11.06am: Syria's president Assad has a signed a new law that will impose the death penalty on anyone caught distributing weapons "with the aim of committing terrorist acts".
The regime has branded political opponents as terrorists since the start of the uprising, so the new law appears to be another signal of its determination to carry on with the crackdown.
10.49am: The Democratic Alliance, a political bloc in which the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party is the biggest player, has released a statement throwing its support firmly behind the protesters
Confirming its intention to participate in the sit-in at the supreme judiciary court until violence against protesters is halted and executive powers are handed over to the new parliament, it says:
Scaf (Supreme Council of Armed Forces) has failed in the management of the transitional period up to this critical moment, and it bears full responsibility for immediate cessation of violence, abuse of the citizens, assault of female demonstrators, the targeting of the revolutionaries who stood in the face of heavy-handed attacks, and for the immediate release of all protesters detained for no legal reason.
The conferees insist on bringing to justice and accountability military leaders and security officials responsible for ordering and carrying out violent attacks on the protesters, sitters and demonstrators, and on the formation of a special independent judicial commission of inquiry to take the necessary measures for the afore-mentioned purpose with full authority to initiate an investigation with the military and the security forces in charge of the area at the time. The conferees also condemn attempts to tarnish the image of the revolution and the revolutionaries who were always determined to maintain the peaceful nature of their protest and sit-in, which lasted nearly three weeks without any attack on a single institution.
10.46am: Video filmed by the Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm TV
at dawn today shows security forces in riot gear and protesters hurling projectiles at each other. What sounds like gunshots can be heard in the background.
Four people were killed in the raid on this morning's raid on Tahrir Square, a doctor told Ahram Online (see 10.07am).
10.22am: Reports of the killing of scores of Syrian army defectors in Idlib are sketchy, but the area is known to be a centre of desertion.
Dissident Ammar Abdulhamid claimed 72 defectors were killed in Kinsafrah.
The Syrian Observatory for Human said 60 to 70 defected troops were killed as they fled military positions between Kinsafrah and Kefer Quaid.
Last week residents of Kinsafrah were filmed hoisting an independence flag after reports that hundreds of troops switched sides in the town.
10.07am: Four people were killed when the Egyptian security forces raided Tahrir Square this morning,
a doctor told Ahram Online reports.
Yamen El Genedy, a doctor at the Omar Makram Mosque field hospital, told Ahram Online that he saw four people admitted at 8 this morning. All of them had been shot dead. "The bullets had entered and exited their bodies, making it seem like the result of snipers. The force of the gunshots was very strong," said El Genedy. One of the deaths, he added, was a 19-year-old.
9.50am: The US state department has also appears to suspect Syria of playing for time by signing a deal with the Arab League to allow in observers.
Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters:
We've seen too many broken promises from the Syrian regime, so we're really less interested in a signed piece of paper than we are in actions to implement commitments made.
We firmly support the calls by the Arab League and the stipulations in this agreement that monitors, international human rights monitors, would have unfettered access to all locations in Syria, that the violence will stop, that all political prisoners will be released, and that armed elements of the Syrian regime will be withdrawn from populated areas. So it's on that basis that we will judge the seriousness of the Syrian regime with regard to this – its apparent acquiescence now to the Arab League's proposal.
On the other hand, Russia and China have welcomed the deal.
Russia's foreign ministry said:
We believe the document signed in Cairo offers an opportunity to use a mechanism of independent monitoring on the ground, to provide protection for all Syrian citizens and to stabilize the situation. This chance must be utilized.
8.21am: Welcome to Middle East Live. Grim reports of escalating violence in both Syria and Egypt continue to emerge. Here's a round up of the latest developments.
• Up to 70 army deserters were killed on Monday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, making it one one of the bloodiest days in uprising so far.
A survivor told the Observatory that defected soldiers were shot by machine gun fire
as they tried to flee their base. It also counted 40 civilians shot dead across Syria in the crackdown on protests.
