Monday, December 3, 2012 at 10:55 | James Miller : The Aftermath of Sunday’s deadly car bomb in Homs in Syria
1620 GMT: Syria. A prominent Syrian activist suggests that the Assad spokesperson has, indeed, defected, and has not been fired: I have recorded conversations with Jihad Makdissi which shows his ability to defect, he has not been fired rather fled his position #Syria
1555 GMT: Syria. Syrian ministry spokesman Jihad al-Maqdessi has “been relieved of his duties after he voiced stances that don’t conform to Syria’s official rhetoric”, according to MTV. He is reportedly on route to London, via Beirut.
1546 GMT: Syria. And now one airline gives a reason it cancelled today’s flight to Damascus:
Reuters: EgyptAir flight from Cairo to Damascus turns back because of “bad security situation at airport”, EgyptAir officials say
1536 GMT: Syria. Is the Damascus International Airport (DAM) closed? Yesterday, some airlines announced that they would be running flights again, and the government maintains it’s open – however, as far as we can tell, all the international flights to the airport were either cancelled today or were never confirmed to have landed:
The departure situation is even worse:
1526 GMT: Iraq Jane Arraf from Al Jazeera English reports on a further escalation in tensions between the central Iraqi government and the autonomous Kurdish region, as 1000 more Kurdish troops move to Kirkuk:
1512 GMT: Syria. This video has our attention. It was brought to our attention on Twitter, and appears to show rockets, possibly Grad rockets, being fired from the Mezzeh military airport just west of Damascus. One tweet said that this was filmed in Darayya, which makes sense to us as that would place the mountains behind the airport and the east to the right. Simultaneously, the FSA is carrying a report from the Zamalka Coordination Committee that suggests “rocket launchers” has been used to shell the eastern suburb of Damascus.
Why is this important? For starters, Grad rockets are fairly innaccurate, and thus cannot be used in a targeted strike. Many civilians will bear the brunt of these rocket attacks. However, this also shows that Assad is now trying to use all of the weapons in his arsenal, even if they are not specifically designed to fight an insurgency.
This is only one video, and we can;t be 100% sure of the location or type of rocket, but the sudden use of the word “rocket” in many reports over the last week, and a few (inconclusive) videos that suggest Grad rockets, or some other weapon, have been used recently, suggest that a new weapon is being used against the Syrian people.
1451 GMT: Lebanon/Syria. Free Syrian Army spokesperson Louay Al-Moqdad has confirmed that he was part of an “operations centre” with Future Movement MP Okab Sakr. Speaking to New TV, Al-Moqdad said that the centre ran not just “military operations, but all sorts of activities”.
Sakr confirmed his role in the operation earlier today, after Al-Akhbar published leaked audio recordings (see 1357 GMT entry).
1436 GMT: Syria. Last week, away from the headlines, the Syrian military surrounded a small town in Daraa province, Tafas, and began to shell it. Eventually, a convoy including perhaps a dozen or more tanks stormed the town and for hours tore up the streets, shops, and homes of many residents. When the FSA began the counterattack, the fighting became fierce. By some accounts, the regime withdrew from the town on Friday, burning perhaps hundreds of homes in their wake. Since then, however, the regime has attacked the down with a near-constant stream of mortars, artillery and tank shells, and rockets, according to activists. If the regime cannot hold the town, they are determined to cut it off an make it pay.
According to sources, that pattern has continued throughout today. The LCC estimates that at least 30 “rockets” have fallen today, and they post a video of the gunfire and shelling. Other videos reportedly show the FSA firing RPGs at tanks, destroying regime vehicles with IEDs, and the video below reportedly shows some of yesterday’s fighting:
James Miller takes over today’s live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started today.
1357 GMT: Lebanon/Syria. Future Movement MP Okab Sakr confirmed the authenticity of audio recordings implicating him in sending arms to Syrian rebels.
Okab Sakr: Please tell me, the weapons you want, what are the quantities.
Abu al-Numan (a leader of an armed group): We need around 300 rocket-propelled grenades and twenty launchers. And if it is possible to provide 250,000 Russian rounds [for AK47s], 300 machineguns, and some special pieces of arms.
OS: All of this, for which region do you need it exactly.
AN: Azaz, Tal Refaat, Andan, and the whole of Rif Halab [Aleppo’s countryside].
strong>OS: Will you be there at the delivery?
AN: No brother, Abu al-Nour will be there with the guys and the cars. They will take them from you as usual.
Sakr told Ash-Sharq al-Awsat today that, “This is my voice and those are my words,” adding that he is “not ashamed of what I have done and am doing”.
The Future Movement denies that it has provided any armed support to the rebels. However, the recordings raise questions about the role of its leader, Saad Hariri. Al-Akhbar alleges that SaKr’s was following Hariri’s orders, however Sakr denies this. Accusing Al-Akhbar of waging a campaign of distortion, Sakr said, “Hariri has asked me to provide Syrians with humanitarian, political and media aid – no more, no less.
1325 GMT: Syria. The Syrian Foreign Ministry has reiterated that it will not use chemical weapons “against its people”. In a televised statement, the regime is reported as saying:
Syria has stressed repeatedly that it will not use these types of weapons, if they were available, under any circumstances against its people.
The comments came in response to US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton who said at a press conference in Prague that any use of chemical weapons would be cross a “red line” for the administration:
We have made our views very clear: This is a red line for the United States.
I’m not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people. But suffice it to say, we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur.
1320 GMT: Lebanon/Syria. Al Jazeera English reports on the plight of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. There are over 134,000 Syrian refugees there, however with no government camps, they are dependent on the help of NGOs and the support of local Lebanese:
1144 GMT: Syria. Turkey has confirmed that it scrambled jet fighters after Syrian warplanes bombed the town of Ras al Ain near the border.
Since Ras al Ain was taken by insurgents last month, the regime has carried out aerial attacks on the town and nearby area.
1134 GMT: Syria. The New York Times puts out an ominous story:
The Syrian military’s movement of chemical weapons in recent days has prompted the United States and several allies to repeat their warning to President Bashar al-Assad that he would be “held accountable” if his forces used the weapons against the rebels fighting his government.
The warnings, which one European official said were “deliberately vague to keep Assad guessing,” were conveyed through Russia and other intermediaries….
One American official provided the most specific description yet of what has been detected, saying that “the activity we are seeing suggests some potential chemical weapon preparation,” which goes beyond the mere movement of stockpiles among Syria’s several dozen known sites. But the official declined to offer more specifics of what those preparations entailed.
Over the weekend, the activity in Syria prompted a series of emergency communications among the Western allies, who have long been developing contingency plans in case they decided to intervene in an effort to neutralize the chemical weapons, a task that the Pentagon estimates would require upward of 75,000 troops. But there were no signs that preparations for any such effort were about to begin.