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Sixteen police die in clash in Egypt’s Western desert

CAIRO (Reuters) – At least sixteen police officers were killed in a shoot-out during a raid on a suspected militant hideout in Egypt s Western desert, two security sources said on Friday.

A number of suspected militants were also killed and security forces are continuing to comb the area, a statement by the Interior Ministry said.

Egypt is facing an Islamist insurgency concentrated in the Sinai peninsula from two main groups, including an Islamic State affiliate, that has killed hundreds of security forces since 2013.

Islamist militants have launched several major attacks, most recently targeting churches in Cairo and other cities with the loss of dozens of lives.

The security sources said authorities were following a lead to a hideout deep in the heart of the desert thought to house eight suspected members of Hasm, a group which has claimed several attacks around the capital targeting judges and policemen since last year.

The number of dead was expected to rise, the security sources said.

The suspected militants tried to flee after the exchange of fire, the sources said, and continued to fire from higher ground at a second security unit called in for backup . They also detonated explosive devices.

Two security sources said 8 security personnel were injured in the clashes, while another source said that four of the injured were police officers and four others suspected militants.

Egypt accuses Hasm of being the militant wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group it outlawed in 2013 . The Muslim Brotherhood denies this.

The Islamist insurgency in the Sinai peninsula has grown since the military overthrew President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in mid-2013 following mass protests against his rule.

The militant group staging the insurgency pledged allegiance to Islamic State in 2014 .

It is blamed for the killing of hundreds of soldiers and policemen and has started to target other areas, including Egypt s Christian Copts.

Reporting by Ahmed Mohamed Hassan, Additional reporting by Mostafa Hashem; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Ralph Boulton

Fatah, Hamas to discuss security in Gaza under unity deal

GAZA/RAMALLAH (Reuters) – Negotiators from rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Islamist group Hamas will discuss security in the Gaza Strip at unity talks in Cairo on Tuesday, including a proposal that would see Fatah security personnel deployed to Hamas-dominated territory.

The plan for 3,000 Fatah security officers to join a Gaza police force over the course of a year, part of a unity deal mediated by Egypt in 2011, would restore much of the influence of Fatah leader President Mahmoud Abbas in Gaza and further loosen Hamas grip.

The deal was never implemented.

The Western-backed mainstream Fatah party lost control of the enclave to Hamas, considered a terrorist group by the West and Israel, in fighting in 2007 .

The loss damaged Abbas credibility in the eyes of the West and Israel, after years of being their main Palestinian diplomatic counterpart.

But under Egypt s mediation, major steps have been made towards narrowing rifts since Hamas handed administrative powers in Gaza to a Fatah-backed government last month.

The move was a major reversal for Hamas and was partially prompted by the group s fears of potential financial and political isolation after its main donor Qatar suffered a major diplomatic crisis with key allies.

The sides will discuss the security issue, especially in Gaza, in the way that serves the home front, enforces the rule of law in a professional and national way and is not factional, said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.

The deal would see Hamas, which has the most powerful armed Palestinian faction with an estimated 25,000 well-equipped fighters who have fought three wars with Israel since 2008.

The issue of arms of resistance is not up for discussion, Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters .

Israel s enmity with Hamas means greater unity with Fatah is unlikely to help any future efforts for a peace deal with Israel.

But both sides hope that the deal s proposed deployment of security personnel from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority to Gaza s borders will encourage Egypt and Israel to ease their tight restrictions at border crossings, a badly needed step to help Gaza revive its economy and improve the living standards of its two million residents.

Officials said that apart from the implementation of the 2011 agreement and security, the Cairo talks would also cover issues such as setting a date for presidential and legislative elections and reforming the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is in charge of long-stalled peace efforts with Israel.

What happened in the past days is something like a declaration of principles while the two sides have postponed final status issues to the talks in Cairo, said Gaza political analyst Akram Attallah.

Abbas has pledged there would be one authority, one law, one administration, one weapon in the Gaza Strip, a statement seeming to challenge Hamas continued security dominance.

But Tayseer Nasrallah, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, told Reuters: There are difficult challenges and it will take time to overcome them.

Outstanding issues include the fate of 40,000 to 50,000 employees hired by Hamas over the past 10 years and its demand Abbas lift economic sanctions he imposed in recent months to try to pressure the group to compromise.

Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Raissa Kasolowsky

Spain to boost security after Barcelona and Cambrils attacks

Spanish officials are to boost security at crowded areas and sites popular with tourists following two attacks in the country. The attacks, both claimed by the Islamic State group, left 13 people dead in Barcelona and one woman dead in Cambrils. There are 53 people still in hospital, 13 of them in a critical condition, while another 78 people have been released after treatment.

Image: Thirteen people were killed in the Barcelona attack and dozens injured

Spain’s interior minister Juan Ignacio Zoido confirmed increased security for events that draw large crowds as well as at popular tourist sites. Spanish media also said that security at the border with France was being strengthened, while French police carried out extra border checks on people arriving from Spain. There will be extra security at Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium today, with nearly 100,000 people expected for the team’s first game of the season against Real Betis. The game will include a minute of silence for the victims and Barcelona’s football team will wear black armbands and special shirts, bearing the Catalan words for “We are all Barcelona”.

:: Imam’s home raided as police hunt terror mastermind1 Catalan regional police are mounting road blocks in the northeast of Spain as officers search for at least one man suspected to have been involved in the Barcelona attack, who is still on the run.

Younes Abouyaaqoub, 22, is a Moroccan national who was living in the Spanish town of Ripoll, where his flat is one of nine addresses raided by police on Saturday. He is not believed to be among those held or shot dead by police in the coastal resort of Cambrils, where the second attack took place. Earlier, Spain’s King Felipe and Queen Letizia visited the site of the attack at Las Ramblas, placing a wreath and two candles on the ground. They were accompanied by Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont and Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau.

:: The victims of Spain’s terrorist attacks2

Image: The royals visited victims of the Barcelona attack in hospital

Earlier, the royal couple visited a hospital where many victims from Thursday’s attack were being treated, also speaking with medical staff. Catalan emergency services have said that seven of the 14 victims have been identified from both attacks, including four Spaniards, two Portuguese and an Italian, while family members or government officials have said a US man, a second Italian and a woman from Belgium were also killed. Spanish authorities have also said that the terror cell behind deadly twin attacks has been “dismantled”3. In a news conference, interior minister Mr Zoido said the cell comprised 12 young men, many of them Moroccan, and some teenagers.

“The cell has been completely dismantled,” he told reporters.

References

  1. ^ Imam’s home raided as police hunt terror mastermind (news.sky.com)
  2. ^ The victims of Spain’s terrorist attacks (news.sky.com)
  3. ^ terror cell behind deadly twin attacks has been “dismantled” (news.sky.com)