Syria: China sends envoy to Damascus – Thursday 16 February
• Assad’s forces attack southern city
• Chinese envoy heads for Syria
• Report highlights problem of miltias in LIbya
8.35am: Good morning and welcome to Middle East live. Today we’ll be keeping our eyes on the continuing bloodshed in Syria as well as developments in Libya ahead of tomorrow’s anniversary of the uprising against the Gaddafi regime.
For the moment, here’s a brief summary of developments across the region:
China – which along with Russia vetoed the recent UN security council resolution on Syria – says it is sending it deputy foreign minister, Zhai Jun, for talks in Damascus tomorrow. Zhai met a Syrian opposition delegation in Beijing last week. Reuters quotes a Chinese spokesman as saying that China wants to play a constructive role in mediating an end to 11 months of bloodshed.
Syrian troops have attacked the southern city of Deraa today, residents and opposition activists told Reuters. Deraa, close to the Jordanian border, is where the uprising began last March after some youths were arrested for painting graffiti that said “The people want the fall of the regime”.
President Assad’s announcement of a referendum on a new constitutions, to be followed by multiparty elections, has been welcomed by Russia but dismissed as “laughable” by the United States. A widespread view this morning is that even if Assad is sincere in his proposed reforms, they have come far too late to salvage the situation.
The problems of post-Gaddafi Libya are highlighted in a report from Amnesty International as the government struggles to extend its control over the whole country. It has largely failed to rein the the militias that fought in the war and continue to assert themselves – some of them operating their own detention centres for those suspected of being linked to the old regime.
from Brian Whitaker