US delivers F-16s to Egypt ahead of Kerry visit: embassy

A picture taken on October 20, 2007, and released by the US Air Force shows an F-16 fighter jet flown by the Egyptian Air Force during a flight refueling training over Egypt (AFP Photo/Staff Sgt. Amy Abbott)

Cairo (AFP) - The United States began Thursday delivery of eight F-16 fighter jets to Egypt, according to its embassy in Cairo, the first since Washington fully lifted in March a freeze on arms delivery.

The operation comes as Secretary of State John Kerry's prepares to visit Cairo for a "strategic dialogue" Sunday amid a warming in ties that were strained after the army ousted president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Following the overthrow of Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected leader, Washington froze $1.3 billion (1.2 billion euros) in annual military aid to Egypt.

It fully resumed assistance in March, and Cairo took delivery of two US fast missile boats last month. Washington had already delivered 10 Apache helicopters in December.

The eight F-16 Block 52 jets "are being flown in directly from the United States, and will be immediately integrated into the Egyptian air force, joining its existing fleet of F-16 aircraft," the embassy said.

All eight from this first batch will arrive by Friday, with four more to be delivered later this year.

“The F-16s provide a valuable capability that is needed during these times of regional instability," the statement quoted senior embassy defence official Major General Charles Hooper as saying.

"Extremists threaten regional security and these weapon systems provide a new tool to help Egypt fight terrorism.”

In addition, the United States will continue providing follow-on support, maintenance and training for Egyptian pilots and ground crews.

Egypt has been battling jihadists in the Sinai Peninsula, who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, and Washington has backed its efforts.

It has also voiced growing concern about the jihadist presence in its western neighbour Libya, where IS has exploited a power struggle between rival governments to expand its presence.

In February, Egyptian air strikes targeted IS positions in Libya after the group posted a video showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians, all but one of them Egyptians.

No details have been made available on Sunday's talks, which will be co-chaired by Kerry and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

Despite lifting its freeze on military aid, Washington has kept up public condemnation of the repression by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi against Morsi's supporters.

A police crackdown has left hundreds of Morsi supporters dead in street clashes, thousands more have been jailed and many sentenced to death in hasty trials.