BREAKING: Senior Syrian diplomat to Armenia defects

BREAKING @ 6:22pm pst New shelling reported in Damascus

Look for Assad's warplanes and attack helicopters to start dropping like flies. Reuters is reporting that the FSA is receiving surface-to-air missiles for the first time:

Syrian rebels acquire surface-to-air missiles: report
WASHINGTON | Tue Jul 31, 2012 7:40pm EDT

(Reuters) - Rebels fighting to depose Syrian president Bashar al Assad have for the first time acquired a small supply of surface-to-air missiles, according to a news report that a Western official did not dispute.

NBC News reported Tuesday night that the rebel Free Syrian Army had obtained nearly two dozen of the weapons, which were delivered to them via neighboring Turkey, whose moderate Islamist government has been demanding Assad's departure with increasing vehemence.

Indications are that the U.S. government, which has said it opposes arming the rebels, is not responsible for the delivery of the missiles. More...

BREAKING 3:42pm pst The FSA are currently attacking the headquarters of the Syrian army in Aleppo. The regime has over 80 tanks and many more soldiers stationed here.

There are also reports of a new massacre in Deir ez-Zor, three families slaughtered and rumors that the new defense minister has been killed. If they pan out, look for another BREAKING NEW diary.

More Breaking News 12:53pm pst We have new reports of heavy shelling by Assad forces of Qarah on the south side of Damascus.

This dairy was titled Syria: Why do certain Kossacks appear to support the Assad regime? but then this just came in on tweets and the Al Jazeera Live Blog:

A senior Syrian diplomat in Yerevan has defected to join the ranks of the opposition, an Armenian foreign ministry official said on Tuesday.

The Syrian consul in Armenia, Mohammad Hussam Hafez, "has resigned and, as far as I know, joined the opposition to Assad," the official told AFP, adding that the diplomat had flown to Dubai on Monday.

The Armenian foreign ministry had cited a diplomatic note from the Syrian embassy that said Hafez "has left his post", without providing further details.

Now I know some Kossacks have complained that I overuse BREAKING, but at the time of this posting a Google news search found only two other items about this very fresh and significant news.

4:56pm pst Protest in Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo tonight

This is for Blue Wind who complained that a video of a protest in Damascus that I posted yesterday only showed about 20 people in it.

Protest in KafrSouse Damascus tonight 6:06pm pst

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There are a handful of people here at the Daily Kos that are as passionate it their criticism of those opposing the Assad regime as I am for them. They agree with the Assad regime's characterization of the opposition as foreign backed armed terrorist gangs led by Islamic extremists bent on expelling or killing all non-believers and establishing an Islamic caliphate. In their view, the truth victims of the Syrian conflict are the Syrian civilians that are caught in the middle of a fight between two warring factions. They are very fond of pointing out that both side have committed human rights abuses so in their eyes both sides are equally bad.

No doubt there were HR abuses in US prison camps during WWII but that didn't make them the equal of Auschwitz.

They don't acknowledge the mass demonstrations of the Syrian people or the support expressed in them for the Free Syrian Army. They seek at every point to build a wall between the FSA and the people and they see the struggle as being driven much more by sectarianism that a genuine desire for democracy and freedom. They see the Syrians who oppose the Assad regime as the dupes of western imperialism and the GCC.

It is easy to identify who these Kossacks are because they usually show up within minutes of my publishing a new diary on Syria to critique it. They post long passages of pro-Assad propaganda to the comments sections of my diary. They agree up and down the line with the Assad regime's view on the crisis and they will strongly deny that they are pro-Assad.

I disagree. I think they are performing a vital function for the Assad regime by their propaganda activities and it doesn't really matter what their motives are, objectively they are supporting one of the most tyrannical governments that even existed.

However, in recent weeks we have seen a virtual tsunami of defections from the Assad regime. How long before these Kossacks defect? Maybe this excellent report from Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught can help them decide. Also they should look at StephLamy's diary today Syria: Eyes On The Screen, Ears On The Ground. It has a lot of information useful for a facts-based analysis of the Syrian situation.

Government forces withdrew from the town of Al Bab, according to rebel forces, who claim it was the army's last urban base in the region outside of Aleppo city. The people of Al Bab took their captured tank on a victory lap around the town, after the Assad army fled the town and its prized military assets were left behind. The freeing of the army base and the capture of the tank does not mean all the danger is over for the town. There is still danger in the air, as planes and helicopters fly overhead almost every day. Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught reports from Aleppo Province.

