21 Dec 14. 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 Mursi 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 lawless Sinai Peninsula bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip. The most powerful militant group there, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, swore allegiance last month to Islamic State, the al-Qaeda offshoot that swept across northern Iraq and Syria earlier this year and now faces U.S.-led air strikes. Egypt has created a one-kilometre buffer zone along the border with Gaza by clearing houses and trees and destroying subterranean tunnels it says militants use to smuggle arms from Islamist-controlled Gaza. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who as army chief ousted Mursi, has also expressed concern over militants who are thriving in the chaos of post-Gaddafi Libya and are opposed to the Cairo government. Critics say Egypt’s crackdown on Islamists is trampling on human rights and expanding to include peaceful protesters as well as secular and liberal activists. In another sign of improving relations between the two countries, Stephen Beecroft, the new U.S. ambassador to Egypt, arrived in Cairo on Thursday. The previous ambassador left the post more than a year ago following Mursi’s ouster. (Source: Reuters)
20 Dec 14. North Korea seeks join probe with US on Sony hack. North Korea has offered to hold a joint inquiry with the United States into a cyber-attack on Sony Pictures, strongly denying US claims that it is behind it. The North’s foreign ministry accused the US government of “spreading groundless allegations” and said a probe would refute the allegations. The attack and subsequent threats against cinemas led Sony to cancel the release of The Interview, a satire.
It includes the fictional assassination of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. The film had been due to open on Christmas Day. But Sony said it was considering releasing it “on a different platform”. The FBI said on Friday that the Pyongyang government was responsible. But on Saturday, the North Korean foreign ministry said: “As the United States is spreading groundless allegations and slandering us, we propose a joint investigation with it into this incident.” “Without resorting to such tortures as were used by the US CIA, we have means to prove that this incident has nothing to do with us.” On Friday US President Barack Obama criticised the cancellation, saying he wished Sony executives had spoken to him before cancelling the release. “We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship,” he said, vowing to “respond” to the cyber-attack in a “manner that we choose”. Responding to the US president’s comments, Sony Pictures chief executive and chairman Michael Lynton said the studio had not made an error in cancelling the release. “We have not given in, we have persevered,” he told CNN. A Sony statement said the decision had been based on “the majority of the nation’s theatre owners choosing not to screen the film”. “Without theatres, we could not release it in the theatres on Christmas Day. We had no choice,” the statement added. “It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so.” (Source: BBC)
20 Dec 14. Ukraine crisis: Obama orders ban on Crimea trade. US President Barack Obama has ordered a ban on the export of goods, technology and services to Crimea. The execut