#Syria, Evidence of state-of-the-art weapons reaching: fighters in use a giant sling to throw a home-made grenade
#Syria, Evidence of state-of-the-art weapons reaching: fighters in use a giant sling to throw a home-made grenade
#SYRIA, FSA WITH HUGE CAPTURE OF WEAPONS, TANKS & MORE…
Free Syrian army seizes andan point!
(05/07/2012) Al Jamilieh, Aleppo, #Syria: Security forces blocked the main road after some clashes where two hand grenades exploded amongst security forces of the Assad Regime. A hero from the Free Syrian Army was arrested. Shooting continued for around 10 minutes before the roads were cut off. People are now filled with fear and panic.
AP’s Ahmed Bahaddou, left, and Rodrigo Abd, right, climb the back of a tractor in the Turkish town of Hacipasa close to the border with Syria Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. (AP)
(AP) ANTAKYA, Turkey - Explosions illuminated the night as we ran, hoping to escape Syria after nearly three weeks of covering a conflict that the government seems determined to keep the world from seeing. Tank shells slammed into the city streets behind us, snipers’ bullets whizzed by our heads and the rebels escorting us were nearly out of ammunition.
It seemed like a good time to get out of Syria.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Award-winning journalists Rodrigo Abd and Ahmed Bahaddou sneaked into Syria and spent nearly three weeks reporting from opposition-held territory. Abd, an Associated Press photographer, is based in Guatemala. Bahaddou is a video journalist on assignment for the AP, based in Turkey.
With regime forces closing in on the rebel-held northern city of Idlib, Associated Press cameraman Ahmed Bahaddou and I set out Sunday for neighboring Turkey on a journey that would take us through a pitch-black passage and miles of muddy olive groves in the freezing cold.
We ran into delays and dangers with every step — from fighting between rebel and government forces to a missed connection with our guide.
We coordinated our escape with the Free Syrian Army, the rebel force fighting to hold onto Idlib, but the situation was deteriorating quickly. The snipers, shelling and explosions were growing ever closer.
“We are all going to be killed!” a terrified Syrian activist told me, collapsing into tears. An FSA fighter said the government troops were sure to take the city back, because the rebels were running out of ammunition.
A rebel commander said he understood if his fighters wanted to run away and save themselves.
“Whoever wants to leave and not fight, lay your Kalashnikovs here,” he said.
Last week, troops had encircled Idlib, and tank shells starting pounding the city from dawn until evening. Rebels dashed through the streets, taking cover behind the corners of buildings as they clashed with the troops. Wounded fighters were piled into trucks bound for places where they could be treated. I saw a man carrying a young boy, the child’s jacket soaked in blood. I later learned the boy was dead.
On Tuesday, just one day after we made it out, government forces recaptured Idlib, although activists reported some pockets of resistance remained. Still, it was a blow to the rebels.
The regime says it is fighting foreign terrorists and armed gangs, denying that the yearlong uprising is a popular revolt. But what we saw in Idlib was nothing like what the government is describing. The townspeople support the uprising; every family seemed to have a fighter in the streets, or knew somebody who was fighting.
The FSA rebels were Syrians, from Idlib. We did not see any foreigners doing battle.
The biggest challenge for the rebels was not their fervor to fight; they all seemed willing to die to oust the regime of President Bashar Assad. They were armed with little more than rocket-propelled grenades, Kalashnikov machine guns and grenades.
The opposition’s rallying cry in recent days has been an appeal for weapons. An influx of anti-tank missiles and other heavy arms could be a turning point in the conflict.
But as government forces moved in last week, all we could think of was Baba Amr — the neighborhood in the Syrian city of Homs that endured nearly four weeks of government shelling. Hundreds of people were killed in the siege, and the humanitarian situation was catastrophic. Among the dead were two journalists, Marie Colvin, a veteran American-born war correspondent for Britain’s Sunday Times, and Remi Ochlik, 28, a French photojournalist. Both were cut down when a shell struck nearby.
After years of Syrian insurgents and weaponry infiltrating Iraq, now the traffic goes the other way
Watch video here. The BBC’s Paul Wood is with rebel fighters near Homs
I am travelling with a group of rebel fighters who call themselves the Free Syrian Army.
They heard at about 03:00 that there had been a large bombardment of areas of Homs that are opposed to the regime.