• The regime of president Bashar al-Assad has signed an Arab League initiative that will allow observers into the country, in a move seen as another stalling tactic by Damascus.
Syria's foreign minister, Walid al-Moualem, said the observers will have a one-month mandate that could be extended by another month if both sides agree. The observers will be "free" in their movements and "under the protection of the Syrian government," he said, but would not be allowed to visit sensitive military sites. Dissident Ammar Abdulhamid said the deal gave the regime more time
to allow the crackdown to continue:
The move was not a concession, but another stalling tactic. Assad was just granted several weeks of respite in which he can do pretty much what he wants, knowing that nothing will take place in the meantime on the regional or international scene to hurt him.
• The authorities have released US-born blogger Razan Ghazzawi who was charged last week with fomenting sectarian strife and spreading false information through a secret organisation.
The Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, where she worked, said in a statement that Ghazzawi was freed on Sunday night on bail.
• Egyptian troops and riot police raided Cairo's Tahrir Square early on Tuesday in their latest attempt to evict protesters who want the ruling military to immediately step down, according to a field hospital doctor.
Ahmed Saad said a 15-year-old protester was in critical condition after suffering a gunshot wound in the attack, AP reports.
• Prominent political personalities and newly elected MPs are planning to stage a sit-in at Cairo's supreme judiciary court to demand immediate halt of violence against protesters, Jadaliyya reports.
The sit-in will also demand an immediate transfer of power from military to civilian rule, it says.
• Amnesty has condemned the excessive use of force used by the army against protesters.
"It is clear that either the military police has been given orders to disperse demonstrators at any cost, or the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces does not control the army and security forces. Either scenario is equally worrying," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
• US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has accused the security forces of targeting female protesters for beatings.
In a speech in Washington she said:
Recent events in Egypt have been particularly shocking. Women are being beaten and humiliated in the same streets where they risked their lives for the revolution only a few short months ago. And this is part of a deeply troubling pattern. Egyptian women have been largely shut out of decision-making in the transition by both the military authorities and the major political parties. At the same time, they have been specifically targeted both by security forces and by extremists ...
Women are being attacked, stripped, and beaten in the streets. This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonours the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform, and is not worthy of a great people.
• Revolutionaries are partly to blame for the clashes, according to a Foreign Policy magazine article by Steven Cook from the Council on Foreign Relations.
What is perhaps most disturbing is that the weekend's battle ... didn't seem to have a point. The young toughs who descended on Qasr al-Aini Street after news spread of the Army's efforts to clear the area seemed less concerned with principle than combat ...
If the revolutionaries and their supporters are now stunned that the Islamists -- both the Brotherhood and the Salafists -- are set to dominate post-uprising Egypt, they must take a hard look at what they have done, or not done, over the last 11 months. Indeed, their ability to read Egyptian public sentiment is as bad as that of the military, and a good deal more myopic.
The Muslim Brothers are just about the only ones who have played post-Mubarak Egypt well.
• Thousands of historic manuscripts are feared destroyed after the Institute of Egypt, a research centre set up by Napoleon Bonaparte during France's invasion in the late 18th century, caught fire during the clashes.
Volunteers have spent the past two days trying to salvage what's left of some 192,000 books, journals and writings from the Institute.
• Iraq's Shia-led government has issued an arrest warrant for the vice-president, Tariq al-Hashimi, the country's highest ranking Sunni official, on terrorism charges.
The move, a day after the last US troops left Iraq and ended the nearly nine-year war, could signal a sharp escalation in the sectarian tensions that drove Iraq to the brink of civil war a few years ago.
• A Libyan military commander and rebel leader has launched legal proceedings against the British government over his rendition and alleged "barbaric" treatment meted out to him and his pregnant wife.
Abdel Hakim Belhadj, head of the Tripoli Military Council and a former leader of the militant Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, is suing ministers and MI6 for the part he claims they played in secretly sending him and his wife to Libya in March 2004.
Matthew Weaver and Haroon Siddique
Tuesday 20 December 2011 11.15 GMT guardian.co.uk