Syria: Foreign meddling increases as crisis builds

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It was probably just about as certain as death and taxes that the Syrian people would not be allowed to resolve their issues with their government without a good deal of foreign meddling. From the beginning, more than 16 months ago, the Assad regime has said the uprising was foreign backed. They have consistently claimed that they were really fighting foreign backed terrorist gangs, even as the Syrian army suppressed peaceful protests in Dara, Homs, Hama and Idlib with live ammunition. Its Russian and Iranian allies have also taken this view of the crisis, to them, foreign interference and the threat of Islamic extremists are the main problems.

For example, just this morning Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov disputed claims, reported widely in the western media and on twitter, that the Free Syrian Army had taken over key border crossings with Turkey. According to Lavrov, al Qaeda, not the FSA have taken over these posts. From Reuters we have:

Fighters on Syrian-Turkish border may be Qaeda allies: Russia
MOSCOW | Wed Jul 25, 2012 9:53am EDT
(Reuters) - Russia said on Wednesday that militants who have seized control of posts on Syria's border with Turkey may be allies of al Qaeda.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed doubt over claims that border gates captured from government forces on the Syrian side of the frontier had been seized by the rebel Free Syrian Army.

"According to some information, these checkpoints were seized not by the Free Syrian Army at all - whatever one thinks about it - but by groups directly linked with al Qaeda," Lavrov said at a news conference with his Cypriot counterpart.

"We are double-checking this," said Lavrov, suggesting that Western nations should not rush to celebrate territorial gains by opponents of President Bashar al-Assad's government.

"If such processes - the seizure of territory by terrorists - are supported by our partners, then we would like to receive an answer to the question of what their position on Syria is, what they are trying to achieve in that country," he said. More...

And this has pretty much been what could be called the Assad-Iranian-Russian [AIR] line on the struggle in Syria, i.e. the lawful Syrian government, led by its popular (+97% of vote) president, is under siege by foreign (meaning NATO-Qatar-Sandi Arabia) backed armed terrorist gangs. The mass of Syrian protesters are largely discounted or seen as pawns of these foreign forces. It is these western imperialist who are the instigators of this crisis and they are responsible for most of the bloodshed and violence. For many, this early and consistent view that Syria has been the victim of foreign aggressions rendered rather moot the recent promise by the Assad regime that they will only WMD against foreign aggressors.

This AIR line isn't just pushed by the representative of those governments, but it also widely promoted through journalists and bloggers in a wide variety of media. It was long been known that truth is the first thing goes in a war. This is no accident because there will always be parties to the conflict that can't stand the truth, hence, the fighting on the ground is accompanied by an extremely sharp struggle over the truth of the conflict and its perception in the wider world. That is why I am writing these diaries. I hope that to do what I can to counter the effects of a well financed misinformation machine.

I don't know if Lavrov is aware of it but his claim that these border crossings are in the hands of Islamic terrorists and not the FSA has been convincing contradicted by live media reports from these border posts on several international news outlets.

Even Russia is getting worried about Syria's WMD

Given how strongly the Russians have supported Assad's assertions that he is fighting a foreign aggressor, apparently they also aren't terribly reassured by the regime's promise only to use WMD against a foreign aggressor and according the Al Arabia yesterday, they are working behind the scenes to block any chemical weapons use:

Russia has formed an unlikely alliance with Washington after urging Syria on Tuesday to refrain from using chemical weapons as part of its violent crackdown on anti-regime protests across the country.

Embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is reportedly considering unleashing chemical arsenal against the rebels, but his threat drew attention from Russia, Assad’s main international ally.

In Moscow, the foreign ministry said it “would like to underline that Syria joined” a Geneva protocol on the non-use of such weapons and “presumes that the Syrian authorities will continue to rigorously abide by its assumed international obligations,” according to AFP news agency.