EAWorldView has his report on Syria for Tuesday:

Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Gathering Fight In and Around Aleppo
Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 15:05 | Scott Lucas

Uncollected rubbish piles up in Aleppo

1616 GMT: Syria. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has reported that more than 276,000 Syrians have fled the country.

More than 70,000 Syrians sought refuge in Turkey and more than 140,000 have crossed into Jordan. Lebanon hosts more than 31,000 Syrian refugees, Iraq has 11,000, and up to 25,000 are in Algeria.

1613 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage of captured members of the al-Berri clan, well-known supporters of the regime in Aleppo --- the men were seized after a battle in the Bab al-Neyrab neighbourhood:

1605 GMT: Syria. A device found in the insurgent takeover of the police station in the Hanano section of Aleppo --- The Guardian explains that it is a basat al-reeh, or “flying carpet”, in which a victim is tied to a flat board with his/her head suspended in the air or with his/her limbs stretched:

1413 GMT: Syria. Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has declared, "Thousands of frightened residents are seeking shelter in schools, mosques, and public buildings."

Fleming continued, "These are people that haven't fled the city as they haven't had the means or feel it is too dangerous to make that journey and we are getting indications that the journey is fraught with armed gangs and road blocks blocking the way."

The UN official said about 7,000 people have taken refuge in university dormitories and many more are camped out in 32 schools, each housing 250-350 people.

1404 GMT: Syria. Claimed 5-minute video of the Free Syrian Army's attack on the Salhin police station in Aleppo (see also 1246 GMT):

An assault on the station in the Hanano district:

1328 GMT: Iraq.Two car bombs in central Baghdad, exploding minutes apart, have killed at least 13 people and wounded 30, police and hospital sources said.

1246 GMT: Syria. Claimed video of the Free Syrian Army in control of the police station of Bab al-Neirab in Aleppo, one of two they reportedly attacked today (see 1236 GMT):

1243 GMT:Syria. Claimed footage of insurgent reinforcements in the Salaheddin section of Aleppo today:

1236 GMT: Syria. Unconfirmed reports are circulating that insurgents have overrun two police stations in Aleppo, killing between 40 and 60 members of the security forces.

1232 GMT: Syria. State news agency SANA has ended its blackout on news from Aleppo (see 0615 GMT). The website reports that security forces "vanquished terrorists in Salah Eddin neighborhood...inflicting heavy losses upon them and seizing their weapons". "Authorities" also "pursued an armed group which intimidated the civilians in al-Jameeliya area, killing 11 terrorists, while the authorities killed 6 others in Saadallah al-Jaberi Square", and they "pursued an armed terrorist group which horrified the citizens through shooting fire randomly in al-Mohafaza area".

1028 GMT: Syria. Up to five insurgent commandrs have been killed in fighting --- the Local Coordination Committees report the death of Mohammad Lababidi in Marjeh and Khaled Damook in Tal Refaat, and the BBC's Ian Pannell said three commanders were slain in Aleppo on Monday.

1013 GMT: Syria. More first-hand accounts from Aleppo --- Kim Sengupta of The Independent of London from the Salaheddin neighbourhood:

All the stores in street were shuttered apart from one with a "special offer" on display --- trays of Molotov cocktails. Standing among the bottles, 19-year-old Amir Mohammed Hasif explained how they were made and added: "My three sisters helped make them. They cannot join in the fight, but they want to contribute as much as possible in other ways."

The revolutionaries in Salaheddine came from a number of different battalions, with the Abu-Bakr detachment from the town of Al-Bab among the first volunteers for this extremely dangerous front line. "We are taking only the best ones who offer to come," Abdul Fawzi Hussein said. "We are winning, but Assad is like a wounded snake, he will keep striking. We don't want brave boys to come and then go back to their mothers as martyrs."...

The revolutionaries were not totally united. One base flew the black flag with gold Koranic inscriptions favoured by extreme Islamists and the fighters there polite but suspicious of strangers. "We know about them, but they keep to themselves," Abdul Fawzi Hussein said. "We shall have to deal with them in the future, but for now our focus is on Salaheddine and Aleppo. If we hold Salaheddine, I am sure, Inshallah, if we lose Salaheddine then we shall have difficulty holding on to other areas we have in Aleppo. We must liberate Aleppo."

