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Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Syria crisis: US and Russia divided on Assad's future - live updates

• Obama and Putin call for peace but split over Assad
• Robert Mood to brief UNSC on suspended observer mission
• Muslim Brotherhood vows to defy Egypt's generals
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Vladimir Putin with Barack Obama at the G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico. Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP
10.04am: Syria: The Syrian government claims to be trying to evacuate civilians from Homs, as activists broadcast more live footage of the bombardment of the city.
"Contacts have been made with the leadership of the international monitors, in cooperation with the local Syrian authorities in the city of Homs to bring out these Syrian citizens," Syria's foreign ministry said, according to the state news agency.
After a decision to suspend the UN monitoring mission, Robert Mood, head of the mission, appealed to all parties to allow trapped civilians to flee areas worst hit by the violence.
"The parties must reconsider their position and allow women, children, the elderly and the injured to leave conflict zones, without any preconditions and ensure their safety," Mood said.
10.02am: Syria: Amid continuing reports of defections from the Syrian military, al-Jazeera is reporting that Adnan Sello, a leader of the Syria's Chemical Warfare Division, has defected and is now in Turkey. We are unable to confirm this at present but it could be an important development if true.
There has been growing concern about Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons – not because the regime is thought likely to use them but because of fears over what might happen to them should the regime fall.
The BBC quotes Leonard Spector, a nonproliferation expert based in Washington:
Syria has one of the world's largest chemical weapon arsenals, including traditional chemical agents, such as mustard, and more modern nerve agents, such as Sarin, and possibly persistent nerve agents, such as VX.
Syria is thought to have a number of major chemical weapon complexes, some in areas of current conflict, such as the Homs and Hama regions. The bases are said to be guarded by elite forces, but whether they would stay at their posts if the Assad regime collapses cannot be predicted.
Meanwhile, one of the latest unconfirmed defection videos (above), purports to show a number of high-ranking officers switching to the opposition in Homs.
9.35am: Syria: Activists in Douma, a suburb to the north-east of Damascus, claim that 29 people were killed by government forces on Monday.
The Revolutionary Command Council in Damascus Suburb said several children and military defectors were among the victims.
It posted disturbing videos claiming to show the bodies of the children who had died.
Another clip showed the physical destruction of the area.
Video has also emerged purporting to show a tank destroyed by the rebel Free Syrian Army in Douma.
8.43am: (all times BST) Welcome to Middle East Live. Syria and Egypt remain the focal points.
The main item on today's agenda is a briefing to the UN security council and by Robert Mood, the head of the supervision mission to Syria.
The official presidential election results in Egypt are not expected until tomorrow, but the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate Mohammed Morsi is claiming victory.


Barack Obama and Russia's president Vladimir Putin issued a joint call to end the violence in Syria, but the Russian president refused to support US efforts to persuade Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power. A joint statement issued after a bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, said simply that the Syrian people should independently and democratically be allowed to decide their own future, but there was no joint call for Assad to stand down, as the White House has been urging. It said:
In order to to stop the the bloodshed in Syria, we call for an immediate cessation of the violence and express full support for the efforts of the UN and Arab states joint special envoy Kofi Annan, including on moving forward on political transition to a democratic pluralist political system that would be implemented by the Syrians themselves in the framework of Syrian sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.We are united in our belief that the Syrian people should have the opportunity to independently and democratically choose their own future.

