• Kofi Annan says he plans to travel to Syria soon
• Syria asks for more details of Annan’s mission
• Gulf states to hold talks with Russia
• Reporter flees amid mixed reports of fighting in Baba Amr
9.11am: In his first Twitter update since escaping from Homs, El Mundo reporter Javier Espinosa expresses concern about the people left in Baba Amr.
— JAVIER ESPINOSA (@javierespinosa2) March 1, 2012
His last tweet inside Baba Amr, was on Sunday.
gutters of bab al amar blood-stained twitter.com/javierespinosa…
— JAVIER ESPINOSA (@javierespinosa2) February 26, 2012
8.37am: (all times GMT) Welcome to Middle East Live. The new UN-Arab League envoy to Syria Kofi Annan is leading the latest efforts to resolve the crisis, amid mixed accounts of fighting in the Baba Amr area of Homs.
Here’s roundup of the latest developments:
• Annan, said he expected to visit Syria “fairly soon” and made a plea for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to engage with efforts to end the country’s bloodiest turmoil in decades, Reuters reports. Speaking to reporters in New York the former UN secretary general said:
I would plead with (Assad) that he should engage, not only with me, but with the process we are launching. “I would expect to get to Syria fairly soon. The first thing we need to do … is everything we can to stop the violence and the killing, to facilitate humanitarian access and to ensure that the needy are looked after, and work with the Syrians in coming up with a peaceful solution.
Annan also called for unified international action on Syria.
• The Assad government asked for more details about Annan’s proposed mission. Foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Maqdisi also urged Qatar and Saudi Arabia to focus on persuading the opposition to enter dialogue, rather than arming the opposition.
But speaking in Cairo he said he had “high hopes” that the fighting could be stopped.
• Gulf foreign ministers will meet their Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in the Saudi capital next week to discuss the crisis, al-Arabiya reports. Kuwait’s foreign minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Sabah said the ministers will “express their disappointment with the Russian stance,” on the crisis in Syria.
• Javier Espinosa, the El Mundo correspondent who has been trapped in a besieged suburb of the Syrian city of Homs, has escaped to safety. Espinosa, who has written a series of dramatic dispatches from Homs – some published in the Guardian – was smuggled out afternoon after making the perilous journey out of the city, according to the campaign group Avaaz. It said two more journalists Edith Bouvier and William Daniels, remain trapped in Homs.
El Mundo, confirmed that Espinosa has made it to safety.
• As communication to Homs is even more difficult than usual, there are differing accounts of what is occurring in Baba Amr.
The long-feared ground invasion appears to have begun, according to Avaaz. Government forces were engaged in an assault on four fronts after the most severe shelling of the last 26 days where over 20,000 people remain, it said.
But a ground invasion has not yet taken place activists told the New York Times. “It was a very aggressive attack on Baba Amr today,” Mulham al-Jundi, an activist in a nearby neighborhood, said Wednesday. He said he doubted the army would enter Baba Amr with tanks. “I don’t think they want to enter it anyway; they want to destroy it completely by shelling it from adjacent villages and neighborhoods.”
The Independent says the army is going from house to house. “The army has started combing the area building by building and house by house. Now the troops are searching every basement and tunnel for arms and terrorists. There remain only a few pockets of resistance,” the unnamed official told the Associated Press.
We haven’t had any discussions in Nato about a Nato role in Syria and I don’t envision such a role for the alliance … Syria is ethnically, politically, religiously much more complicated than Libya. This is the reason why the right way forward is different. And I think a regional solution would be the right way forward with strong engagement by the Arab League.
• Egypt’s first presidential election the fall of Hosni Mubarak will begin in May, the head of the electoral commission has said, the BBC reports. Farouk Sultan told reporters that the first round would be held over two days on 23 and 24 May, while a run-off would take place on 16 June and 17 June.
• Officials in Cairo say a travel ban on seven Americans employed by pro-democracy US groups has been lifted. The decision appears to signal the end of the worst crisis in relations between Egypt and the US for 30 years.
from Matthew Weaver, Brian Whitaker