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Obama unblocks military aid for Egypt

President Obama has approved sending twelve fighter jets, 20 Harpoon missiles and 125 tank kits to Egypt, the White House has said. The military aid had been suspended after the army seized power in Cairo in 2013.

Washington decided to release the military equipment in an effort to help Egyptian forces in their fight against extremist threats in the country's turbulent region. Egypt currently plays a key role in the

Arab offensive against Houthi rebels in Yemen

, and is active in combat against the "Islamic State" in Libya.

In a telephone call Tuesday, Obama notified Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi that he had decided to lift a hold on military aid, allowing delivery of twelve F-16 fighter jets, 20 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and 125 M1A1 Abrams tanks, the White House said. Obama also said that he will continue to ask Congress for $1.3 billion (1.2 billion euros) in military aid for Egypt every year.

The US froze some $650 million in military aid after the Egyptian army ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013. El-Sisi's government, which took over a year later, has been sharply criticized for its

violent crackdown on dissent

, with activists accusing the new regime of being more repressive than the longtime Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, toppled in the 2011 revolution.

More money for border security

The White House said it is not issuing a certificate that Egypt has made progress toward democracy, which was one of the possible paths towards lifting the block. Instead, the US maintains the aid to Cairo is in the interests of its own national security.

The US will also target its aid toward equipment used for counterterrorism, border and maritime security, and for sustaining weapons systems already in use by Egypt, the White House said.

"In this way, we will ensure that US funding is being used to promote shared objectives in the region, including a secure and stable Egypt and the defeat of terrorist organizations," spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, Bernadette Meehan, said in a statement.

dj/bk (AP, AFP, dpa)

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