There has been a barrage of warnings about Syria’s chemical arsenal this month, especially strident from the United States and Israel, but accompanied by firm but private advice from Russia, Assad’s main international ally, to put an end to speculation he might use it. More ...

Also yesterday, Lamya al-Hariri, the Syrian ambassador to Cyprus became the third high-level diplomatic defection from Syria. Today, she was followed by her husband; Abdelatif al-Dabbagh, the Syrian ambassador to the UAE when he became the fourth high level diplomatic defection.

Syria's neighbor, Jordan is also expressing concern and taking steps to guard against any Syrian use of chemical weapons, the Jordanian foreign minister said today.

Who are the biggest foreign actors in the Syria crisis?

When most of the pro-Assad forces speak of foreign meddling as the source Syria's problems they are usually pointing the finger of blame at the United States and its main intelligence agency, the Central Intelligence Agency. The problem for them has been that finding anything like a shred of evidence of CIA involvement in the Syrian crisis has been difficult, so when the the NY Times published C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition, the Assad supporters jumped all over it as the "admission" that the CIA was really behind the uprising in Syria. It has probably been cited a dozen times in comments to my dairies alone. The Alex Jones headline CONFIRMED: US CIA Arming Terrorists in Syria is typical of the spin that has been put on that story.

Yet, if you actually read what was written, it explicitly says that the CIA was not supplying weapons, only trying to make sure weapons being supplied by others don't fall into al Qaeda like hands. It also claims that the CIA only has a handful of agents on the border in Turkey, they have only been there since the middle of May, and that's all they have going on. Of course this doesn't prove that the CIA is not more involved, not playing the role claimed by the Assad regime and its supporters. It just means citing that article to support those claims is somewhat disingenuous.

This morning, west coast media chimes in and we have this piece from the Los Angeles Times in which the CIA complains about its lack or assets in Syria:

CIA absence from Syria a setback for U.S., officials say
The lack of a CIA presence in Syria leaves the U.S. with scant details about opposition groups. Critics see a missed opportunity to influence Syrian rebels.
By Ken Dilanian
July 24, 2012, 9:24 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Despite a dire need for intelligence about the groups fighting to overthrow the Syrian government, the CIA has little if any presence in the country, seriously limiting its ability to collect information and influence the course of events, according to current and former U.S. officials.

American intelligence agencies have kept tabs on Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles, using spy satellites and other forms of electronic eavesdropping as well as information from allied nations and U.S. personnel in Turkey and other neighboring countries. The CIA also has some understanding of President Bashar Assad's government, officials said. More...

I guess closing the US embassy in February wasn't such a hot idea from the CIA's viewpoint. Now they don't even have "diplomatic cover," always the favored route for getting agents in-country.

However, the CIA does have some agents in Syria, and according to the Mirror News today, they have caught the Iranians smuggling weapons into Syria disguised as flowers, of all things:

Guns in roses: Syria smuggles in weapons disguised as flowers
By Chris Hughes | 25 Jul 2012 00:00

Millions of pounds worth of arms have been smuggled into Syria from Iran by officials who pretended they were a shipment of cut flowers.

CIA agents spotted the shipment being unloaded at an airport in the war-torn country after seeing it listed in a plane’s cargo records as blooms.

Spooks discovered the ‘cut flowers' scam after seeing them referred to as cargo in a plane’s manifest - but when it was traced to an airport in Syria, crates of weapons were seen being unloaded.

The plane had flown from somewhere in Iran, across the skies of Iraq and into Syria.

The US has also started naval interceptions of Iranian ships heading into the Suez Canal and trying to make it to the Syrian coastline laden with AK47 assault rifles and ammunition.

And all Syria-bound vessels and planes are now facing routine inspections under an EU trade embargo if naval patrols or customs suspect there are arms on board for the regime.

An intelligence source said yesterday: “Enormous efforts are being made to try and cripple Assad’s forces but they are extremely well-armed.

