• Leaked emails suggest Assad received advice from Iran
• Assad refers to reforms as ‘rubbish laws’
• Anniversary of the uprising marked by call for UN action
8.47am: CNN’s Global Post blog neatly sums up Assad’s emails with the headline: Al-Assad fiddles with iTunes as Syria burns.
The blog says:
As hundreds of Syrians fought and died for their freedom, President Bashar al-Assad and his wife ordered Harry Potter films and pop music, a sweeping new investigation from The Guardian reveals.
8.20am: (all times GMT) Welcome to Middle East Live. To mark the first anniversary of the Syrian uprising, the Guardian has published a cache of what appear to be several thousand emails received and sent by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma. We’ll be tracking reaction to the emails as well covering the latest developments in Syria.
• Assad appeared to receive advice from Iran or its proxies on several occasions during the crisis. Before a speech in December his media consultant prepared a long list of themes, reporting that the advice was based on “consultations with a good number of people in addition to the media and political adviser for the Iranian ambassador”.
• Hussein Mortada, an influential Lebanese businessman with strong connections to Iran, urged Assad to stop blaming al-Qaida for twin car bombings in Damascus, in December. He said he had been in contact with Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon who shared the same view.
• Assad made light of reforms he had promised in an attempt to defuse the crisis. He referred the reforms as “rubbish laws of parties, elections, media”.
• A daughter of the emir of Qatar, Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani, advised the Assads to leave Syria and suggested Doha may offer them exile. “I only pray that you will convince the president to take this as an opportunity to exit without having to face charges,” she said.
• Assad was briefed in detail about the presence of western journalists in the Baba Amr district of Homs. He was also urged to “tighten the security grip” on the opposition-held city in November.
• Assad sidestepped extensive US sanctions against him by using a third party with a US address to make purchases of music and apps from Apple’s iTunes. In a bizarre message apparently from the Syrian leader, he sent his wife the lyrics of a country and western song by the US singer Blake Shelton, and the audio file downloaded from iTunes.
• Assad’s coterie continued to enjoy a gilded lifestyle insulated from the slaughter around them. They appear to show how tens of thousands of dollars were spent in internet shopping sprees on handmade furniture from Chelsea boutiques. A Dubai-based company, al-Shahba, with a registered office in London is used as a key conduit for Syrian government business and private purchases by the Syrian first lady.
• Assad forwarded a YouTube video to one of his aides that showed a crude reenactment of the siege of Homs using toys and biscuits. “Check out this video on YouTube,” Assad wrote to his media adviser, Hadeel al-Ali in the week that Arab League monitors arrived.
The emails paint a picture of a Syrian leadership that is more bumbling and oblivious than villainous: On the day after the Syrian military began shelling the city of Homs, for example, Bashar sent Asma a video of country crooner Blake Shelton’s song God Gave Me You.
Information in the emails ranges from the shocking (Assad knew about Western journalists in Homs) to the absurd (his wife spent thousands on jewelry and furniture). But what it all adds up to is a picture of a family enjoying a plush lifestyle as it remains insulated from the ongoing violence on the streets.
• The Turkish daily Zaman is drawn to the revelation that Asma Assad refused to share her email address with Emine Erdogan, wife of the Turkish prime minister.It says the emails reveal “a deep rift between former good friends”.
• Gawker has created a Spotify playlist of the “crappy music” Assad bought on iTunes. It asks: Who knew that the soundtrack of murderous despotism was… Blake Shelton and Cliff Richards tribute acts?
• The Guardian has been blocked in Syria, according to contacts of the UK-based Syrian blogger Maysaloon. Of the emails the blogger writes: “They are hardly a smoking gun, and instead they show you a president and his wife who seem more interested in doing online shopping and swapping silly Youtube clips than anything else.”
• How do we know the Assad emails are genuine? It is impossible to rule out the possibility of fakes in the email cache, but several pieces of evidence suggest they are authentic
Latest developments in Syria
• US intelligence agencies have concluded that the armed resistance is unable to mount a credible military threat to the Assad regime, senior officials told The Huffington Post. One said the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups are able to mount only sporadic hit-and-run attacks and anti-regime demonstrations in a handful of mostly urban neighborhoods and isolated villages.
• Those who witnessed the fall Idlib this week have told Human Rights Watch that government forces used large-calibre machine-guns, tanks, and mortars to fire indiscriminately at buildings and people in the street. Its Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said: “City after city, town after town, Syria’s security forces are using their scorched earth methods while the security council’s hands remain tied by Russia and China.”
• On the eve of the first anniversary of the revolution regime forces pounded the southern city of Dera’a where the uprising began, the Independent reports. In the al-Balad district of the city on the southern border with Jordan, where the revolution broke out in earnest a year ago, around 20 tanks and armoured vehicles raked buildings with machinegun fire.
A coalition of 200 NGOs from 27 countries… is demanding that the UN Security Council immediately unite and pass a resolution calling on the Syrian government to stop indiscriminate shelling of civilian neighborhoods and other violations of international law, stop arbitrary arrests and torture and grant urgent access to humanitarian workers, journalists and human rights monitors.
• UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has demanded further clarifications from Damascus over its response to his proposals for ending the violence. He is due to report back to a divided UN Security Council on Friday, with Russia and China still standing behind a defiant Assad while exasperated Western powers push for regime change.
from Matthew Weaver