Middle East Updates Explosion, Gunfire Along Egypt-Gaza Border

'Egypt's Jon Stewart' takes post at Harvard; Al Jazeera: Egypt may free jailed journalist Mohammed Fahmy within hours; Homemade bomb explodes in central Cairo, Egypt.

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Popular Egyptian TV satirist Bassem Youssef says he, too, was accused of "propagating and promoting homosexuality and obscenity."
Popular Egyptian TV satirist Bassem Youssef says he, too, was accused of "propagating and promoting homosexuality and obscenity."Credit: AP

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6:40 P.M. UN agency alarmed over images of ISIS distributing its food

The U.N.'s World Food Program says it is "extremely concerned" about images circulating on social media showing Islamic State labels affixed to its food aid boxes in Syria.

It said in a statement Monday that it was still trying to verify the photos, but that they appear to have been taken in the northern Syrian village of Deir Hafer, which was last reached by the WFP on Aug. 5, when a convoy delivered 1,700 food rations, enough to feed 8,500 people for a month.

The WFP said it learned in September that IS members raided Red Crescent warehouses in the village where the rations may have been stored.

"WFP condemns this manipulation of desperately needed food aid inside Syria," said Muhannad Hadi, its emergency regional coordinator for the Syria crisis. (AP)

4:11 P.M. Explosion, gunfire along Egypt-Gaza border

Egyptian troops fired warning shots over the frontier into Gaza on Tuesday after a bomb exploded on Gaza territory near an Egyptian army convoy, Egyptian security sources said, blaming Islamist group Hamas, which denied the charge.

In Alexandria, Egypt's second city, a man was killed in a bomb blast hours after two devices were discovered at Cairo airport and another went off in the centre of the capital without casualties, other security sources said.

Hamas, which governs Gaza, said Palestinian positions had come under fire from Egyptian soil with no justification.

"Fire was directed in a surprising, unjustified way and without any violation from the Palestinian side," said Eyad al-Bozom, a spokesman for Gaza's Hamas-run interior ministry.

Security concerns have deepened in Egypt since last Thursday, when Islamic State's Egyptian affiliate claimed responsibility for coordinated attacks that killed over 30 security personnel in the Sinai Peninsula. (Reuters)

2:28 P.M. U.S.-led coalition stages airstrikes on 14 ISIS targets in Iraq, Syria

U.S. and allied forces staged airstrikes on 14 Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria in a 24-hour period, the Combined Joint Task Force said on Tuesday.

Two of the strikes hit Islamic State tactical units near the Syrian city of Kobani, where Kurdish militia have been pushing out the group with the help of the coalition. Two strikes near al Hasaka targeted Islamic State oil equipment and another near ar Raqqa destroyed vehicles and a building, the task force said in a statement.

In Iraq, attacks near the cities of Bayji, Tal Afar, Falluja and Mosul hit tactical units and vehicles.

The airstrikes came between Monday morning and Tuesday morning, the task force said. (Reuters)

1:33 P.M. Bassem Youssef, known as Egypt's Jon Stewart, takes fellowship post at Harvard

Egypt's most popular satirist Bassem Youssef has joined Harvard's Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government as a resident fellow for the spring semester, almost a year after his program was taken off the air for lambasting Egyptian presidents and military men.

Youssef was often described as the Jon Stewart of Egypt. His political satire was the first of its kind in Egypt and started during the 2011 uprising that forced longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak to step down. His program developed a following at a time when Egyptians were aspiring to hold their politicians accountable.

But in April 2014, his program was taken off the air as space for criticism of authorities shrank. On Thursday, Youssef tweeted he was "proud" to join Harvard for a semester. (AP)

11:06 A.M. Al Jazeera: Egypt may free jailed journalist Mohammed Fahmy within hours (Reuters)

9:22 A.M. Cairo airport heightens security measures after police find two bombs at terminals

Cairo airport officials heightened security measures on Tuesday after police found two bombs in different terminals of the city's main airport, security sources there said.

The bombs were detected using electronic devices early on Tuesday, the sources said. No arrests were immediately made but airport security were reviewing video footage, they said. (Reuters)

9:10 A.M. Explosion heard in central Cairo

A homemade bomb exploded in central Cairo on Tuesday, security officials said.

The target of the blast, near a busy square, was not immediately clear. There was no immediate word on casualties.

Islamist militants seeking to topple the government have carried out numerous bombing attacks on soldiers and police since the army toppled President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.

Last week, Islamic State's Egyptian affiliate staged coordinated attacks in the Sinai Peninsula which killed more than 30 security personnel. (Reuters)(Reuters)

4:50 A.M. Britain encourages New Zealand to join Islamic State fight

Britain is encouraging New Zealand to join the fight against the Islamic State group.

During a visit Tuesday to Wellington, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Britain would "very much hope" New Zealand would become an active participant in the coalition of nations fighting the militant group in Iraq.

He said New Zealand has capable armed forces that can easily work alongside troops from the U.K., the U.S. and Australia. He said Iraq is not asking for other countries to fight its war but rather is seeking help to train troops and give them air cover.

New Zealand in November announced it was sending military planners to evaluate its options in Iraq. Prime Minister John Key says it intends to make a decision this month about what role to play. (Reuters)

3:00 A.M. Qatar says released Taliban detainees not back to militant activities

Qatar's foreign minister on Monday denied reports that one of five high-level Taliban detainees transferred from the Guantanamo Bay prison to Qatar has attempted to re-engage in militant activity.

"It's totally false," Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiya said. "They are living according to the agreement we signed with the United States."

The five men were transferred from Guantanamo last May as part of an exchange that freed U.S. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who walked off his military post in Afghanistan in 2009 and was captured by militants.

Under a deal struck by U.S. President Barack Obama and Qatar's emir, the five are supposed to be closely monitored to ensure they don't return to militant activities.

CNN reported last week that U.S. military and intelligence officials suspect that one of the five, whom it did not identify, had "reached out" to suspected Taliban associates in Afghanistan to encourage militant activity. (Reuters)

1:56 A.M. U.S. voices missile concerns after Iranian satellite launch

The United States voiced concerns about Iran's missile program after Tehran announced the launch of a satellite Monday into orbit.

The satellite is the fourth successfully placed into orbit by Iran, the Defense Ministry in Tehran said. After the launch two years ago of a monkey into space, Iran plans a human space mission by 2020.

Tehran has rejected Western concerns that the space launches are furthering a ballistic missile program.

"As we've said before, Iran's missile program continues to pose a dangerous threat to the region and is an issue we monitor closely," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said later Monday in Washington. (DPA)

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