Erika Solomon of Reuters on the outskirts of the city:

Whenever rebels idle their trucks on the street, residents come up asking for help to get gasoline for their cars. Many beg the fighters to open more bakeries so the breadlines move faster, and spare people an exhausting hours-long wait in the hot sun. But some in line nod approvingly. "They don't let anyone cut in, no one is better than anyone else now. The bakers aren't allowed to hike prices on us," says Umm Khaled, her face wrapped in a conservative black veil. "For the first time in this city, I feel like all of us are equal."

Down the street, a crowd of men gather to watch rebels inspecting a burned out police station they stormed last week. Papers, stray shoes and police caps litter the charred building. One man shakes his head as he watches the scene. "We don't even know these fighters, they don't talk to us much. But people here just accept whoever has power," one man whispered. "I'm not with anyone, I am with the side of truth. Right now, that is only God."

1007 GMT: Yemen. For the second time in three days, tribesmen loyal to former President Saleh and demanding jobs have tried to storm the Ministry of Interior.

Dozens of tribesmen exchanged gunfire with security forces preventing them from entering the Ministry, a source said.

On Sunday, around 100 tribesmen occupied the Ministry, demanding to be enlisted in the police force. They agreed to vacate it on Monday after officials promised to heed their demands.

Meanwhile, a Yemeni official said the governor of oil-producing Maarib Province was mediating with the kidnappers of an Italian Embassy security officer for his release. The officer was seized on Sunday.

1003 GMT: Syria. A snapshot in The Irish Independent of life in Aleppo, from grocer Hassan Farouk, who fled the city with his wife and children:

The first time we were shelled on my street ten days ago, I rushed to the area and found three bodies with their heads blown off ...A few days later a family of six was killed. I tried to pick up the bodies but they were in pieces and I could not complete the task. After that my children begged me to leave.

0852 GMT: Syria. Al Jazeera reporter is injured by shrapnel from a shell as he interviews an insurgent in Aleppo on Monday:

Khashram was taken to Turkey for treatment, where he was reportedly conscious and in stable condition.

0645 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage of regime shelling of Homs on Monday:

The destruction in the Jouret al-Shayyah section:

0615 GMT: Syria. Make of this what you will --- State news agency SANA makes no reference on its website this morning to the events inside Aleppo or developments such as the battle for the Anadan checkpoint. Its coverage is limited to this brief item:

Authorities clashed with an armed terrorist group who were riding four SUV cars equipped with machine guns in Dara Ezza and Qabtan al-Jabal axis in Aleppo countryside.

An official source told SANA reporter that the authorities destroyed the four cars, killing the terrorists.

0520 GMT: Syria. A day of uncertainty over the fight in Aleppo, with conflicting claims and little information from the centre of the clashes in neighbourhoods like Salaheddin. The regime asserted that it had retaken that district; insurgents countered that they were still present and, indeed, were in 60% of the city

However, what was certain is that --- despite the use of shells, tanks, and helicopter gunships, President Assad's military has still not taken control throughout Aleppo.

Meanwhile, insurgents could claim a significant victory, attacking a regime base and taking the Anadan checkpoint, only three miles to the northwest. The logistics is as important as the location --- the Free Syrian Army now occupies a path from the Turkish border to Syria's largest city.

Here are my related diaries on Syria:
BREAKING: Big Explosion hits #Damascus #Syria
UPDATED: Syria's Charge D'Affaires Quits London Post
BREAKING: Ground assault on Aleppo begins!
BREAKING: Protests across Syria in spite of Assad regime violence
ALEPPO: Step outside the Matrix and witness the Horror
UPDATED: US fears massacre in #Aleppo, #Syria
BREAKING: Reports of clashes between Jordan Army & Assad's Syrian army
BRAKING: Obama stops Putin from re-arming Assad in Syria
Syria: Foreign meddling increases as crisis builds
BREAKING: Aleppo, Syria bombed with fighter jets
BREAKING: Syria issues a correction, it has no WMD to use
BREAKING: Arab League asks Assad to step down!
Bashar al-Assad: New images released as slaughter continues in Syria
no blood for oil
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