Poll: Egypt favors new constitution
CAIRO, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Egyptians appear to have voted in favor of the new constitution, with initial results showing some 64 percent backing the charter, officials said.
"The Egyptian people continue their march towards finalizing the construction of a democratic modern state, after turning the page on oppression," a statement released by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party said.
Preliminary results of Saturday's polling show 64 percent voted in favor of the constitution and 36 percent rejecting it, al-Masry al-Youm said Sunday.
After two rounds of voting, official results are not expected until Monday, the BBC said, noting if the constitution passes, parliamentary elections must be held within three months.
Public support of the constitution will give a boost to Islamists who believe the new constitution will pave the way for a smooth and swift transition to democracy under President Mohamed Morsi, Ahram Online said.
Hours before voting ended Saturday, Vice President Mahmoud Mekki announced his resignation, saying politics does not suit his professional background, Egyptian media reports said. In the past month, some 17 of Morsi's top advisers have resigned, the BBC said.
Meanwhile, Morsi's presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said the president had appointed 90 members to the Shura Council the upper house of Parliament, including senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders, al-Masry al-Youm said.
On Nov. 22, Morsi issued a decree granting himself new powers, stripping the judiciary of the ability to question his decisions. His decision caused a major public outcry and led to violent demonstrations throughout Egypt between Morsi's supporters and opponents. Morsi then revoked the initial decree but refused to back down on the draft constitution, the BBC said.
Lavrov: Assad 'not going anywhere'
DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Syrian President Bashar Assad is "not going anywhere" despite growing pressure from his country's civil war, a Russian diplomat said.
Many observers say neither Assad's regime nor the anti-government opposition will win the now 21-month civil war in Syria, the Financial Times reported.
Assad has taken steps to secure its chemical weapons but has not yet bowed to western-led international efforts to force him to step down.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Assad's recent actions do not signify an attempt on his part to flee the country.
"Listen, no one is going to win this war," Lavrov told reporters at the weekend. "Assad is not going anywhere, no matter what anyone says, be it China or Russia."
Russia and China have backed the Assad regime since the start of the conflict in Syria, deadlocking many United Nations measures on the situation there.
Joint UN-Arab League Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi is due in the country in the next few weeks as the latest in efforts to find a way to resolve the conflict.
Israel preparing for Syria changes
JERUSALEM, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Israel is preparing for radical changes in the Syrian regime, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.
Israel is "following dramatic developments in Syria, cooperating with the U.S. and the international community and taking the necessary steps to prepare for the possibility of radical changes to the regime with all the consequences these may hold for networks of sensitive weapons," Israel Radio quoted Netanyahu saying.
Netanyahu said "dramatic developments" in Syria are taking place on a daily basis.
Turning to the recent escalation of violence in the West Bank, Netanyahu revealed plans to visit the army's Central Command division and discuss ways of addressing the violent incidents there. His comments come amid a report in Britain's The Sunday Times that said Hamas chief Khaled Meshal has instructed West Bank sleeper cells to prepare for an armed struggle in order to take control of Palestinian land.
The British newspaper said Israel's army intelligence has said there are strong indications Iran is encouraging Hamas to replace Fatah in the West Bank and noted the Hamas military wing receives funding from Iran's Revolutionary Guards. With Iran losing its closest ally Syria, it cannot afford to lose its support in the West Bank, the newspaper said.
Tawfik Tirawi, the former Palestinian intelligence head and a senior Fatah member, told the newspaper "we are on the verge of catastrophe. Hamas wants intifada (an uprising) and now only a spark is need to light the inferno. Hamas will take over the West Bank," he said.
4 die when car plunges into Canadian river
TRACADIE-SHEILA, New Brunswick, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Four young people who had been out for a night of birthday revelry died early Saturday when their car plunged into a river in eastern Canada, police said.
The bodies of three men, ages 18-20, and a 17-year-old girl were recovered from their vehicle in the Tracadie River in New Brunswick, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported. The crash occurred about 1 a.m.
A relative told the news network the four had been out celebrating one of their birthdays.
The Royal Canadian Mounted police said the car was driving up a hill when it slid off the icy road and into the river in the backwoods near Tracadie-Sheila on the Acadian Peninsula.
The names of the victims were being withheld pending notification of relatives.