Tony Blair to say battle against Islamic extremism is paramount

The former prime minister will warn the west it needs to take sides in the Middle East and move the battle against Islamist extremism to the top of the political agenda.

In a speech to Bloomberg in London on Wednesday, he will say:

The important point for western opinion is that this is a struggle with two sides. So when we look at the Middle East and beyond it to Pakistan or Iran and elsewhere, it isn’t just a vast unfathomable mess with no end in sight and no one worthy of our support. It is in fact a struggle in which our own strategic interests are intimately involved; where there are indeed people we should support and who, ironically, are probably in the majority if only that majority were mobilised, organised and helped.

Full story | Live reaction to Tony Blair’s speech

Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP

Syrian rebels warn of potential Homs massacre as regime troops advance

Syrian government forces stepped up efforts to advance on opposition areas of the central city of Homs on Thursday amid warnings of a potential massacre following months of siege and starvation.

But reports from the scene described rebels clinging to their positions despite tank shelling, sniper fire and air strikes mounted to help government troops recapture several enclaves in the old city. Full story

Photograph: Stringer/Reuters

Iranian killer’s execution halted at last minute by victim’s parents

Convict had noose around his neck when victim’s mother approached, slapped him in the face and spared his life. Full story

Photograph: Arash Khamooshi /Isna

Does a growing global youth population fuel political unrest?

Young people under 30 are the majority in many countries in the Middle East and South America, yet politicians do little or nothing for them. Is the demographics of the ‘youth bulge’ enough to explain the huge rise in disaffection? Patrick Kingsley reports

Pictured: Yemenis shout slogans during a rally in the capital, Sanaa, on 18 September 2013. Photograph: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

Image of Syrian boy in desert triggers sympathy – and then a backlash

A heart-rending picture of a four-year-old Syrian boy apparently alone in the desert, separated from his family and clutching a tattered plastic bag of possessions, seemed to epitomise the refugee crisis caused by the civil war.

But it was not quite what it seemed at first glance. A second photograph, posted by UN staff on Tuesday, showed that the boy was straggling behind a larger group of refugees. “He is separated – he is not alone,” Andrew Harper, head of the refugee agency UNHCR in Jordan, who took the first picture, clarified. Marwan had been reunited with his mother within 10 minutes. Read more

Photographs, top to bottom: Andrew Harper/UNHCR/Twitter and Jared Kohler/UNHCR/Twitter.

New Afghanistan law to silence victims of violence against women

A new Afghan law will allow men to attack their wives, children and sisters without fear of judicial punishment, undoing years of slow progress in tackling violence in a country plagued by honour killings, forced marriage and vicious domestic abuse. Read more

Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty

Afghanistan election guide: everything you need to know

Eleven candidates, 12 million voters, more than 6,000 polling centres – and a lot of headaches for the victor. But who are the men who would be Afghan president and what do they offer? Find out more

Photograph: Musadeq Sadeq/AP

Syria wiping neighbourhoods off the map to punish residents – rights group

The Syrian government has demolished thousands of buildings, in some cases entire neighbourhoods, in parts of Damascus and Hama, as part of a collective punishment against residents of rebel-held areas, Human Rights Watch has found.

Satellite imagery taken over both cities has revealed seven areas where neighbourhoods have either been largely destroyed or totally demolished. None of the destruction was caused during combat. Rather, the buildings have been systemically destroyed using bulldozers and explosives placed by troops who first ordered residents to leave, then supervised the demolitions. Read more

Photograph: HRW/2014 DigitalGlobe

Hairless hero: Iranian teacher shaves head in solidarity with bullied pupil

When Iranian schoolteacher Ali Mohammadian noticed that one of his students was being bullied after going bald as a result of a mysterious illness, he decided to show solidarity and shave his own hair. In no time, his entire class shaved their heads and the bullying stopped.

Now, Mohammadian, who teaches at Sheikh Shaltoot’s elementary school in Marivan, a Kurdish city in the west of Iran, has become a national hero. President Hassan Rouhani has praised him, the government has offered financial support for the pupil’s medical treatment and his story has reached the four corners of his country. Read more

Photograph: Bahman Shahbazi for Tasnim News

Smoke and fire from burning cars are seen following an explosion in the Haret Hreik neighbourhood of Beirut, Lebanon. Two people were killed in the suicide car bombing. More on this story.

Photograph: AFP/Getty Images