• Hopes that emergency supplies will reach Homs today
• Syrian regime forces control Baba Amr
• Iranians vote in parliamentary election
8.57am: The Syrian regime is claiming that it has found the body of Spanish journalist Javier Espinosa in Homs. A report by the official news agency, Sana, says:
The corpses of US Journalist Marie Colvin, French Journalist Remi Ochlik, and Spanish Journalist Javier Espinosa were uncovered by competent authorities at Baba Amro, Homs following humanitarian motivated strenuous efforts of search and follow up.
Espinosa escaped to Lebanon earlier this week. Interviewed on CNN about the regime’s claim of his death, Espinosa said: “Well, I think they’re quite wrong, no?”
The Syrian news agency report continued:
The corpses, added the [foreign ministry] source, are to be transferred into a Damascus hospital for forensic DNA analysis, to be compared with the DNA to be received from their respective countries, before being handed over to the Embassies of Poland, on behalf of the US Embassy, France and Spain and in presence of representatives from the Syrian Red Crescent and International Red Cross.
“Syria offers condolences to the families of the three journalists, Syria, however, voices the hope that all foreigners would evade entering to the Syrian territories in an illegal way and to evade going to the places where the terrorist armed groups are present,” concluded the source.
8.45am: (all times GMT) Welcome to Middle East Live. Today we are continuing to focus on the turmoil in Syria but we shall also be keeping watch on Iran, where parliamentary elections are under way.
Here’s a brief roundup of the latest developments:
• The Red Cross, together with the Syrian Red Crescent, is expected to arrive in the Baba Amr district of Homs today, delivering food and medical supplies. There are also plans to evacuate some of those wounded during the month-long siege. The operation was made possible when the Syrian authorities granted permission. We aim to bring updates on this throughout the day.
• The Syrian regime is now in control of Baba Amr following the rebels’ “tactical” retreat yesterday. Peter Beaumont describes how it happened in a report for the Guardian. Here’s an extract:
Amid reports that government troops were carrying out reprisal killings against civilians trapped in the snow-blanketed Homs neighbourhood, Baba Amr finally fell after Free Syrian Army fighters said they were abandoning their positions.
The few fighters and activists who remained described appalling scenes with “hundreds” of dead and wounded.
“The Free Syrian Army and all the other fighters have left Baba Amr. They pulled out,” one activist said from Homs.
The retreat followed heavy clashes around the suburb on Wednesday that took place as an unnamed Syrian official said the army intended to “cleanse” the opposition centre.
* Also in the Guardian, Martin Chulov has pieced-together a detailed account of the journalists’ escape from Homs earlier this week.
• Voting has begun in Iran’s parliamentary election which is expected to reinforce the power of the clerical establishment, headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, over political rivals led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
• An early report from Reuters says polling stations in affluent northern Tehran were quiet, though voters were queuing in central and downtown parts of the city.
• Setting the scene for the election, Guardian journalist Saeed Kamali Dehghan says that as far as the opposition is concerned it is a non-event:
Unlike the bitterly contested 2009 presidential election, Iran’s parliamentary vote on Friday is not a confrontation between the regime and the opposition, it is a battlefield for factions within the establishment, fighting each other for a greater share of power. For critics of the regime, it is a non-event.
But as the first public polls since the rigged results in 2009 that turned hope for change into sorrow and bloodshed, it will be a litmus test for the regime’s legitimacy as the threat of war looms.
Turnout will be crucial, which is why Iran’s intelligence minister, Heidar Moslehi, has described it as the most sensitive elections in the history of the Islamic republic.
Reformists have largely refrained from running and many opposition groups – infuriated that their leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, remain under house arrest – have called for a countrywide boycott of the vote.
Activists from the opposition Green movement have taken to social networking websites to urge Iranians to embarrass the regime by staying at home. Whether that will happen remains to be seen.
from Brian Whitaker