"There is a very well-established flow of arms into Syria from Iran and there is an enormous western intelligence agency effort ongoing to try and stop it.

“Of course it is no secret that there is also a flow of arms into Syria to the opposition factions to try and keep regime forces at bay and stop more atrocities.

“This is not about being fair. Everyone knows Assad’s time as Syrian leader is now very limited but this has to be shortened as quickly as possible because his presence is causing more violence.

“Of course some of these consignments are getting through but the hope is that eventually the regime will start running short of weapons and ammunition. More ...

There are reports that Iranian support for Assad goes further than just guns and rhetoric, and that there are Iranians snipers and other combat specialists on the ground assisting the Assad regime.

In spite of Lavrov's constant charges that it is western and GCC states that are responsible for much of the violence, it is no secret that Russia is not neutral in this fight. The vast majority of the killing has been done with Russian weapons, and whether they are used by the Assad regime to suppress the uprising, or seized by the FSA and used for defense, it is those Russian deadly weapons, sold at a very healthy profit margin, that have made the Syrian civil war the bloodbath it has become.

And, as if that were not enough, they have been sending more weapons to the Assad regime and today we have this report from DEBKAfile of a big Russian fleet heading for Syria:

Big Russian fleet nears Syria. Iran to fight regime change as foreign forces pile up
July 25, 2012, 1:31 PM (GMT+02:00)

The Russian Ministry of Defense, which rarely discloses Russian military movements outside its borders, announced early Wednesday morning, July 25 that a fleet of Russian warships had passed through the Strait of Gibraltar and entered the Mediterranean.

The fleet is headed by the anti-submarine and anti-aircraft Admiral Chabanenko warship and consists of another three vessels carrying a large number of Russian marines. This fleet will rendezvous with a Russian flotilla standing by in the Mediterranean since July 21, detached from Russian Black Fleet and composed of the Smetlivy figate and two large landing craft loaded with Russian marines. This group awaited the main force before approaching Syria.

The fact that Russia is massing large numbers of marines off the Syrian coast looks as though a landing on Syrian soil is on Moscow’s cards.

The Russian marine contingent, debkafile’s sources say, will stand ready - either to come to the aid of the Assad regime or to serve as a bargaining chip for a last-minute deal between Moscow and Washington for ending the war by establishing a transitional military regime in Damascus whose makeup would be agreed between them and Assad.

So for all the charges by the pro-Assad forces, which are echoed everyday by certain Kossacks in comments to my diary, it is Russian weapons that are doing 99% of the killing and it looks like soon we shall see Russian boots on the ground.

DEBKAfile also added special urgency to Russian's warning to Syrian in WMD:

debkafile’s military sources: With operational intelligence deployment and electronic stations positioned inside Syria, the Russians are better placed than any other outsiders to know what is happening on Syria’s battlefields. Their warning must therefore be tied to solid information confirming Washington’s assessment that Assad is dangerously close to deciding to use his chemical and biological weapons in a way that would precipitate a regional conflict.

Israel, Turkey and Jordan would be the first targets on his list.

The immediacy of the peril, debkafile’s military sources report, has speeded the arrival of Russian warships to Syria to counter a potential Western, Arab or Israeli assault on the embattled country.
More ...

Yesterday I when to my Veterans for Peace chapter meeting, The Iman Center on Motor Ave. in LA is kind enough to make a room available for us. Because of Ramadan, there were a lot of people at the mosque and I was able to talk to a number of them, including some security people, and they actually think that they can find me someone who can lip read Arabic! So keep you fingers cross because we just might be able to find out just what Bashar Assad and the General were talking about in that 18 second video without audio that SANA released a few days ago to prove that Bashar is among the living. It just might help us date that video.

