Good morning. Welcome to Middle East Live. Here is a summary of the latest developments.
• President Bashar al-Assad has expressed optimism that a political solution can be reached to end the crisis in Syria, despite the continuing bloodshed. Lebanese Democratic Party leader Talal Arslan said Assad “stressed that there is progress in the political process and that he is hopeful and optimistic despite all the circumstances,” the Daily Star reports. The MP said Assad said the Syrian army is in control of the majority of regions and added: “President Assad said he was pleased with the course of events on the ground and also at the political level.” In another report, Assad is quoted as saying that next year he will either run for president or leave politics but remain in Damascus to work in a clinic.
• The EU has renewed its blanket arms embargo on both sides in the conflict and Britain secured the agreement of its partners to make it easier to supply “non-lethal” equipment and training to maintain security in rebel-held areas, which was not previously possible. But it had not sought agreement to send weapons, Whitehall officials insisted, rejecting claims from Brussels that it had.
• Russia has been accused by western diplomats of reneging on a pledge to stop supplying arms to the Syrian regime, the Independent reports. It says Russia has stressed that there was no United Nations prohibition on supplies and it was simply fulfilling its contractual obligations. Meanwhile it says Britain was left isolated in Brussels in its efforts to strengthen militarily the moderate revolutionary factions.
• Syrian leaders should be brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face justice for murder and torture, UN investigators urged on Monday. Carla del Ponte, the former ICC chief prosecutor who is working on a rolling UN inquiry into Syria, said high-level perpetrators had been identified and insisted the Hague court should act.
• The editor of Egypt’s largest English-language news website – the state-owned Ahram Online – has been forced out from his job, allegedly by allies of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s ruling party. Hani Shukrallah, one of Egypt’s most respected journalists and a fierce critic of the Brotherhood, left his post last month. Three weeks on, Shukrallah has claimed he was forced from office by Ahram’s new chairman, Mamdouh el-Wali, said to be both a Brotherhood sympathiser, and a recent government appointee.
• Barack Obama will receive one of Israel’s most prestigious honours during his upcoming visit to the Middle East. On Monday, the office of the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, announced that Obama will be given the presidential medal of distinction in March. A statement said that the honour recognised Obama’s “unique and significant contribution to strengthening the State of Israel and the security of its citizens”. Obama’s White House has always maintained its support for Israel, but the president has had a tense relationship with the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, particularly regarding West Bank settlements and the lack of a peace process with the Palestinians.