Top news: Syrian rebels gained ground in the central Hama province on Thursday, taking control of parts of the strategic town of Morek, which lies along the route from Damascus to Aleppo. Victory over President Bashar al-Assad's forces in Morek would allow the rebels to cut off government supply lines into the northern Idlib province, where rebels have made sizeable gains. Rebels also laid siege to the Alawite town of al-Tleisia, contributing to fears that the conflict could become even more deeply sectarian.
Meanwhile, additional reports emerged detailing the use of cluster bombs by government forces, including a Dec. 12 attack on the town of Marea, which deliberately targeted civilians. The Syrian army has also resumed firing Scud ballistic missiles at rebel strongholds, the New York Times reports. In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin, long a stalwart ally of Assad, further distanced himself from the Syria government, saying Russia would not defend it "at any price." Putin remained steadfastly opposed to foreign intervention, but told journalists, "We are not concerned with the fate of Assad's regime."
Benghazi: Deputy Secretaries of State William Burns and Thomas Nides testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee Thursday, following the release of a damning independent report on the 9/11 Benghazi attack. The report, authored the Accountability Review Board appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, placed most of the blame on midlevel officials for "systemic and leadership and management deficiencies" and "grossly inadequate" security. Nides told senators he accepted all 29 of the review board's recommendations.
- The U.N. Security Council unanimously authorized an African-led military force to oust Islamist militants from northern Mali.
- Thousands of people took refuge in a U.N. compound in Wau, South Sudan, after deadly clashes broke out between armed youths and the police.
- Fighting between tribes in Kenya's coastal Tana River Delta left at least 40 dead on Friday.
- Security forces clashed with armed demonstrators outside a police station in Benghazi, leaving four dead.
- Supporters and opponents of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsy clashed in the coastal city if Alexandria on the eve of the last round of the constitutional referendum.
- Turkey plans to start transporting troops to and from domestic military bases by air, following a string of deadly attacks on convoys by the PKK.
- House Republicans cancelled a vote on the so-called "Plan B," which would have raised taxes on Americans making more than $1 million, leaving the fiscal cliff unresolved.
- Pedro Delgado, governor of Ecuador's central bank, resigned after admitting that he lied about having a degree in economics.
- More than 20,000 people have disappeared in Mexico over the past six years, according to a new report.
- India and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations vowed to step up maritime security cooperation as tensions rise with China.
- Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi won a fourth successive term as chief minister of India's Gujarat state.
- North Korea indicated Friday that it intends to try Kenneth Bae, an American tourist detained last month, on unspecified criminal charges.
- A Russian court reduced oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky's prison sentence by two years, paving the way for his release in 2014.
- Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Thursday that it would be "morally questionable" for incumbent Prime Minister Mario Monti to run in the coming election.
- In retaliation for the Magnitsky Act, the lower house of Russia's State Duma approved a law banning Americans from adopting Russian children.