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Egypt extends Yemen military participation, amid reports of first Trump drone strike

Egypt's National Defense Council has extended military participation in Saudi-led operation in Yemen. The first US drone strike believed to be carried out under Trump presidency has also killed two al Qaeda members.

Cairo announced in a statement on Sunday, that Egypt's military participation in a Saudi-led operation in Yemen has been extended by the presidency.

"The National Defense Council agreed during the meeting to extend the participation of the required elements from the Egyptian armed forces in a combat operation outside the nation's border to defend Egyptian and Arab national security in the Gulf, Red Sea, and Bab al-Mandab areas," the statement said.

The presidency failed to disclose, however, exactly how long the extension would be for.

Almost 70 deaths in 24 hours

The announcement on Sunday came as medics and security sources confirmed that 66 people had been killed in Yemen in 24 hours. The fatalities occurred as forces loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi pushed forward in their efforts to oust rebels from a key west coastline.

Air strikes carried out by a Saudi-led coalition, as well as fighting near the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait killed at least 52 fighters belonging to the Shiite Huthi rebels and allied troops loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

On the pro-government side, 14 soldiers were killed and 22 wounded, according to medics in the southern port city of Aden where Hadi's government is based.

Watch video 05:27

Yemen's forgotten war

Pro-Hadi forces launched the huge offensive to retake the region overlooking the Bab al-Mandab strait on January 7. The channel is a key maritime route connecting the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

By Sunday, loyalist forces reported that they were within 10 kilometers (6 miles) of the city of Mokha, but the offensive was slowed by mines laid by rebel forces.

Reports of first Trump drone

Two suspected members of al Qaeda's Yemen branch were also killed on Sunday by what local officials believe was a US drone strike.

If confirmed, it would be the first such attack since Donald Trump assumed office as US president on Friday.

According to officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the men were killed when a missile hit their vehicle in the southern al-Bayda province.

In a bid to combat al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula - regarded as one of the global militant group's most dangerous branches - the US controversially conducted dozens of drone strikes throughout Barack Obama's presidency. The attacks were repeatedly criticized by human rights groups, however, following the deaths of hundreds of civilians.

The newly-inaugurated Trump administration is yet to lay out a clear policy on drone strikes. However the Republican president has said he would support an escalation of the fight against Islamist militants.

ksb/jm (AFP, Reuters)

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