Middle East Updates / Iraqi Troops Retake Two Towns in Eastern Province

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Members of the Iraqi security forces and Shiite fighters take part in an intensive security deployment after clashes with Islamic State militants in Saadiya, Diyala province November 23, 2014.Credit: Reuters

Read Sunday's updates here

7:05 P.M. Lawyers of Al Jazeera reporter urge his release

The lawyers of an imprisoned Egyptian-Canadian Al Jazeera journalist called Monday for his release, saying he should benefit from a recently passed law in Egypt that allows the country's president to deport foreign defendants, or be freed for health reasons.

Amal Clooney and Mark Wassouf of British firm Doughty Street Chambers said in a statement that Mohammed Fahmy is in prison for over 300 days on the basis of a "fundamentally unfair" trial.

Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste, and Egyptian Baher Mohammed were charged with helping the Muslim Brotherhood, a group Egypt's government has declared a terrorist organization. Fahmy and Greste were sentenced in June to seven years and Mohammed to ten in a trial described as a sham.

In a sign that the case, which has caused an international outcry, may be coming to a close, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said last week that he is examining ways to resolve the matter. (AP)

7:12 P.M. Kerry: Closer to Iran deal that will make Israel safer

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday evening, at the conclusion of a marathon round of negotiations aimed at reaching an international agreement on Iran's nuclear program, that "real progress" had been made in the talks but there were still "significant points of disagreement" between the parties.

The two sides – Iran and an international group of nations known as the P5+1 – agreed to continue the negotiations, setting a deadline of June 30, 2015 for the conclusion of an agreement.

"Today we are closer to a deal that will make our partners like Israel and the Gulf States safer," Kerry said, during a joint press conference in Vienna with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

"We now see a path for solving issues that until now were intractable."

The secretary declined to reveal details of the negotiations, saying only that "there are gaps and a distance to travel." It was necessary to be discreet, he said, in order to "preserve space to make choices." (Haaretz) Read the full article

4:11 P.M. Erdogan says women are not equal to men

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has set off a new controversy, declaring that women are not equal to men and accusing feminists of not understanding the special status that Islam attributes to mothers.

Addressing a meeting Monday in Istanbul on women and justice, Erdogan said men and women are created differently, that women cannot be expected to undertake the same work as men, and that mothers enjoy a high position that only they can reach.

He said: "You cannot put women and men on an equal footing. It is against nature. They were created differently. Their nature is different. Their constitution is different."

Erdogan, a devout Muslim, often courts controversy with divisive public comments. He raised eyebrows this month by declaring that Muslims had discovered the Americas before Christopher Columbus. (AP)

3:24 P.M. Report: Jordan forcibly returns Syrian refugees

An international rights group says Jordanian authorities have forcibly deported "vulnerable Syrian refugees," including wounded men and unaccompanied children. Jordan has denied the claim.

Human Rights Watch said Monday that those deported include a group of 12 Syrians who had been receiving treatment at a rehabilitation center and four refugees, three of them children, whom Jordanian border police stopped near the Syrian border.

Human Rights Watch quoted a Jordanian official as denying the refugees had been deported, saying they were taken to other unnamed hospitals. Officials in Amman could not be immediately reached for comment.

Syria's civil war, which began as an uprising against President Bashar Assad in March 2011, forced 3.2 million people to flee the country. Jordan, Syria's southern neighbor, hosts 619,000 refugees. (AP)

12:52 P.M. U.K. outlines new counterterrorism measures

U.K. authorities are outlining a new set of counterterrorism measures, including a ban on insurance companies reimbursing ransom payments.

The bill to be outlined Monday by Home Secretary Theresa May reinforces Britain's long-held position that there should be no ransom payments to terrorists because payments to groups such as Islamic State merely place more people at risk.

May also wants to force Internet firms to retain data linking Internet Protocol or IP addresses to individual users.

The move comes as U.K. authorities warn of a rising threat of terrorism in Britain amid concerns that young people traveling to fight in Syria are becoming radicalized by the group.

The fear is they will return and wage attacks at home.

Authorities estimate that some 500 British jihadists have traveled to Syria. (AP)

11:03 A.M. Iraqi troops retake two towns in eastern province

Iraqi authorities say Iraqi troops backed by Shiite militias have retaken two towns seized previously by militants in an eastern province.

Police officials in Diyala province said Monday that Iraqi forces entered the towns of Saadiya and Julala late Sunday after fierce clashes with fighters from the Islamic State group.

The fighting is still continuing with some pockets of resistance outside the two towns, said the police officials.

Islamic militants seized the towns of Jalula, 125 kilometers (80 miles) northeast of Baghdad, and Sadiyah, 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of the capital during a stunning blitz in June which enabled the Islamic State group to take control of large swaths of land in the country's north and west. (AP)

11:21 P.M. Afghan official: suicide attack toll at least 50

The death toll in Afghanistan's deadliest insurgent attack this year has risen to at least 50, with 63 wounded, many of them children, officials said on Monday, as NATO confirmed that two of its service members were killed in an insurgent attack.

The nationality of the NATO soldiers could not be confirmed, according to protocol. The deaths bring the total for this month of foreign service members killed in Afghanistan to three. The total number killed this year is 63, 46 of them Americans.

NATO provided no further details, but the spokesman for Kabul's police chief, Hashmat Stanekzai, said a bomb attached to a bicycle detonated near a foreign military convoy in the eastern part of the capital Kabul just before 9 a.m. One Afghan civilian was wounded, he said. (AP)

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