The "anodyne" statement is significant for what it does not mention, according to former US diplomat Daniel Serwer.
Neither the Russian arms shipments to the regime nor the Saudi and Qatari arms flowing to the opposition are mentioned. Ditto the suspended UN monitoring mission. There is no hint of intervention other than through the Annan plan and the UN Security Council. The Americans are essentially accepting the Russian emphasis on dialogue and peaceful means, while reiterating their hope for eventually democratic ends.
Hope is not a policy ... Anodyne is not a policy either, unless you want to convey how impotent the former superpowers have become.
Norwegian Major General Robert Mood. Robert Mood the head of the UN supervision mission in Syria is due to brief the security council after his mission was suspended over the weekend. The diplomatic blog Inner City Press says there is confusion over whether the mission activities are continuing.
Russia has raised the stakes by confirming that it was preparing to send marines to its naval base in Syria, the Telegraph reports.
The planned deployment was designed to send a powerful signal thatRussia would not tolerate foreign military intervention in Syria, according to a Western defence source. It was apparently ordered after the Kremlin came to conclusion that Western powers were preparing to circumvent the United Nations Security Council – where Russia holds a veto – by unilaterally authorising Nato military action in Syria. The source said that Russia had "completely misunderstood" Western intentions.
Up to 27 people were killed in the suburbs of Damascus on Monday as the security forces intensified a security campaign in the suburbs of the capital, according to activists. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 19 people died including two children. The activist group, the Syrian Revolution General Commission, said 27 people were killed in the area, including four children.


The Muslim Brotherhood has vowed to face down Egypt's ruling generals after declaring that its candidate had won the presidential election and would refuse to accept the junta's last-ditch attempts to engineer a constitutional coup, writes Jack Shenker and Abdel-Rahman Hussein in Cairo.
An 11th-hour constitutional declaration issued unilaterally by Scaf awarded the generals sweeping powers including the right to put forward legislation and an effective veto over clauses in the new constitution, and formalised the army's ability to detain civilians and sweep out of barracks at moments of "internal unrest".
Political analysts described the move as a constitutional obscenity and said it left the three major institutions of the post-Mubarak Egyptian state – the presidency (now curtailed), the parliament (now dissolved) and the constitutional assembly (now floundering in legal uncertainty) – all under the full or partial influence of the armed forces.
If, as expected Mohamed Morsi, is declared winner of the presidential election, the Brotherhood's decision not to boycott the poll will have been vindicated, says a Guardian editorial. The Brotherhood's candidate benefited from a sympathy vote following last week's decision to dissolve parliament, it says.
The biggest miscalculation that Egypt's ruling military council, Scaf, made was to have its judges on the constitutional council declare the Islamist-dominated parliament invalid. Two days before the presidential poll, this may have tipped the balance in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohamed Morsi. If the Brotherhood squandered public sympathy by doing little with its time in parliament, and losing 5m votes as a result, the court restored the Brotherhood's image as a victim of military fiat.
Besides, it became clear for all to see what the plan of the generals had been all along: to usurp parliament by giving itself legislative power; to usurp the constitution by creating its own body of authors; and to seize the presidency.
The United States expressed alarm that its protégés in the Egyptian army were abusing hopes for democracy by ordering more military rule, Reuters reports. "We are deeply concerned about the new amendments to the constitutional declaration, including the timing of their announcement as polls were closing," a Pentagon spokesman said.
State department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland added:
We call on Scaf to restore popular and international confidence in the democratic transition process by following through on their stated commitments to an inclusive, constitutional drafting process; the timely seating of a democratically elected parliament; and the swift, permanent transfer of power to a civilian government. There can be no going back on the democratic transition, and the United States stands with the Egyptian people in their aspiration to choose their own leaders.
The Egyptian blogger Zeinobia expresses fears of violence if Ahmed Shafiq is declared winner of the election at an announcement tomorrow.
She writes:
I fear Algerian scenario for real this time. You can not charge people with hope and victory like that , then give them the shock of their lives.
She also posted these images of Muslim Brotherhood supporters celebrating what they think was the victory of their candidate Mohamed Morsi.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, 89, has appointed his brother Prince Salman, the defence minister, as crown prince and heir apparent, ensuring a smooth succession for the world's biggest oil exporting country. The appointment, reported on state television, was announced in a royal decree one day after the burial of Crown Prince Nayef, the interior minister, who died on Saturday.


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