Middle East Updates France Confirms 'Advanced' Talks With Egypt Over Sale of Fighter Jets

At least 40 killed in Baghdad bombings as decade-old nightly curfew ends' Prince Charles says he fears for Christians in Middle East.

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Explosions go off after a Jordanian airstrike at an undisclosed location in Syria, February 2015.
Explosions go off after a Jordanian airstrike at an undisclosed location in Syria, February 2015.Credit: AP/Jordanian military via Jordan TV

For Saturday's updates, click here

Latest updates:

7:30 P.M. UN envoy says Yemen national talks will resume amid crisis

The UN envoy to Yemen says national dialogue talks on the future of the Arab world's poorest country will resume on Monday — and include the Shi'ite rebels who recently took over the nation.

The Houthis are under mounting pressure following their decision to dissolve parliament, which cemented their takeover less than five months after they seized the capital.

A powerful alliance of six Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has denounced the Houthis' "coup." (AP)

5:40 P.M. The United States delivered more than $25 million worth of military aid including heavy artillery to the Lebanese army on Sunday to help it fight jihadist groups which have repeatedly battled with security forces near the Syrian border.

The U.S. ambassador to Beirut, David Hale, said in a statement the weapons would be used to "defeat the terrorist and extremist threat from Syria."Full story

12:45 P.M. Tunisia arrests 32 extremists suspected of plotting attacks

Tunisia's official news agency says authorities have arrested 32 extremists and thwarted an ambitious plot to attack civilian and military sites around the country.

The TAP news agency quotes Interior Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Laroui as saying some of those arrested had traveled to hotspots abroad, including Syria.

The announcement Saturday came just as Tunisia's new government is taking power after a long transition to democracy prompted by the Arab Spring uprisings. A major task for the new leadership will be fighting extremism that has flourished since protesters overthrew authoritarian rule.

Laroui said the hunt for other suspects was still under way, and authorities are particularly monitoring those returning from Syria.

A disproportionately high number of Tunisians have joined the Islamic State group or other extremists in Syria and Iraq. (AP)

12:07 P.M. French defense minister confirms 'advanced' talks with Egypt over sale of fighter jets

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves le Drian said on Sunday that "advanced" talks with Egypt were being conducted over a potential sale of Dassault Aviation Rafale fighter jets.

"There are actually pretty advanced discussions with Egypt, but they're not over," Le Drian told television station iTele.

Le Drian's comments confirmed what was told to Reuters by two sources close to the matter on Saturday -- that Egypt was discussing the purchase of 24 Rafale jets and a Fremme frigate from the French defence company, in a deal estimated at 5 billion euros ($5.7 - 6.8 billion).

Also on Saturday, Dassault's CEO, Eric Trappier, told Le Figaro daily the company was close to signing its first Rafale export contract, without specifying a country.

There were "still several steps to cross" regarding a sale to Egypt, Trappier said separately. (Reuters)

8:46 A.M. Bombs kill at least 40 in Baghdad, Iraq as decade-old nightly curfew ends

Baghdad's decade-old nightly curfew ended after midnight Sunday, hours after bombs exploded in and around the Iraqi capital, killing at least 40 people in a stark warning of the dangers still ahead in this country under attack by the Islamic State group.

The deadliest of Saturday's bombings happened in the capital's New Baghdad neighborhood, where a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a street filled with hardware stores and a restaurant, killing 22 people, police said.

"The restaurant was full of young people, children and women when the suicide bomber blew himself up," witness Mohamed Saeed said. "Many got killed."

The Islamic State group later claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the bomber targeted Shi'ites, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S.-based terrorism monitor. The Sunni extremists now hold a third of both Iraq and neighboring Syria in their self-declared caliphate.

A second attack happened in central Baghdad's popular Shorja market, where two bombs some 25 meters (yards) apart exploded, killing at least 11 people, police said. Another bombing at the Abu Cheer outdoor market in southwestern Baghdad killed at least four people, police said. (AP)

2:05 A.M. Prince Charles says he fears for Christians in Middle East

Britain's Prince Charles says he fears there will be "very, very few" Christians left in the Middle East after the turmoil wracking the region. The heir to the British throne, who is on a trip to the region, told the BBC that the plight of Christians persecuted by Islamic extremists was "a most agonizing situation," though it was important to remember they were just one persecuted minority among many around the world.

"But at the same time I fear that the problems in the Middle East are not going to go away immediately," the prince said in a pre-recorded interview with "The Sunday Hour" radio program. "And so there is a danger that there is going to be very, very few left."

He appealed for more work to build bridges between religions. (AP)

Saturday's updates:

11:05 P.M. Jordan vows to 'wipe out' ISIS on third straight day of airstrikes

Jordan is going after Islamic State group militants wherever they are and plans to “wipe them out completely,” Jordan’s interior minister said, as Jordanian fighter jets struck the group’s positions for the third consecutive day Saturday.

It was the latest in a series of warnings of harsh retaliation after the militants, also known as ISIS and ISIL, released a video of them burning a Jordanian pilot to death in a cage. The gruesome images sparked widespread anger in Jordan and the region.

The kingdom joined a U.S.-led military coalition in September, but said after the killing of the pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, that it would intensify its air attacks. Interior Minister Hussein al-Majali said al-Kaseasbeh’s killing was a turning point for Jordan.

He told the state-run al-Rai newspaper in comments published yesterday that Jordan will go after the militants “wherever they are.” (AP) Read the full article

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