From the fighters we have heard figures of 200 dead - and some numbers are even higher than that.
None of this can independently verified.
The scraps of information we are getting from inside Homs suggest that mortars and tank rounds were used in a pretty relentless bombardment of those areas of the city that have slipped from the regime’s grasp, principally the areas of Khalidya and Baba Amr.
The men started a “blood drive” in the villages around and they have been trying to get this blood into Homs. So far they have not been successful - they say that Homs is effectively cut off as the tanks and positions around it are shooting at anything that moves.
The Syrian government denies that any attack at all has taken place, but we are hearing from inside Homs that funerals have already begun.
Across Syria a picture is emerging of government forces holding the centre of big towns and the main roads, and the Free Syrian Army becoming increasingly active and almost controlling parts of cities like Homs and areas of the countryside.
These men have only very light weapons - machine-guns and rocket propelled grenades - and they have no answer when government forces decide to use heavy weapons, as they appear to have done overnight.
Why did this take place on the day the UN Security Council is voting on a motion critic of Syria?
It could be because the Free Syrian Army have been so successful that areas of Homs have slipped from the government’s grasp. I think the government army commanders on the ground simply thought they could not wait any longer.
The Free Syrian Army have told me this morning that they are going to conduct what they call a “general offensive” in reply to what has happened in Homs.
I think we are going to see an escalation in the violence.
We are seeing bigger and bigger attacks by the Free Syrian Army.
On Friday we followed an attack on an army base outside Homs. The fighters said they had over 100 men - I counted at least 60. They did not manage to take that base but they attacked over a number of hours and it was a big battle.
I think the focus in Syria now is moving away from street protests - though they still continue - and into an escalating guerrilla campaign.
When the BBC team approached a checkpoint set up by the rebel Free Syria Army in the suburbs of Damascus, masked men with Kalashnikov assault rifles and hand grenades moved towards us - a few of them offering dates and biscuits.
It is customary to give mourners something sweet, and a funeral was about to start that they said they were protecting.
I had no idea before I saw them with my own eyes that the Free Syria Army was so active in and around Damascus.
The first time, in a small town called Zabadani, about half an hour from Damascus, it took a while for my brain to catch up with what I was seeing.
We went in there with an official from the ministry of information, who got us through the army cordon that surrounded the town.
The Free Syria Army were only 30 minutes from the presidential palace in Damascus”
A truce had been negotiated with the Free Syria Army - the first time that the Assad regime had properly acknowledged that the loose groups of ill-equipped defectors from its own forces were at all significant.
Even so, when a man who said he was an anti-government activist walked up to us and offered to take us to see the rebel fighters I couldn’t believe my ears.
I thought he was some sort of regime stooge and was playing an elaborate trick. I hadn’t realised that the army had pulled out of the town.
Our minder said later that he was horrified, and scared to see the rebel fighters close up, but he hid it so well that I thought he had organised some sort of hoax to discredit the BBC’s reporting.
How wrong can you be? It was all real. The Free Syria Army were only 30 minutes from the presidential palace in Damascus.
Since then I have seen their men in significant numbers inside Damascus itself. They are treated as heroes in the places they have appeared.
It is not exactly clear how long they have been out in the open, setting roadblocks and building firing positions here in Damascus - but as far as I can tell it is only the last week or two.
It took 10 months to get a visa to visit Syria for 10 days. Even though I thought I knew the country pretty well - I was a regular visitor before the uprising started last March and I’ve interviewed the president a couple of times - this trip has been full of surprises.
It has been hard to get out to report freely. But it has been possible, if occasionally hair-raising, and after 10 days I have a much better idea about what is happening.
First of all it is not a matter of the regime against the rest. President Assad has significant support.
It is probably being eroded by the tide of blood, but he can still can count on most of the Allawite community he comes from - also on many Christians - and significant numbers of Druze and Kurds.
That could be as much as 40% of the population. The Allawites support him because of who he is.
The others believe he will safeguard minorities in a way that the mainly Sunni Muslims in the opposition and the free army would not.
What is also clear is that President Assad is losing ground in and around the capital. The poor Sunni suburbs - grim, poor tangles of concrete - are harbouring the free army.
They are not a match for the president’s forces yet. But they are getting stronger.
Dark days ahead
The regime, and the people who want it overthrown, view what is happening here as a fight to the finish. For both sides, it is winner takes all.