Today from EAWorldView we have this report on events in Syria:

Syria Live Coverage: What Next in Aleppo...and Elsewhere?
Wednesday, July 25, 2012 at 10:50 | Scott Lucas

See also Syria Feature: The Next Challenge --- Running a Liberated Town | Syria Audio Feature: "A Conflict of Attrition...And the Regime is Losing" --- Scott Lucas with Monocle 24

1830 GMT: Syria. In places like Deir Ez Zor, Aleppo, Idlib province, and even Damascus, the cycle of violence follows a pattern - there are gathering insurgencies in these areas, and the government is trying to respond. In Daraa province, however, despite the fact that there are no clear battle lines, and no territory is "held" by the Free Syrian Army, a battle against insurgents is still present.

Today there are reports of intense fighting north of Daraa, in a town called Al Sheikh Maskin (map). This is the continuation of a battle for control of many of Daraa's suburbs, particularly the ones on the road to Damascus. The regime cannot lose these territories or insurgents will have a direct route to the capital. However, the regime is deeply unpopular in this district, and its enemies are everywhere, so despite its efforts to combat insurgency in Daraa province are proving costly - and perhaps ineffective.

1810 GMT: Syria. Deir Ez Zor (map) was once again shelled today. Videos like the one below show smoke rising from the city, and rubble in the streets.

But according to Now Lebanon and Al Jazeera, a major defection has occurred in the city:

1748 GMT: Syria. Underestimating the Free Syrian Army, however, is a oft-made mistake. The battle has lasted into the night in the Al Asali district of Damascus (map), where earlier we carried a report that 4 tanks were destroyed by the Free Syrian Army. While no citizen journalists have been able to get close enough to the fighting to provide video yet, the Facebook Page of one of the FSA battalions now reports that 6 tanks were destroyed "through a combination of RPGs and anti-tank missiles."

This news has sparked many other rumors, including that a column of 14 tanks was seen moving into the area, but only 2 came out. We're treating that as a strict rumor, but we now have 5 completely different sources reporting that 4-6 tanks have been destroyed by the FSA.

1730 GMT: Syria. The FSA has made significant gains in Aleppo, has posed a significant threat to the regime inside Damascus, and has made considerable gains in the rest of the country while the fighting is raging close to the capital.

The Free Syrian Army is also growing in strength. Most experts now estimate that the FSA is a fighting force of more than 60,000 soldiers. Michael Weiss, Research Director of the Henry Jackson Society and an analyst for the Telegraph, told me that he believes, based on reliable sources, that this number is more like 100,000, with most never making an appearance on any sort of social network or media outlet. The FSA is gaining more weapons, is capturing armored vehicles, and has so many defectors in its ranks that it both operates with military efficiency, and has an inside knowledge into the workings of its enemy, the Assad military. There is also evidence that there are traitors within the regime that are supporting the insurgents, a possible explanation for last week's bombing in Damascus that left 4 high-ranking members of the regime dead.

But there are significant problems inside the FSA. There is a lack of coordination nationally, and many fighters are more interested in their own battalion, or the town or village that they protect, than the efforts to topple the regime. There are also signs that, in Deir Ez Zor in particular, those divisions are threatening the insurgents' success.

Yesterday, The Guardian's Ghaith Abul-Ahad reported that while the FSA had control over 90% of the countryside of Deir Ez Zor, it was struggling to unify and coordinate an attack to take either the city of Deir Ez Zor or al Bukamal. Today, Ghaith reports that there have been battles between different elements of the FSA, fights centered around the distribution of the limited supplies, and the overall leadership of units there.

If the FSA really has 100,000 fighters, as Weiss suggests, then if the FSA could simply unify, or show some sign of a national command structure, then they could possibly quickly overcome the Assad military. Without such unity there may be much success, but the questions become how long this crisis will take to end, and what will be left of Syria once Assad is deposed?

1550 GMT: Syria. Today's death toll has increased to 100, according to the LCC:

25 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs (most killed in the Massacre of Qaboun neighborhood, their bodies were discovered today), 17 in Aleppo, 15 in Hasakeh, 12 martyrs in Homs, 11 martyrs in Deir Ezzor, 9 in Idlib, 6 in Hama and 5 in Daraa.

