• UN-Arab League envoy will discuss how to end violence
• UN to take part in humanitarian mission this weekend
• 1,000 refugees driven across Turkish border
9.12am: The Syrian ambassador has left the UK. My colleague Shiv Malik writes
The foreign office has confirmed Sami Khiyami’s departure and said that this had been a “matter for the Syrian government” .
A spokesperson added that although the UK’s embassy in Syria had been closed as of the 1 March the UK hadn’t broken off relations with Syria and that they were still maintaining links as “we still think it is useful [to do] at this time”.
We hopefully will get a full statement from the FCO later on in the morning.
Voice of Russia reported on 11 March that the Syrian ambassador was leaving but it was not picked up by the British press at the time. It said Khiyami’s tenure had expired, adding:
Damascus began withdrawal of their ambassadors from EU countries to avoid possible expulsion of Syrian diplomatic representatives in response to the harsh action by Bashar al-Assad against the opposition.
[The] Syrian diplomatic mission in UK will not be ended, and over time, according to procedures, a new ambassador may be appointed. It’s not reported when the Syrian ambassador plans to leave the UK.
8.57am: Good morning and welcome to Middle East Live. It is the first Friday, traditionally a day of large protests, in the second year of the Syrian uprising.
Latest developments in Syria
• The UN-Arab League special envoy, Kofi Annan, is due to brief the United Nations security council about his talks in Damascus and proposals to end the violence. “The door of dialogue is still open. We are still engaged with Syrian authorities over Mr. Annan’s proposals,” Annan’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said in Geneva. “He’s been in telephone contact with the Syrian foreign minister during the course of the day … as well as with international actors, member states with influence.” Western diplomats expressed pessimism in private over Annan’s chances of success.
• The UN is to send experts to accompany a Syrian government-led humanitarian mission this weekend. The delegation will visit Homs. Deraa and Hama, analysts told al-Jazeera. Valerie Amos, the UN’s humanitarian chief said “it is increasingly vital that humanitarian organisations have unhindered access to identify urgent needs and provide emergency care and basic supplies”.
• Syrian forces have pressed their military offensive in the northern province of Idlib, driving 1,000 refugees across the Turkish border as the bloody revolt against President Bashar al-Assad entered a second year with no sign of political solution, Reuters reported, citing the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The monitoring group said 45 civilians were were killed in the frontier province, including 23 whose bodies were found with their hands tied behind their backs, as well as five army deserters.
• Opposition activists believe Deraa will be the next target for the military. Tanks on Thursday remained on the outskirts of the besieged town and clashes were sporadic and confined to areas near demonstration flashpoints.
• Opposition activists are calling for more protests, calling today the “Friday of popular resistance” and “a new stage in our revolution”. The uprising against the Assad regime has now entered its second year.
• Four members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will close their embassies in Syria over its violent crackdown on popular protests against the Assad regime, the Saudi Press Agency reported late on Thursday. GCC Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani, in a statement, was quoted as saying the move demonstrated a rejection of “the Syrian regime’s continuing killing and tormenting of the unarmed Syrian people, its insistence on the military option and ignoring all efforts for a way out of the tragic situation lived by the brotherly Syrian people”. Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates and Qatar were to close their embassies, after Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the other two GCC members, announced embassy closures on Wednesday.
• Fawaz Akhras, a Harley Street cardiologist and the father-in-law of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad has been acting as a close adviser to his son-in-law during his regime’s brutal crackdown on anti-government activists, according to a cache of what appear to be emails sent and received by Bashar al-Assad and his wife obtained by the Guardian. Akhras used a private email channel to the Syrian leader to offer advice on how the regime should spin its suppression of the uprising, including how best to rebut graphic video footage appearing to show the torture of children by Syrian forces.
• Syrian activists and opposition figures have reacted with outrage to the email cache revealed by the Guardian, saying that they showed Assad and his ruling circle were blase about the uprising in their country. The Guardian’s website was also reported to have been blocked in much of Syria on Thursday in an apparent attempt to prevent citizens from reading the Assad emails.
from Haroon Siddique