Preliminary results in Egypt's constitutional referendum show the draft approved by over 90 percent of voters, in what the military-backed government has portrayed as an endorsement of its legitimacy. Egyptian officials reported high voter turnout, with the state media saying it surpassed that from the Morsi government's constitutional referendum in 2012, citing unofficial counts, which excluded Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood, whose leaders were arrested after the ouster of Mohamed Morsi in July, boycotted the referendum. The vote advances the "road-map" transition plan of the military-backed government with the next step expected to be a presidential election. Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi implied a referendum victory could prod his presidential bid, and he appears to be the only serious candidate.
Head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Ahmet Uzumcu, said Thursday that the removal and destruction of Syria's most dangerous chemicals from its arsenal may not be completed until the end of June. The "primary" chemicals were slated to be destroyed by the end of March, but security concerns, bad weather, and bureaucratic issues delayed their transport. Uzumcu continued, however, that he is confident they can meet the deadline at the end of June. Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said that half of Syria's population, roughly 9.3 million people, is in urgent need of assistance. He addressed a donor conference in Kuwait seeking to raise $6.5 billion for the United Nations to provide medical care, food, water, and shelter for Syrians as the number of refugees has climbed dramatically and conditions inside Syria continue to deteriorate. By Wednesday, donor countries had pledged over $2.4 billion for Syrian assistance.
- The trial for the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has begun in the outskirts of The Haque, with four Hezbollah members being tried in absentia.
- A suspected suicide car bombing killed five people Thursday in Lebanon's northeastern town of Hermel, a Hezbollah stronghold near the border with Syria.
- The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released a report concluding that the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya was "likely preventable," criticizing the State Department.
- Israel conducted a series of air raids on the Gaza Strip injuring five people after five rockets were fired into southern Israel, intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.
- Iraqis in the Anbar city of Fallujah say ISIL fighters are distributing pamphlets calling on residents to fight alongside them, as well as give them money and shelter.
Arguments and Analysis
'Rumour and referendum in Egypt: Staying on side' (The Economist - Pomegranate Blog)
"Back in bustling Cairo, the government's get-out-the-yes-vote campaign takes many forms. Funded by aid from rich Gulf states, make-work schemes have sent teams of workmen to pave and clean streets, paint bridge railings and otherwise tidy the accumulated clutter of post-revolutionary neglect. In the posh district of Zamalek, new stripes have appeared on some roads, although, in their haste to complete the make-over, painters have in places made the newly demarcated lanes converge dangerously, or stray off on collision course with the kerb.
The same impatience can be seen in efforts to 'secure' the voting from what Egypt's media ceaselessly decry as Brotherhood terrorists and saboteurs. Overzealous police, for instance, took it upon themselves to arrest half a dozen fellows who were silly enough to think they might add a few posters counselling a no vote to the countless thousands chorusing YES. Some officials admit with a sigh that such security excesses threaten to undermine the legitimacy of the vote, if not the regime itself. Most, however, accuse the foreign press of being unfair. Why, they ask, do you stress such negative details rather than the bigger, positive picture of Egypt's return to stability?
Significant sums of that generous Gulf aid have gone towards addressing this perceived image problem. Among several Washington public relations firms recently hired, one sent a film crew to Egypt to shoot some pretty footage of order and progress. Within hours of setting foot on the streets of Cairo, they were arrested."
'To achieve peace in Syria, better start in Aleppo not Geneva' (Jean-Pierre Filiu, Al Jazeera English)
"I spent part of last summer in the part of Aleppo under rebel groups control, embedded with the civilian population, not depending on the dubious 'protection' of any armed group. I could see how families are torn apart, with Skype as the main venue for keeping contact between the two halves of Aleppo. Patriots on each side, despaired to see their city destroyed, are discreetly cooperating to maintain basic services to the population.
Since the beginning of this year, the fighting groups in Aleppo have launched what they called their 'second revolution', now against Al-Qaeda. After days of intense battles and hundreds of casualties, they have successfully driven ISIS out of the city. They had no time to celebrate this victory, since the regime started -- at once -- a major offensive against them.
So the Syrian revolutionary forces, not the regime, are fighting Al-Qaeda, while the same forces are fighting the regime on a second front. A ceasefire in Aleppo would, therefore, not only be a blessing for the battered population, but it would also open at last the possibility for consolidating a zone liberated from Al-Qaeda.
If this ceasefire holds, with the international monitoring that this requires, a local version of the [transitional governing authority] could even be established to run the city. Aleppo would then become a laboratory for a bolder and wider political transition in post-conflict Syria."
--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images