The fact that the country is splitting along confessional lines is dangerous. In Lebanon, next door, they had a sectarian civil war that pretty much destroyed the country.
In Syria it is not a war yet, but it is starting to look like one. Homs, the centre of the uprising in the north, is paralysed and battered. Deraa, where it started in the south, feels as if it is being patrolled by an occupying army.
There are questions I cannot answer. How much force does the regime hold in reserve? Will the president face a palace coup, perhaps from an Allawite general fearful that Mr Assad’s stand will destroy their whole community? And will foreigners intervene decisively, as they did in Libya?
I cannot see how, in the long term, the regime can survive an uprising started by people who are so determined that they demonstrate even when they might get killed. But it will not go quietly.
Everyone I have spoken to here believes the worst days still lie ahead.
Newsies face unique dangers to chronicle Arab Spring
Journalists find themselves between Syrian security forces, shown here, and equally well-armed rebels.
According to Sue Lloyd-Roberts, it’s easier for women to pass unchallenged at Middle East checkpoints.
Jacquier was killed when rocket grenades exploded among a group of pro-government activists as well as reporters on a state-sponsored visit to the beleaguered Syrian city of Homs, which has been a hot spot of rebellion by those pushing Syria to join the Arab Spring.
Journos who manage to get into the country are closely monitored and prevented from speaking to opposition leaders or from visiting the centers of the rebellion.
While most broadcasters have relied on video footage of the protests from social media sites like YouTube to run alongside reports filed by correspondents based outside of the country, a few freelance TV journalists have opted to enter the country undercover, with the help of opposition groups, so that they can deliver first-hand accounts of the conflict.
Late last year, French TV reporter Paul Moreira and cameraman Pedro Brito da Fonseca spent 10 days with resistance fighters in northwestern Syria, and accompanied them on attacks on army bases. Their docu on the subject, “Inside the Syrian Insurrection,” aired on French paybox Canal Plus last month, and is now being sold abroad by Zodiak Rights.
The covert nature of their work forced them to adopt elaborate measures to avoid detection. “At times we felt as if we were the protagonists in a spy movie,” Moreira says.
In such situations, the journalists’ efforts to get the story become part of the film’s narrative. “What I liked about the documentary is that it feels spontaneous; Moreira’s emotions are palpable,” says Alexandre Piel, head of acquisitions and co-productions at Zodiak Rights. “This is really a film about two journalists risking their lives to show what’s happening in Syria.”
Piel says the company was interested the instant it saw the rough cut of the docu. “We know that international channels are always on the lookout for time-sensitive, exclusive content,” he says.
Sue Lloyd-Roberts meanwhile, went to Syria undercover for the BBC twice last year, first to Damascus, and later to Homs, a hotbed of anti-government resistance and a lightning rod for suppression by government forces.
Lloyd-Roberts has traveled undercover in many countries where press freedom is limited — including the former Soviet Union, Tibet and Burma — during her 21-year career as a foreign correspondent. In Syria, she posed as a Byzantium scholar.
“I arrange my belongings in such a way that there is absolutely no evidence on me that I am a journalist,” she says. “Everything has to be sanitized. Laptops have to be prepared, with my cover story intact. Every time you are undercover, you have to assume that you’re going to be arrested any day.”
Lloyd-Roberts does her own filming. “I’m much happier doing that because there’s a risk involved, and I’d much rather work in those kind of circumstances only having to worry about myself and the people who I am working with inside the country,” she says.
She adds that using a lightweight camera affects picture quality, but the unique nature of the content she captures makes it worthwhile. “If your footage is exclusive, it doesn’t matter if it isn’t fantastically sophisticated and technically marvelous, because an exclusive is an exclusive,” she says.
If caught, journalists know they are likely to be imprisoned, but for Moreira there was added danger in Syria. “I’ve traveled to many war zones, such as Iraq, but I had never felt threatened by the government as I did in Syria, where showing your camera could get you gunned down,” he says.
Traveling covertly means that a reporter’s fate is in the hands of the people who smuggle them in. But Lloyd-Roberts says it is best to trust those people. “Once you are across the border, I believe that you should entirely accept what they are telling you, and do what they tell you, within reason,” she says.
“At times in my life, I’ve had people who’ve gone a bit psychotic on me and are clearly on some kind of personal suicide mission; that’s when you realize that you have got to take the situation in your own hands. But by and large I’ve been very impressed by an incredibly intelligent, brave, canny Syrian opposition.”
