1530 GMT: Syria. The towns around Daraa have been fiercely attacked today. Yesterday, intense fighting and shelling occurred in the town of Busr al Harir. Today more shelling has occurred there, but the towns of El Taebeh and Dael have also been heavily shelled (map). A terrible video from Dael shows a severely wounded man, and yet another shows a severely injured teenager. There are videos of smoke rising above Dael, and another shows smoke rising near the border with Jordan. The video below claims to show people trying to rescue the injured after a shell hits in Dael. It is also disturbing:
1456 GMT: Syria. Not all the news is about insurgents and armies and death – the protest movement is still strong in many places, away from the heaviest fighting. What’s interesting is that now that the heaviest fighting in Damascus is over, we may be seeing a resurgence of protests there, protests that were growing larger and more bold before the fighting erupted several weeks ago.
An activist shares this video:
Hijaz square (map) is at the very center of the city – the railway station is clearly visible in the video.
1445 GMT: Syria. With reports of anti-aircraft weapons and heavy machine guns in the hands of Syrian insurgents, videos like this add explanation for why the Syrian helicopters and fighters have been flying higher today than in the past:
1408 GMT: Syria. We’ve been reporting about the worsening conditions in Zabadani, northwest of Damascus (map). Today, as shelling renewed, the Local Coordination Committees have declared the city a disaster area:
For the past 60 days, the regime has continued its brutal siege and bombardment of the town. This has resulted in the destruction of more than half the area neighborhoods and infrastructure…
In addition, the remaining neighborhoods have sustained partial destruction, and approximatly 22,000 residents have fled to neighboring districts and towns. The regime’s shelling has continued into these areas, and therefore is threatening the lives of those who had fled. Thus far… 22 people have been martyred during the daily shelling…
In addition, hundreds of wounded have been reported, and they cannot be rescued due to the daily nonstop shelling and the increasingly choking siege on the town. The area is now surrounded by more than 56 military points, including Lebanse Hezbollah soldiers.
There is a total power outage and all humanitarian relief and basic supplies have been cut off.
In light of these dire humanitarian conditions, and given the extent of Assad crimes against civilians, we request that the international community and humanitarian organizations implement and secure humanitarian corridors to provide direct relief to save the lives of the more than 8,000 remaining civilians who are living under continuous, direct bombing.
1358 GMT: Syria. Global Post News has had a camera inside Aleppo, and has posted a collection of raw footage taken in the city between July 30th and August 6th. It is a must see, but many images are disturbing:
1352 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordinating Committees have published a “Code of Conduct” for Free Syrian Army fighters to follow. What’s striking is that some of the most important members of the FSA have already signed it.
We’ve published the complete text, as well as our snap analysis, in a separate feature.
1334 GMT: Syria. It’s hard to get a feeling for how the fighting in Aleppo is going, but there are reports that the FSA has withdrawn from Saleh el Dine. Other reports suggest that this is not true. Hala Jaber suggests that the FSA has withdrawn, but that Saleh el Dine is not fully under regime control. Kurt Pelda suggests that FSA fighters are still moving to the front.
All we do know is that fighting there has been extremely intense – this video was reportedly taken earlier today:
1256 GMT: Syria. A colonel with the Free Syrian Army describes the significance of the Saleh el Dine district of Aleppo (map):
All the weapons we have to combat this onslaught are guns, Kalashnikovs, anti-tanks, RPGs and some anti-aircraft rockets.
Salahedin district is the western gateway for Aleppo and one of the first districts liberated in the city. It is close to the college of artillery and armament – all the regime’s forces are piled nearby in al-Hamadaniah district. That is why it is so important for the regime to get it back from the hands of the FSA.
The Saleh el Dine district is exposed to direct fire and Assad reinforcements from two major bases, an artillery college to the west (map) and a major military base to the south (map). Furthermore, Saleh el Dine is west of the Citadel, a massive fortress that still has many Assad soldiers inside it, the focus of the last few days of fighting (map). If Saleh el Dine does not fall to the Assad military, it would be a major blow, because the regime’s tactical advantage is much smaller in some of the other areas, and some of the narrow streets, to the west of Saleh el Dine.
1206 GMT: Syria. Another dramatic video from Kafranbel (map, see previous update) – a shell falls in the town, and the cameraman and fighters from the Free syrian Army rush to the scene. The result – devastation:
1152 GMT: Syria. The little Idlib town of Kafranbel (map) is well known to many of our readers, and to many across the globe. The town is known for its defiant protests and its witty signs, usually written in English, a clear demonstration of the Syrian opposition’s understanding of the power of new media.
