Middle East Updates / Iraqi Forces Take Town Next to ISIS-held Tikrit

Saudi king vows to defend Muslim, Arab causes in first major policy speech; 25 Egyptian policemen wounded by suicide car bomber in Sinai; Frenchman gets 3 years for helping girl, 14, try to join ISIS.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, July 22, 2014.Credit: AP
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7:30 P.M. Saudi king vows to defend Muslim, Arab causes in first major policy speech

In his first major policy speech since assuming the throne in January, Saudi King Salman has vowed that the kingdom will defend Arab and Muslim causes. He also promised continuity and development despite low oil prices, but called on Saudi citizens, businessmen and officials to do their part to improve the country.

King Salman also spoke about the need to fight corruption, urged businessmen to help in job creation and said security is a key pillar of his administrative priorities.
Salman delivered the 10-minute speech from the capital Riyadh late Tuesday. He was seated during the speech, reading from a paper. Next to him were his crown prince and deputy crown prince.

Women were shown seated in the hall where he spoke, though segregated and behind the men who were invited. (AP)

4:15 P.M. Frenchman gets 3 years for helping girl, 14, try to join ISIS

A father of three who helped a 14-year-old girl try to join an Islamic State recruiter in Syria has been sentenced to three years in prison.

Riad Ben Cheikh received a three-year sentence on Tuesday, with one year suspended. He has already been jailed 10 monthssince his arrest for helping the girl in the French city of Lyon. Ben Cheikh, who has a daughter the same age, said he had never met the recruiter dubbed Tony Toxiko but was doing a favor for someone who shared his religion and outlook.

Tony Toxiko promised to marry Amelia. She was caught at the airport in February 2014. The girl is believed to be in Syria with another extremist fighter. (AP)

2:17 P.M. UN diplomats put hold on Libya's request for jets, tanks

Diplomats say eight member countries of the UN Security Council have put a hold on Libya's request for dozens of fighter jets, tanks and other weapons the country says it urgently seeks to defend itself against the rising threat of the Islamic State.

Libya last week appealed to the 15-member council to lift or loosen a UN arms embargo on the oil-rich north African country, which has fractured into several militia groups and two rival governments.

Council members including the United States and Britain, and a UN panel of experts, worry that weapons given to Libya's Western-backed government risk falling into the wrong hands.

The government can ask a UN sanctions committee for exemptions to the arms embargo on a case-by-case basis. The countries placed the hold on the new request Monday. (AP) 

1:03 P.M. Iraqi forces take town next to ISIS-held Tikrit

Two senior military officials say Iraqi security forces have retaken a town next to the militant-held city of Tikrit as they press their offensive against Islamic State militants.

The battle for Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, is a key test for the Iraqi forces.

The two officials say security forces entered Alam on Tuesday morning and hours later gained full control of the town. The two spoke on condition of anonymity since they are not authorized to talk to reporters.

Ahmed al-Karim, the Salaheddin provincial council chief, says progress had been slow due to roadside bombs and sniper attacks.

Iraqi forces launched the large-scale mission last week to retake Tikrit, held by the Islamic State militants since June. The U.S.-led coalition is not taking part in the operation. (AP)

12:23 P.M. UN nuclear agency official: Talks with Iran on nuclear arms 'useful'

A UN nuclear agency official probing allegations that Iran worked on atomic arms says talks in Tehran were "useful" and the sides have agreed to meet again next month.

Tero Varjoranta says there was agreement to "speed up" the process, but gave no details Tuesday. The talks were the first in months, possibly indicating movement in more than a decade of repeatedly stalled attempts by the International Atomic Energy Agency to investigate the claims.

Iran denies any work on such weapons and says the suspicions are based on phony intelligence from its foes.

The U.S. says the allegations must be cleared up as part of a nuclear deal it and five other countries are negotiating with Iran. But that is unlikely by the June target date for an agreement. (AP)

7:40 A.M. Suicide car bomber targets military compound in Egypt's Sinai

Egyptian security officials say a suicide car bomber has targeted a military compound in the country's restive Sinai Peninsula, reportedly wounding 25 policemen.

The officials say the bomber targeted the gates of the compound in the city of el-Arish early on Tuesday morning. They say the explosion did not kill anyone. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Egypt has for years been battling a burgeoning insurgency in northern Sinai but the frequency of attacks against army and police there has dramatically increased since the 2013 ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

Small bombings have also been carried out in Cairo and other cities.

The attacks have raised fears ahead of an economic conference this week aimed at attracting foreign investment. (AP)

1:14 A.M. Egyptian president pushes U.S. for military aid in Fox News interview

Egypt's president called for increased U.S. military aid and creation of a regional coalition to fight Islamic State in an interview with Fox News that aired on Monday, just days before the United States sends its top diplomat to the country.

"It is very important for the United States to understand that our need for the weapons and for the equipment is dire, especially at the time when the Egyptians feel they are fighting terrorism and they would like to feel the United States is standing by them in that fight against terrorism," said President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Sissi after he arrives in Egypt on Thursday for the Egypt Economic Development Conference, the State Department said on Monday. (Reuters) 

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