• Sarkozy says solution in sight for wounded reporters
• Bombardment of Homs continues amid referendum count
• Putin warns west against military intervention in Syria
8.46am: (all times GMT) Welcome to Middle East Live. Efforts to rescue wounded people from Homs, including the journalists Edith Bouvier and Paul Conroy, are being thwarted by the Syrian army’s continuing bombardment of the city, but French president Nicolas Sarkozy claims a solution is in sight.
Here’s a roundup of the latest developments:
• Two western reporters stranded in Homs, Edith Bouvier and Paul Conroy, could be rescued today, according to the New York Daily Post. “The evacuation will not happen Sunday because it is dangerous to send ambulances at night. It will take place most likely on Monday,” it quoted Saleh Dabbakeh, spokesman for the Red Crescent in Damascus as saying. Since the deaths last Wednesday of Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik, the ICRC has been trying to get scores of wounded out of Syria to hospitals in Lebanon.
• French president Nicolas Sarkozy said that a solution for getting wounded Western reporters out of the besieged Syrian city of Homs was in sight, AFP reports. “We have the beginnings of a solution,” he told RTL radio. “It seems that things are starting to move.”
• Kate Conroy, the wife of wounded Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy (pictured), said her husband refused to leave with the Syrian Red Crescent ambulances because he was advised they could not be trusted. “They were advised that the Syrian Red Crescent were not to be trusted and so they refused to leave with them unless they had somebody from the British or French embassy with them,” she told the BBC, the Independent reports.
• Syrian government troops have fired heavy barrages of artillery and rockets into districts across Homs, where rebels have been holding out through weeks of bombardment, opposition activists said. The siege continued as the Syrian authorities count the vote in referendum on a new constitution after a mixed turnout.
• Russia’s prime minister Vladimir Putin has warned against military intervention in Syria, AP reports. In an article Putin defended a Russia-China veto of a United Nations resolution condemning the Assad regime’s crackdown on protests, saying that Moscow wouldn’t allow the replay of what happened in Libya.
• The crisis in Syria is expected to dominate the annual session of the UN Human Rights Council which opens today. “We want Syrian authorities to give up being in denial,” one diplomat told AFP. The Human Rights Council must “continue to put pressure on Syrian authorities”.
• China’s People’s Daily described US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s criticisms of Beijing’s stance on Syria “super arrogant” and argued that, after the Iraq war, the United States has no right to speak for Arab people. Reuters quoted it saying:
The United States’ motive in parading as a ‘protector’ of the Arab peoples is not difficult to imagine. The problem is, what moral basis does it have for this patronising and egotistical super-arrogance and self-confidence?
There is something surreal about a group of “friends” promoting change in Syria that includes so many autocrats and, as one of its leading lights, the country most notorious for resisting progress: Saudi Arabia.
At one point during Friday’s meeting, the Saudi foreign minister reportedly stormed out, self-righteously complaining about “inaction” (though some reports deny it). Later, asked if arming the Syrian opposition would be a good idea, he replied: “I think it’s an excellent idea.” Indeed, some suspect the Saudis are already doing just that.
Meanwhile Qatar, a less oppressive autocracy than Saudi Arabia but an autocracy nevertheless, called for the creation of “an Arab force” for Syria.
None of that bodes well for Syria’s future …
From a Saudi perspective, getting rid of Assad will help to shift the balance back in Sunni Islam’s direction. Most Syrians are Sunnis, though the regime itself is dominated by Alawites – a Shia offshoot – and closely allied to Iran. Saudi “support” for the Syrian opposition, therefore, is likely to make the conflict more sectarian rather than less.
• The controversial Egyptian trial of employees of western-backed pro-democracy groups got off to a tumultuous start in Cairo as defendants and their supporters chanted for the military government to step down. The prosecution of NGO workers trying to nurture Egypt’s young pro-democracy movement has strengthened doubts about the readiness of the country’s generals to hand over power to an elected civilian government.
• Efforts are continuing to secure the release of two British journalists who are being held by a group of former rebel fighters in Libya, the BBC reports. Reporter Nicholas Davies and cameraman Gareth Montgomery-Johnson were detained by members of the Misrata Brigade on Tuesday and are being held in Tripoli.
from Matthew Weaver, Brian Whitaker