Middle East Updates / Egypt's Sissi Meets Qatar Envoy for First Time Since Taking Office

Egypt receives 10 Apache helicopters from U.S.; Kurdish forces advance in takeover of ISIS-held Iraqi town of Sinjar; Bombs kill 12 in Baghdad, Iraq.

Reuters

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Latest updates:

8:42 P.M. Egypt's Sissi meets Qatar envoy for first time since taking office

Egypt's President has met with an envoy of the Emir of Qatar, the first such meeting since Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi took office last summer, signaling a thaw in relations between the two nations.

The meeting was also the first meeting since Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, reached a reconciliation agreement with Qatar last month aimed at easing regional tensions linked to Doha's support for Islamist groups throughout the region.

A Saudi royal envoy attended the Saturday meeting. Sissi's office said Egypt looks forward to a "new era that leaves behind the disagreements of the past."

Doha was strong backer of Sissi's predecessor, Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who was ousted July 2013 by the military following mass protests. Sissi, then military chief, was elected president in June. (AP)

7:48 P.M. Egypt official: Nearly 10,000 people detained in 2014

A senior Egyptian interior ministry official says the country's security forces have detained nearly 10,000 suspected militants, rioters and others wanted in violent attacks over the past 12 months in a crackdown on those he said were attempting to curtail Egypt's development.

Major Gen. Abdel-Fattah Osman, an aide to the interior minister, spoke to the official news agency MENA in an interview published Saturday.

Osman said security forces have foiled about 400 terrorist attacks since January. He said the security forces also arrested 460 suspected members of terrorist cells, 6,400 rioters, 50 wanted militants, and some 2,600 accused of attacking police stations. (AP) Read full story here

7:43 P.M. Egypt receives 10 Apache helicopters from U.S.

Egypt received 10 Apache helicopters from the United States in the past week, security sources said on Saturday, a sign of easing tensions between the long-time allies confronting Islamist extremism across the region.

The United States originally announced in April that it had decided to lift its hold on the delivery of the attack helicopters, imposed last year after the military toppled elected president Mohamed Morsi and cracked down hard on his Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

The Pentagon said in September that the United States would deliver the helicopters, built by Boeing Co., to support Cairo's counter-terrorism efforts.

Egypt is fighting an Islamist insurgency targeting mostly security personnel and based mainly in the Sinai Peninsula bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip. (Reuters) 

7:26 P.M. Kurdish forces advance in takeover of ISIS-held Iraqi town of Sinjar

Kurdish forces have advanced into the north-western Iraqi town of Sinjar in an attempt to retake it from the Islamic State militant group.

"The Peshmerga forces have forced ISIS [Islamic State] militants to withdraw from the town after their heavy losses and defeat," Saeed Shingali, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, told Kurdish broadcaster Rudaw on Saturday.

The broadcaster, citing its correspondent in Sinjar, said the extremists were forced to flee across the border into Syria.

The advance in Sinjar comes two days after Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by US airstrikes broke a months-long siege by the Islamic State on Mount Sinjar.

It was the biggest military triumph for Peshmerga in Iraq's autonomous region of Kurdistan in months, with a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi calling the breakthrough a "victory for all Iraqi people."

"The Peshmerga troops are part of Iraq's security system. They and the Iraqi army have one enemy: Daesh," said Raef al-Jabouri, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State. (DPA)

5:56 P.M. Bombs kill 12 in Baghdad, Iraq

Bombs targeting commercial streets and an army patrol killed 12 people in and around Baghdad Saturday, Iraqi authorities said.

Police officials said a bomb exploded on a commercial street in the town of Madain, about 20 kilometers (14 miles) southeast of the capital, killing four people and wounding nine others.

In the northern Baghdad suburb of Taji a bomb blast near shops killed three people and wounded 11 others. A roadside bomb struck an army patrol in the western suburbs, killing three soldiers and wounding six others, police officials said.

In Baghdad, a bomb exploded in the city center near a bakery shop, killing two people and wounding four, security officials said. They said all the dead were civilians.

Medics confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. (AP)

4:45 P.M. Turkey's Erdogan 'closely following' legal case against rival Fethullah Gulen

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday he is closely following an inquiry into a U.S.-based Islamic preacher and media outlets close to him and dismissed criticism that the case is politically motivated.