But Kafranbel has been under sustained and intense attack for more than two days. This video shows some of the artillery, reportedly stations about 14 kilometers from the town, that is attacking the area. Another disturbing video shows the aftermath of some of the attacks:
1134 GMT: Syria. According to the Local Coordinating Committees, 65 people have been killed so far today,
“…including 11 women and 10 children: 22 martyrs in Hama most of whom were killed in Jerjisa, 17 martyrs in Aleppo, 9 martyrs in Deir Ezzor, 5 martyrs in Idlib, 4 martyrs in Homs, 4 martyrs in Damascus and its suburbs, 3 martyrs in Daraa and 1 martyr in Lattakia.”
Jarjeezah is nestled near a lake near al Rastan, between Hama and Homs (map). The LCC has released a list of 20 names – including children – of the people reportedly killed so far in that small town today.
We haven’t seen other information on JarJeezah, but Al Rastan has been absolutely pounded by shelling and air strikes today. The videos tell the tale, and here is one example:
Another video shows a group of well armed men, reportedly a fresh defection from the military.
1122 GMT: Syria. One of the most curious claims yesterday were reports from the anti-Assad activists that Riad Hijab, the Syrian Prime Minister who defected this week, was not in Jordan, as had been reported, but was actually still in Syria – meeting with opposition activists and Free Syrian Army leaders in Daraa.
We didn’t cover those reports. They seemed too weird to be true.
Well, according to a Jordanian official, Riad Hijab and other members of his family have just arrived in Jordan today, adding credence to the original activist reports:
Sameeh Maaytah said Hijab “entered Jordan in the early hours of dawn today along with several members of his family.” Maaytah spoke to the state Petra News Agency. He did not elaborate.
Maaytah did not answer repeated calls by The Associated Press to comment on conflicting reports that Hijab was already in Jordan, having come there after he defected to the opposition on Monday.
On Monday, Maaytah denied that Hijab was in the country. But another Jordanian official and the rebel Free Syrian Army said he fled to Jordan that day along with his seven brothers, two sisters and their families. They said he was planning to travel onward to Qatar, but did not specify when.
The second, a MIG performing a strafing run over Saleh el Dine.
1055 GMT: Syria. The long anticipated military assault on Aleppo appears to have started. The Syrian army moved into the Saleh el Dine district of Aleppo (map) with force today. The Telegraph reports that the regime may have had some success, though there is confusion as to how much:
“The regime forces advanced into Al-Malaab Street with tanks and armoured vehicles and fierce fighting is now taking place in the area,” said Wassel Ayub, a commander in the rebel Free Syrian Army.
Syrian government security sources have said that the army is poised to take control of the Salaheddin district.
“The army is advancing from west to east to cut Salaheddin in half horizontally. It will not take a long time to control the district, even if there are some pockets of resistance remaining,” an official told AFP.
But Abu Firas, a member of the rebel Free Syrian Army, said the insurgents had left only one building in Salaheddin.
“We did not withdraw, our guys are still there and the situation is in our favour. We just left a building that we had in one of the streets, but it’s not like we are retreating”.
The Guardian’s Martin Chulov reports that there is also fighting is the suburbs. He also reports that the Free Syrian Army is holding ground in Saleh el Dine, though it has withdrawn from some buildings:
They say they have made a tactical withdrawal from a couple of streets … but they say the regime hasn’t yet advanced into those areas, but they are expecting that advance very soon. They insist they hold the vast majority of the district, and that the withdrawal they have made is only a matter of 15 or so metres and is tactical.
Salahedin was always going to be ground zero for the battle for Aleppo, and the only way to dislodge rebels was going to be a ground invasion. It is being led by tanks, from what we understand there are not too many infantry. But they could follow later in the day. There are no ground forces in the rest of the city, but in Salahedin some kind of a push in under way.
Rebels claimed to have hit some tanks in Salahedin, Martin said. “The way this battle is going to play out is more of a war of attrition rather than a quick decisive battle,” he said.
According to Chulov, the loss of tanks and the lack of infantry is the key point. The Free Syrian Army is fairing better than expected because of the last minute defections of generals that tipped them off about the attack. The lack of infantry guardian the tanks is a sign, according to Chulov who is inside Aleppo, that the regime is worried that too many forces would defect. But dead tanks in roads block advances, and jeopardize the other tanks in the line, so despite having a massive advantage in shear strength, the regime’s advance, thus far, has been slow.
James Miller takes over today’s live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started.
0845 GMT: Syria. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has acknowledged that some of the 48 Iranians abducted near Damascus on Saturday are retired members of the Revolutionary Guards and Army and others “were from other ministries”; however, he denied any still had a military or official role and said they were on pilgrimage.