• Senior US senators back arming Syrian rebels
• US general urges caution over intervention in Syria and Iran
• Conflicting accounts of the killing of judicial officials in Idlib
9.21am: China’s People’s Daily, has accused western countries of stirring up civil war in Syria, Reuters reports.
China and Russia angered the west and Arab states this month by blocking a draft United Nations security council resolution that backed an Arab plan demanding Assad step aside.
If the security council had passed the resolution backing the Arab League, that would only have led to more violence, Qu King, whom the newspaper identified as a foreign affairs expert, wrote in the article.
“If western countries continue to fully support Syria’s opposition, then in the end a large-scale civil war will erupt and there will be no way to thus avoid the possibility of foreign armed intervention,” Qu wrote.
In another People’s Daily article, the paper says:
Rationality and calmness are definitely needed to accomplish the urgent task of ending bloody conflict in the country. Military intervention and forced regime change violate the Charter of the United Nations, and are not the right solution. They will not only complicate the Syrian crisis, but also break the basic norms governing international relations.
9.10am: Khalid Abu Salah, a Homs based activist who was injured earlier this month during the assault on the city, has delivered another video appeal.
In his latest clip purportedly from the city, Salah calls on the opposition Syrian National Council, to do more to try to stop the bombardment of the Baba Amr neighbourhood, according to a translation by Syria dissident Ammar Abdulhamid, a vocal critic of the SNC.
Abdulahamid quotes Salah saying:
You haven’t done anything of substance since the beginning of the bombardment. You should immediately contact the Red Cross to encourage delivery of humanitarian aid to the neighbourhood, and you should do more press conferences to inform the world of what’s happening in Baba Amr. We gave you legitimacy, and we can take it away.
8.36am: (all times GMT) Welcome to Middle East Live. Senior US politicians have called for the arming of opponents of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad. But America’s top general, Martin Dempsey, has called for caution over both Syria and Iran.
Here’s a roundup in more detail:
• Two senior Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, said that rebel fighters deserved to be armed, the New York Times reports. McCain, who like Graham is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said:
I believe there are ways to get weapons to the opposition without direct United States involvement. The Iranians and the Russians are providing Bashar Assad with weapons. People that are being massacred deserve to have the ability to defend themselves. So I am not only not opposed, but I am in favour of weapons being obtained by the opposition.
• But the US won’t provide weapons to opposition forces in Syria until it has a better picture of what those forces are, the top US military officer told CNN. “I think it’s premature to take a decision to arm the opposition movement in Syria, because I would challenge anyone to clearly identify for me the opposition movement in Syria at this point,” said General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.
• Conflicting accounts have emerged of the killing of two judicial officials in Idlib, the LA Times reports. Authorities said “an armed terrorist group” in Idlib city opened fire on a car carrying a judge, Mohammed Ziyadeh, and a prosecutor, Nidal Ghazal. Also killed was the driver, said the official Syrian Arab News Agency. An opposition activist reached in Idlib contradicted the official version and said Syrian security forces killed the pair because they were cooperating with antigovernment rebels active in the northwestern region, close to the border with Turkey.
• Syrian security forces opened fire when a funeral in central Damascus became the focus for a protest involving 15,000 people – one of the largest demonstrations in the capital, the Telegraph reports.
The first gun shot that was a Syrian army officer’s signal to his troops went almost unheard among the songs and uproarious chants. Seconds later, though, the air was filled with deafening and relentless gunfire and the terrified screams of the crowds.
“They are shooting. Oh my God, they are shooting!” screamed a woman, grabbing her five-year-old girl from the ground.
The Damascus protests in Mazzeh yesterday were breathtaking to watch, and I know those streets like the back of my hand. The fact that a protest of this size managed to slip through the security net means that the minute Assad’s control is weakened we can expect to see enormous crowds in Damascus again. That I feel certain of. Only months ago we saw this enormous Syrian flag festooned across that same thoroughfare by “supporters” of the regime. Yesterday was a different story, and the fact that the regime’s thugs opened fire on clearly unarmed and peaceful protesters should be enough for all but the most stubborn defenders of dictatorship that Assad’s time is up.
• In his CNN interview general Dempsey also warned Israel that a military strike against Iran “would be destabilising”. But in a comment likely to fuel speculation about Israel’s military plans, he added: “I wouldn’t suggest we’ve persuaded them that our view is the correct view.” The two countries were having a “candid, collaborative conversation” which was continuing, he said.
• Iran has announced that it has stopped selling crude oil to British and French companies, in a move that may put further pressure on the price of oil amid heightening political tensions. A spokesman was quoted on the Iranian oil ministry’s website as saying: “Exporting crude to British and French companies has been stopped … we will sell our oil to new customers. We have our own customers … The replacements for these companies have been considered by Iran.”
Barack Obama has not pulled out of Iraq, and started the drawdown in Afghanistan, only to start a conflict with a country with the power to mess up both Iraq and Afghanistan if attacked. But if he continues on this path, he could well have a conflict. For this reason alone, he should change course …
A way out still exists: it means allowing Iran the ability to produce civilian nuclear energy as it is entitled to do under the non-proliferation treaty. To date, Iran has not broken the provisions of the NPT. The IAEA has a list of unanswered questions about suspected research into warhead miniaturisation and nuclear triggers, but nothing has been proved. The gap between suspicion and proof creates the space for negotiation which would cap the amount of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride that Iran could produce, limit the sites in which such enrichment could take place, and prevent enrichment to military-grade levels.
• Egyptian election officials have failed to confirm the date of the first presidential election raising fears that the country’s military rulers are planning to renege on a pledge to return to civilian rule, the BBC reports. An election commission briefing only expressed hope the process could be over by the end of May, following reports last week that the election would be held then.
• On the eve of a one-candidate presidential election, President Obama said Yemen could be an example of peaceful political transition for other Arab nations, the New York Times reports. In a letter to vice president Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi, the only candidate in Tuesday’s election, Obama said: “I know you face challenges ahead, but I am optimistic that Yemen can emerge as a model for how peaceful transition in the Middle East can occur when people resist violence and unite under a common cause.”
from Matthew Weaver