Welcome to Middle East Live.
Escalating tension between Syria and Turkey continues to dominate the agenda. Here’s a roundup of the latest developments:
• Turkey has allowed a Syrian passenger plane to resume its course after it was grounded on suspicion of carrying weapons. On Wednesday, military jets escorted the Damascus-bound Airbus A-320, carrying about 30 passengers, into the airport in Ankara hours after Turkey’s chief of staff said his troops would respond with greater force if bombardments from Syria kept hitting Turkish territory, Turkish state-run television said. “We are determined to control weapons transfers to a regime that carries out such brutal massacres against civilians. It is unacceptable that such a transfer is made using our airspace,” Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.
• No Russian weapons were on board the plane a source in a Russian arms exporting agency told Interfax, Reuters reports. “Neither weapons nor any kind of systems or parts for military equipment were on board or could have been on board,” the news agency quoted a source.
• The foreign supply of weapons to the Free Syrian Army is drying up because of regional anxiety about arms proliferation, US nervousness about funding jihadis ahead of the US presidential election, and divisions between the rebels’ main backers Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Martin Chulov and Ian Black report. One well placed source said: “The Qataris are much more proactive than the Saudis. The Saudis are not interested in democracy, they just want to be rid of Bashar. They would be happy with a Yemeni solution that gets rid of the president and leaves the regime intact.” Mustafa Alani of the Saudi-financed Gulf Research Centre in Abu Dhabi, added: “The Saudis fear that there will be blowback from Syria like there was from Iraq and Afghanistan. They don’t want chaos. They want the Syrian military to take over. The whole region wants that, including the Israelis. Everyone wants an organised structure of army officers who will keep weapons under control and make sure that they are handed in.”
Bandar’s reputation as an inveterate networker and hawk have fuelled anticipation about how he will handle the bloodiest crisis of the Arab spring … He is famously hostile to Iran, the Saudi kingdom’s great rival, and is said to advocate links with Israel, seeing it as a lesser threat than the Islamic republic.
• The joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on the first stop of his second regional tour, AFP reports. His spokesman said Brahimi will hold wide-ranging talks on the crisis in Syria. He is expected to visit Damascus as part of the tour.
• Britain has sent military personnel to Jordan, according to the Times after it confirmed it had sent troops to the Jordan-Syrian border to as part of a taskforce aimed at stopping the Syrian conflict spreading south. A foreign office spokesman told the Times: “We are working with international partners and countries neighbouring Syria to improve border controls to reduce the risk of weapons proliferating to third parties. We have made clear to Assad, directly and through other parties, that any use or proliferation of CBW [chemical and biological weapons] would be completely unacceptable.”
• Two British nationals arrested by counter-terrorism police at Heathrow on Tuesday night are being questioned in connection with the abduction and attempted murder of a Sunday Times photographer in Syria during the summer. Scotland Yard confirmed that one line of police inquiry was a possible connection with the capture and detention of a war photographer, John Cantlie, in August.
• Two former heads of US diplomatic security in Libya have told a congressional hearing that requests for additional agents to protect diplomats from the growing threat of armed militias were rejected by the state department ahead of the killing of ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in Benghazi. Republicans painted a picture of an incompetent state department failing to heed warnings of a growing terrorist threat or to prepare for a possible attack on the anniversary of 9/11, and then covering up the circumstances of the full scale militia assault that killed Stevens.
• The authority of Egypt’s president will be curbed by parliament, according to a partial draft of the new constitution released on Wednesday, the Egypt Independent reports. Kamal Gibril, head of the political systems committee, said the committee felt that a mixed system that divides power between the president and a prime minister who represents the parliamentary majority is best suited to Egypt.
• A court has acquitted all 25 former senior Egyptian officials accused of sending men on horseback and camels to attack protesters during the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, Ahram Online reports. Infamous lawyer Mortada Mansour, who allegedly recorded a speech the night before the battle inciting thugs to attack Tahrir Square, was among the accused. Blogger Zeinobia expresses her disgust at the verdict: “I can not believe it !! I am so angry. Who killed those protesters ??”