Erdogan spoke a day after an Istanbul court ordered the arrest of Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan has accused of leading a terrorist plot to seize power and whose supporters the president has purged from the judiciary and police.

The arrest warrant for Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, could test relations with Washington and raise questions about judicial independence in Turkey. A Turkish prosecutor has accused him of leading an armed terrorist group

"I am closely following the legal process," Erdogan said in a speech broadcast live by NTV channel. "Everything is working according to the law. No one is being lynched."

Once close allies, the two men's relationship ruptured in December 2013 when a corruption investigation by police seen as close to the cleric's Hizmet (Service) movement implicated Erdogan and some of his family members and cabinet ministers.

The president has described the corruption case as a coup plot. The graft probe has since been formally dropped.

The Alliance for Shared Values, a group representing Hizmet-affiliated organisations in the United States, said in a statement the arrest warrant "is nothing more than an attempt to shift public attention away from issues such as corruption." (Reuters) 

2:43 P.M. Kurds advance against ISIS group in Syria's Kobani

A Kurdish official and an activist group say Kurdish fighters have advanced in the contested northern Syrian town of Kobani after heavy clashes with the Islamic State group.

Nawaf Khalil, a spokesman for the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, says Kurdish fighters advanced Saturday in six neighborhoods and have besieged the IS-held Cultural Center east of town.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the main Syrian Kurdish force, known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG, killed several IS fighters.

The IS group began its Kobani offensive in mid-September, capturing parts of the town as well as dozens of nearby villages.

Kurdish forces have gradually pushed the extremist group back in recent weeks with the help of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes. (AP)

1:15 P.M. Italian coast guard rescues close to 200 Syrian refugees

The Italian coast guard said Saturday that it rescued 194 Syrian refugees whose boat ran into difficulty on the way from Turkey to Italy.

The migrants were rescued Friday from a 30-meter merchant vessel that was taking in water and was at risk of sinking, some 240 kilometres from the Italian shore.

The coast guard said it was asked to intervene by Greek authorities. A vessel from the European Union's sea border mission Triton also took part in the operations.

The migrants - including 23 women, two of who were pregnant, and 38 children - were expected to disembark at the Sicilian port of Catania later Saturday.

Italian authorities said the incident was part of a "worrying trend," as they reported that in the past weeks they had to intervene about a dozen times to rescue migrants from overloaded merchant ships of dubious seaworthiness. (DPA)

11:59 A.M. Bombings kill 10 in Iraq

Iraqi authorities say bombs targeting commercial streets and an army patrol have killed 10 people around Baghdad.

Police officials say a bomb exploded on a commercial street in the town of Madain, about 20 kilometers (14 miles) southeast of the capital, killing four people and wounding nine others.

In the northern Baghdad suburb of Taji a bomb blast near shops killed three people and wounded 11 others. A roadside bomb struck an army patrol in the western suburbs, killing three soldiers and wounding six others, police officials said.

Medics confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. (AP)

11:09 A.M. Bomb blast in Bahraini Shi'ite village wounds 3 policemen

A bomb blast in a Shi'ite Muslim village in Bahrain late on Friday injured three policemen, the interior ministry said, in a further sign of anti-government sentiment since the opposition boycotted elections last month.

A 2011 uprising by mainly majority Shi'ites demanding more democracy in the Sunni Muslim-ruled Gulf Arab kingdom, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based as a bulwark against Iran, was crushed but sporadic unrest has continued, including bomb attacks.

Friday's bomb explosion occurred in Bani Jamra, a Shi'ite village northwest of the capital Manama and was described by the interior ministry as a "terrorist blast" in a statement posted on its Twitter account. (Reuters)

10:25 A.M. Pakistan: US drone strike kills 5 militants 

A U.S. drone fired two missiles at militant hideout in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday, killing at least five Taliban fighters, two security officials said.

In a separate operation, the military said Pakistani security forces killed five "terrorists" on the outskirts of Peshawar, where the Pakistani Taliban carried out a school massacre earlier this week, killing 148 people, mainly children.

The drone strike took place in the town of Datta Khel in North Waziristan, where Pakistani troops have been carrying out a major operation against local and foreign militants since June, the officials said.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said the men killed in the drone strike fought under local Pakistani Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur. It was not immediately clear if the drone strike was connected to the school massacre. (AP)