Lloyd-Roberts and Moreira have different approaches when it comes to allowing interviewees to show their faces on-camera.
“We never asked the resistance fighters we interviewed to show their faces, but many of them wanted to, because they were proud of their actions, and wanted to make a statement,” Moreira says.
Lloyd-Roberts, however, says the journalist should make sure the interviewee remains disguised, because the risks to them are too great. “For a foreign reporter caught in Syria, and there have been a few, it’s really not very serious: It’s a few days’ arrest, which I’ve had before, and I can easily tolerate. What’s more worrying is if you put anyone you are working with in danger, because then it can be arrest, torture, possibly execution or having to flee the country.”
Soazig Dollet, head of the Middle East and North Africa desk at Reporters Without Borders, an org that fights for press freedom, agrees.
“Journalists traveling to Syria must be extremely careful how they handle their sources,” Dollet says. “Some journalists have caused waves of arrests and left behind sources who either got killed, abducted or tortured.”
Reporters Without Borders provoked an uproar late last year when it recommended that female journalists should not go to Egypt, following a spate of attacks.
But being a female journalist in a country like Syria has its advantages. “The irony is, in covering the Arab Spring, undercover work is made easier for a woman in that you’re wearing the hijab,” Lloyd-Roberts says. “You can put on an abaya (a traditional dress that covers the whole body), and as far as men are concerned, you just don’t register.
“I’ve been stopped many times at roadblocks; women are just not questioned, and very rarely are they asked for documentation because they are kind of non-people.”
For Lloyd-Roberts, the opportunity to go where few other journalists have gone make the risks worthwhile. “I’m bewildered by how few people have bothered to get in because it isn’t that difficult,” she says. “Maybe the problem is that one feature of the Syrian uprising has been that the opposition have been assiduous in the collection and distribution of pictures. So maybe this has made mainstream journalists a bit idle. … You can always put together a film report on Syria by using the YouTube output.
“But if you can talk to people on a personal basis, it makes all the difference, and has more impact,” she says.
Will Lloyd-Roberts return to Syria soon? “I wouldn’t care to say,” she replies. “But put it like this, I am pretty committed to the story.”
Contact Leo Barraclough at firstname.lastname@example.org
A French journalist was killed and at least one other reporter was wounded in the Syrian city of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday. Activists said the journalists were hit by either rocket fire or grenades.
AFP - A Syrian human rights group says one Western journalist has been killed and another wounded in restive Homs province.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, cited activists for his group in Homs with direct knowledge of the death. A provincial official in Homs also said a Westerner in a “media delegation” had been killed there. He had no details and asked that his name not be published because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The Observatory activists in Homs said the journalists were hit by grenades or rocket fire Wednesday. The victims’ nationalities were not immediately known.
BEIRUT — Residents in the Syrian capital woke up to two loud explosions Sunday amid activist reports that a major building belonging to the ruling Baath party in the capital Damascus had been by hit several rocket-propelled grenades.
There was no immediate confirmation of the report, which would mark the first significant attack on a government building in relatively quiet central Damascus.
The Local Coordination Committees activist network and several residents reported several explosions in the district of Mazraa in the heart of the Syrian capital.
The LCC said in a statement that the building had been hit at daybreak Sunday by several rocket propelled grenades and that two fire brigades headed toward the area amid heavy security presence.
But eyewitnesses said the building looked intact Sunday and reported no significant security deployment around it.
Residents in the Syrian capital said they heard two loud explosions but could not confirm whether the building had been hit.
“I woke up to the sound of two loud thuds,” said a resident of the area who asked that he remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.
Damascus-based journalist Thabet Salem, who lives about a kilometer away from the Baath party building and heard the explosions, said if the reports are confirmed, it would signal a new phase in the Syrian uprising.
“It would be an escalation that gives a new dimension to the whole situation,” he said.
Syria’s uprising against President Bashar Assad has grown more violent and militarized in recent weeks, as frustrated protesters see the limits of peaceful action.
Army dissidents who sided with the protests have also grown more bold, fighting back against regime forces and even assaulting military bases.
The so called Free Syrian Army group of dissident soldiers this week staged their boldest operation yet, attacking a military intelligence building in a Damascus suburb.