1513 GMT: Syria. This video is being pushed on social media by accounts who usually post Free Syrian Army videos. It reportedly shows weapons and supplies captured from an arms depot in Aleppo (we're not sure exactly where, we've only heard from inside the city). We can't verify the report, but it matches other murmors and rumors:

Some discussions we've had on Twitter about this video:

1444 GMT: Syria. An activist shares a dramatic live feed from the Shaar district of Aleppo where the FSA has reportedly captured a police station (map). Al Shaar is in the center of the city - this is a sign of how strong the FSA is in the very middle of Syria's largest city:

1408 GMT: Syria. With all the fighting, it's easy to get caught up in the news about military victories and defeats from one side or the other. However, it's important to realize that the Free Syrian Army, while very successful in recent weeks (really, months), has yet to deliver a knockout blow to the regime. The regime has yet to have any success outside of Damascus (and that success is highly muddled). The result - intense fighting, often accompanied by artillery, tank, and rocket attacks, inside civilian areas of Syria.

This is the Salah el Dine district of Aleppo (map), a once prosperous boulevard in the center of the city. Now, much of it looks like this:

1352 GMT: Syria. Another video from Hajar al Aswad (map), in southern Damascus, shows smoke rising above the skyline, and helicopters patrolling the area. These helicopters have been part of today's combat, according to multiple sources.

1327 GMT: Syria. Today we've seen many reports of fighting in the Al Asali neighborhood of southern Damascus (map). We've found videos that show thick smoke rising from the area, reportedly as the neighborhood was stormed by the military and shops were burned.

However, both an opposition Facebook page and our contact with the CFDPC, Zilal, have heard reports that four tanks were destroyed in the neighborhood as several units of the Free Syrian Army converged in the area in order to stop the military advance.

Zilal also shares this video of a helicopter flying between the Al Asali and Hajar al Aswad areas, as sounds of gunfire can clearly be heard:

For all the talks of the regime's overwhelming victory in Damascus, it seems the battle is still far from over.

1302 GMT: Syria. The LCCS reports a massacre in Qaboun (map), an area east of the center of Damascus where many have witnessed nearly continual shelling for days.

The regime's army committed a new massacre against unarmed civilians who had hidden in a shelter due to fear of the shelling. After shelling, which had targeted the neighborhood for the past 5 days, regime forces detained more than 150 people from one of the shelters. The detainees were taken to Military Police and threatened with death. Their bodies were found yesterday in the area of Teshreen neighborhood, some were executed and others were killed due to the shelling.

The report also contained several videos, reportedly showing some of the bodies.

It's worth noting that Qaboun is an area where a large amount of troops defected several days ago, enough for the FSA to defend the neighborhood, but the decision was made to pull those troops out of Qaboun with the rest. This raises the question of whether the troops defected because they were ordered to do something horrible, or whether these horrible acts are retribution for the large-scale defections.

1255 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordinating Committees report that 80 people have been killed so far today. The deaths are distributed as follows:

23 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs (most killed in the Massacre of Qaboun neighborhood, their bodies were discovered today), 15 in Hasakeh, 10 in Aleppo, 9 in Idlib, 9 in Homs, 8 in Deir Ezzor and 6 in Hama.

Meanwhile, there are more signs that the battle in Aleppo is heating up. There are reports of gun battles in multiple areas. We'll have a breakdown of the reports very soon.

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

1140 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage of an insurgent driving a captured regime tank in Aleppo:

1133 GMT: Bahrain. The Times of London has posted further news about the alleged treatment of detainees:

Bahrain has begun an investigation into allegations that police are using “black sites” to beat and torture anti-government protesters, dodging efforts to clean up security forces in the Gulf state.

