men while they were trying to cross the border into Jordan. Zayed Hammad, head of the Ketab and Sunna Society, which provides aid to more than 50,000 Syrian refugees, told the AFP

We are trying to identify the nationalities of the two because they are not Syrian. The Syrian army ambushes all those who try to flee to Jordan.

1410 GMT: Syria. Dr Nabil Elaraby, Secretary-General of the Arab League, described the situation in Syria as amounting to war crimes and said those responsible will be held accountable internationally.

1325 GMT: Jordan. Syria's southern neighbour opened its first official refugee camp where 500 Syrian refugees will be moved today. Interior Minister Ghaleb Zubi said between 1,000 and 2,000 Syrians are fleeing to Jordan every day. He added that his country was now hosting more than 142,000 Syrians, around 36,000 of whom are UN-registered.

1300 GMT: Syria. It is reported that more than 12,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Algeria. The Syrian opposition sources put this number up to 20,000 though.

1220 GMT: Syria. A resident of a middle-class area of Aleppo e-mails The Guardian:

Constant shelling for the last 2 days of the poorer areas. I can hear the shells being fired. I can see the helicopters circling and firing in the same areas. We cannot open schools quick enough to take in the fleeing families. Thousands are sheltering in the parks....

No gas, no fuel, no petrol and now no bread.

Fighting has been reported in the Salaheddin and al-Bab sections of the city.

1200 GMT: Syria. Testimony from a captured member of the shabiha militia, given to Luke Harding of The Guardian....

Dawish Dado, 33, said he was a decorator in Aleppo and was recruited two months ago to join the shabiha. He. said shabiha unit had looted many houses in Aleppo and robbed people: "I didn't witness rape. But I heard talk about it in my unit."

1150 GMT: The Guardian's Luke Harding reports from Aleppo that the Free Syrian Army members and the government forces are about 1.5km apart from each other.

1135 GMT: Syria. A plastic factory in Aleppo claimed to be hit by a shell. Meanwhile, there are reports coming from the south-western neighborhoods of Salaheddin and Saif al-Dawla that intense shelling is continuing.

1125 GMT: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al Moualem said at the joint press conference:

We are facing a campaign from US, Western, and Arab countries....whether we have or do not have weapons of mass destruction, Israel has more than 200 nuclear warheads.

Syria is committed to the [Kofi] Annan plan, but we have two points; preventing any foreign aggression and keeping the union of our land.

1110 GMT: Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi dismissed plans about forming a transitional government in Syria. Salehi said:

Thinking naively and wrongly that if there is a powe vacuum perhaps in Syria and if there is a transition of power in Syria, simply another government will come to power, that I think is just a dream.

It's an illusion. We have to look carefully at Syria and what's happening inside the country.

1045 GMT: Syria. Abdelbasset Sida, president of the Syrian National Council said that a transitional government would be formed within weeks. Sida continued:

This government should come about before the fall (of Assad) so that it presents itself as an alternative for the next stage.

The committees that we have set up have their own schedules. Obviously, the matter should be concluded within weeks.

There are some elements in the current regime who are not bloodstained, who were not part of major corruption cases. We will discuss (including them) with other parties, but there
should be a national consensus to accept them.

1030 GMT: Syria. The Free Syrian Army seizes a tank in the Al Bab district of Aleppo and turns into the Reo carnival.

1015 GMT Syria. Benjamin Hiller, writing in the Egypt Independent, offers an overview of "Kurdish Syria: From Cultural to Armed Revolution".

1000 GMT: Syria. BBC News showing Homs, the "scarred and divided" city:

0945 GMT: Prisoners exchange in Syria. CNN's Ivan Watson witnesses an exchange of Sunni and Shiite prisoners exchange.

0935 GMT: Syria. The Free Syrian Army fighters were waiting for tanks in Aleppo yesterday.

0925 GMT: Syria. Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem will meet Iranian officials in Tehran today, the Iranian Foreign Ministry has said.

The Foreign Ministry said Muallem will meet his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi. Iran's ISNA news agency said Muallem will also see the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili.

0920 GMT: Syria. The Free Syrian Army has reportedly "liberated a strategic building" in Homs' Bab Hood neighbourhood.

0910 GMT: Syria. Long queues for bread at a public bakery in Aleppo:

0900 GMT: Syria. Several members of the Assad regime's military intelligence in al-Bab city in the northern province of Aleppo have become prisoners of the Free Syrian Army.

Syria. Claimed footage of the Sekkari neighbourhood of Aleppo this morning:

Syria. Regime forces pounded areas of Aleppo, notably Salaheddin, yesterday in an attempt to force out insurgents who have now been inside Syria's largest city for more than a week. Among the 160 deaths reported by the Local Coordination Committees, 33 were in Aleppo. The regime gave no figures for its losses.

There was no sign, however, of conclusive victory. To the contrary, activists claimed --- with some video support --- that the attack on Salaheddin had been repulsed.

And even if President Assad's men restore men, it is growing more likely they will face a divided country. As the regime has put its effort into Aleppo, insurgents have consolidated their position in province in towns such as l-Bab and Anadan.

Here are my related diaries on Syria:
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