The accusations cast more doubt on government claims to have overhauled police practices since an independent inquiry found systematic human rights abuses during a crackdown on anti-government protests last year. More than 80 people have been killed in the 17-month uprising.

The Bahraini regime had previously denied that the black sites existed, despite persistent allegations that beatings and torture had continued unabated since the report was published in November. But officials now admit privately that some police officers have continued to operate outside the law.

Opposition groups claim that a youth centre just outside the capital, Manama, and a police equestrian centre in the western district of Budaiya, have been used to beat and interrogate detainees before they are transferred to police stations, where stricter procedures are now in place. Cameras have now been installed outside the two sites, identified in testimony to human rights groups, to monitor those going in and out.

1117 GMT: Syria. Following his Foreign Ministry's declaration that it will not recognise new European Union sanctions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov --- in the colourful description of Russia Today --- has condemned the US reaction to bombings in Damascus, including last week's blast that killed four top members of the Assad regime:

This is direct endorsement of terrorism. How are we supposed to understand that? This is a sinister position, I cannot find words to express our attitude towards that.

Lavrov chided the remarks of the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, that the Damascus violence could lead to the adoption of a resolution authorising harsh sanctions, and possible military intervention, against the Syrian regime: “In other words this means ‘We are going to support such acts of terrorism until the United Nationns Security Council does what we want’.”

Meanwhile Lavrov's deputy Gennadi Gatilov has said the Assad regime, which acknowledged its possession of chemical weapons stocks on Monday, has given "firm assurances...that the security of these arsenals is fully ensured".

1104 GMT: Syria. A Turkish diplomat has said two more Syrian brigadier generals crossed into Turkey on Tuesday, bringing the total to 27 since the start of the uprising.

At least six generals have reportedly crossed the border in the last nine days.

1040 GMT: Syria. Speaking on Radio Sawa, oppostion Syrian National Council spokesman Mohamed Sermini has announced the defection of Syria's Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Abdel Latif Al Dabbagh.

Al Dabbagh's wife Lamia al-Hariri, the Syrian Ambassador to Cyprus and niece of Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa, defected on Tuesday.

Earlier this month Nawaf al-Fares, Syria's Ambassador to Iraq, left his post.

1001 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage of an Aleppo police station set on fire by insurgents:

0950 GMT: Syria. Russia's Foreign Ministry, saying new European Union sanctions against Syria are "counterproductive", declared that it will not recognise measures it views as a de facto blockade.

The Foreign Ministry criticised the requirement on EU member states to inspect sea and air cargoes headed for Syria from third countries if they suspect weapons are on board.

"Russia does not recognise (the EU sanctions) and views them as counterproductive, not capable of resolving the situation in Syria," the statement said, adding that they were against the spirit of the peace plan of United Natons envoy Kofi Annan.

0814 GMT: Syria. A Turkish official has said all border gates with Syria will be closed from today because of worsening security conditions.

Insurgents took control of several gates on the Syrian side of the border over the last week.

The Turkish step will close the only three border gates that were still open, at Cilvegözü, Oncupınar and Karkamış.

0802 GMT: Syria. Testimonies in this morning's summaries from Aleppo....

Academic Fadi Salem, “People are still in shock that this is happening — they thought it would be limited to one neighbourhood, but it is growing in size to other neighbourhoods. They are scared of chaos and lawlessness more than anything else.”

An activist, "The Free Syrian Army is on the streets like ants."

A resident of a Christian quarter north of the Old City, "We are not used to this," said a resident of the Christian quarter north of Bab al-Hadeed. "Everyone is scared, everything is closed."

0757 GMT: Syria. Video to back up James Miller's note (see 0515 GMT) of the significance of conflict beyond Aleppo and Damascus --- claimed footage of many bodies after fighting in al-Shree'a in Hama Province:

0637 GMT: Syria. Brazilian journalist Marcelo Ninio reports from Izaz, a town on the Turkish border now held by insurgents:

Amid a bucolic landscape of long lines of olive trees, destruction is overwhelming, a ghost town with signs of war everywhere. The smell of burned metal still fills the air.

Most of the houses were completely or partially destroyed by heavy artillery. There is very little left of the village's two gas stations. But the most impressive are the burned tanks scattered around, like an open air civil war museum.

[I] counted seven destroyed tanks, but the rebels say there are 13. Four of them were around the city's main mosque, which was used as a base for the Syrian Army.

Ninio also reports on last week's clashes between Turkish police and discontented Syrian refugees in camps near the border, adding this twist: "An 8-year old Syrian boy ran over to show one of the gas shells [fired by police], which read 'Made in Brazil' --- produced by Condor, a company with headquarters in Rio."

0625 GMT: Syria. An incisive note from Joshua Landis:

Bashar al-Assad announced four new security chiefs to replace those killed in the recent bombing at the national security meeting. Three of the four new security nominations are Sunnis. There is debate on the fourth (Abdul Fattah Qudsiye), who may be either Sunni or Druze. All are hawks. The notorious Rustum Ghazali, who ruled Lebanon with an iron fist, is among them.

The message is that Sunnis will dominate the security leadership [and that] this is an effort to keep the Sunni-Alawi alliance alive. Baathist rule has been built on the Sunni-Alawi alliance, which has all but collapsed since the beginning of the uprising. The defections of high-level Sunnis recently underscores that it is moribund.

0535 GMT: Syria. The website of the State news agency SANA is off-line again, with the last cached homepage more than 18 hours old.

0531 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees in Syria reported at the end of Tuesday that 150 people, including fighters and civilians, were killed by security forces. The largest share of casualties was in Hama Province with 46 slain; 27 died in Aleppo Province, 22 in Homs Province, 20 in Daraa Province, and 12 in Damascus and its suburbs.

0515 GMT: Syria. Far from pulling back in Aleppo, Syria's largest city, insurgents showed on Tuesday that they are ready to expand the fight. At one point, they were reportedly at the gates of the Old City, and the regime responded not only with heavy ground fire but with air attacks --- a BBC team in the city reported that jet fighters as well as helicopters were used, and residents also said the fighters were overhead.

EA's James Miller captured the significance last night:

The FSA was never capable of holding Damascus. It just may be capable of holding Aleppo. But this does not matter. The regime has ruined the economy of its two largest cities during this fighting, and the regime is bleeding territory to the FSA elsewhere.

Miller also picked up an important story that has received little attention amid the dramas of Damascus and Aleppo, noting the violence and civilian casualties in Daraa and Hama Provinces:

These areas are constantly under attack, with regime efforts to ensure that the Free Syrian Army never gains a foothold. But the opposition still thrives in cities, suburbs, and countrysides. The strategy is not working, and one has to wonder what will happen the minute the thumb is let off othe necks of the two provinces that started this uprising nearly 17 months ago.

Then there were the developments on the political front. Lamia al-Hariri, the niece of Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa, resigned her post as Ambassador to Cyprus, following the departure of the Ambassador to Iraq last week. And Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, the former confidant of President Assad who defected last month to Turkey, called on the Syrian military to turn against Damascus (see video in Arabic): "I address one of the Syrian Arab Army's sons who reject the criminal behaviour of this corrupt regime. The honourable people in the military would not accept these crimes."

Here are my related diaries on Syria:
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8:26 PM PT: This is a very informative interview with a Christian minister forced to leave Syria

8:50 PM PT:

9:00 PM PT: Libyan Fighters in Syria Reported!

This evening CNN publish this timely, at least for this diary, article on Libyan revolutionaries that are fighting with the opposition in Syria:

On Wednesday, CNN’s crew met a Libyan fighter who had crossed into Syria from Turkey with four other Libyans. The fighter wore full camouflage and was carrying a Kalashnikov rifle. He said more Libyan fighters were on the way.