Key features of Hajj 2023 – what’s new?

News Network
June 26, 2023


Jeddah, June 26: Saudi Arabia has developed and introduced several services for the first time for the pilgrims participating in Hajj 2023 to help them perform the rituals with ease and comfort.

Hajj services offered this season were distinguished for keeping pace with the developments taking place in the world that enhance the facilitation of life, such as artificial intelligence and others.

The most awaited announcement by Muslims around the world this season was the lifting of restrictions imposed three years ago to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an announcement earlier, Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah revealed that the Hajj this year 2023 would be without conditions or restrictions.

"Saudi Arabia will welcome pilgrims to perform Hajj this year in the same numbers as before the COVID pandemic," Dr. Al-Rabiah confirmed.

Following the lifting of restrictions, Saudi Arabia announced that it would receive more than 2 million Hajj pilgrims from 160 countries. The number of Umrah performers this year increased by 30% compared to 1440 AH.

Moreover, this year the Kingdom allowed Hajj missions from around the world to make contracts with any authorized company of their choice to provide pilgrimage services in Saudi Arabia.

The cost of insurance for Hajj pilgrims has witnessed a 73 percent drop this year. The price of insurance for Hajj pilgrims was reduced from SR109 to SR29 while that of Umrah was reduced from SR235 to SR88, or 63 percent.

The Hajj season this year 1444 AH witnessed a major shift in terms of expanding services. Some of these services were announced for the first time this season. The announcement of these services, including the easy payment options for Hajj packages, contributed greatly to facilitating the pilgrimage.

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced in January that domestic pilgrims have the option of paying the Hajj package costs in three installments, instead of paying the full amount in one go as was the case during previous years.

The Makkah Route Initiative, one of the Interior Ministry's projects that aim to provide high-quality services in Hajj which helped the pilgrims complete their immigration procedures from their countries of origin easily, was expanded to countries such as Turkey and Ivory Coast. The initiative, launched in 2019 for the first time, now operates in seven countries including Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Morocco and Bangladesh besides Turkey and Ivory Coast.

In order to serve the pilgrims and meet all their needs, the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques has provided a system of services in Hajj this year with a cadre that is the highest and largest in its history. The total workforce in the Two Holy Mosques reached 14,000 fully qualified male and female employees.

Saudi Arabia did not stop training Hajj cadres inside the Kingdom this year but expanded the training program to also include, for the first time, foreign volunteers in their country. A training course was held to qualify workers to serve pilgrims from outside Saudi Arabia during the Hajj before they start from their countries.

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, represented by the center for licensing and training workers who serve pilgrims and Umrah performers, has trained leaders of pilgrims groups in their own countries before the start of the Hajj season, which also includes a detailed explanation of the pilgrims’ journey.

Preparations for receiving pilgrims this season did include not only technology and training but also ways to preserve religious rituals and sanctities from being exploited, as well as protecting the rights of pilgrims guaranteed by the law. Accordingly, the Attorney General and Chairman of the Public Prosecution Council Sheikh Saud Bin Abdullah Al-Mujab has inaugurated the Hajj and Umrah Prosecution next to the Grand Mosque in Makkah.

Al-Mujab stressed the importance of immediately closing the criminal cases referred to the Hajj and Umrah Prosecution, taking into account the protected rights due to quick termination of cases.

Additionally, Al-Mujab stressed the need to activate measures to encourage behaviors that would not affect the serenity of Hajj or Umrah, and would not prejudice national security or the sanctity of the holy sites, in accordance with the law.

Al-Mujab emphasized the sanctity of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims, pointing out the exploitation of religious rites or holy sites is considered among the crimes that require the Public Prosecution to impose the most severe penalties against the accused.

Environmental factors also witnessed new developments in services this year. The National Center for Environmental Compliance confirmed the readiness of national cadres and advanced technologies that will ensure the quality of air, soil and water for pilgrims in Makkah, the holy sites, Madinah, airports and highways.

The center confirmed that 1,350 inspection visits will be conducted this season at all Hajj-related sites, in order to ensure air quality, protect and monitor water sources, and preserve soil from pollution.

For the first time this season, noise levels will be monitored and controlled to maintain and ensure a quiet and comfortable environment for pilgrims during the Hajj period.

The pilgrims will enjoy this year’s Hajj with several transportation options that ensure facilitating their movement within the holy sites. The Transport General Authority (TGA) provided 1,000 electric scooters as a service to Hajj pilgrims to facilitate their movement in the holy sites.

The authority has allocated a specific track for the e-scooters, separating them from other vehicles and pedestrians to preserve the safety of pilgrims. The track consists of two lanes back and forth, with a length of 2 km, starting from Kadana station and ending with the Mahbas Al-Jin tunnel, which leads to Bab Ali station in the Grand Mosque.

TGA has also launched, for the first time, a trial run of self-driving electric buses to serve the pilgrims this season, as it aims to provide innovative modern technologies for sustainable and environment-friendly transportation.

The self-driving buses utilize artificial intelligence, cameras, and surrounding sensors to operate without human intervention along a predefined route. They gather information during movement and analyze it to make necessary decisions, aiming to enhance passenger experience and ensure safety. Each bus has 11 seats, operates for 6 hours per charge, and can reach speeds of up to 30 km/h.

Saudi Arabia pays great attention to delivering information to pilgrims of different nationalities who speak different languages. And from this standpoint, the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques announced the launch of 185 programs and initiatives that were presented during this year’s Hajj season in the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah.

The programs aim to invest in artificial intelligence, digitizing programs, and harnessing electronic applications in various fields to serve pilgrims and talk to them in foreign languages to facilitate Hajj rituals for them.

To enrich people's Hajj experience, the General Presidency of the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques prepared, for the first time in its history, 20 different and varied exhibitions this year.

The holding of exhibitions has been diversified. Some of them are inside the Grand Mosque, while some others are mobile exhibitions touring the holy sites. Some others are in Makkah and Jeddah. The exhibition are held with the aim of providing an opportunity for the largest possible number of visitors and pilgrims to see the history and stages of development of the Two Holy Mosques, which also reflects Saudi Arabia’s vision in developing services in Hajj seasons over the years.


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News Network
September 21,2023


NEOM: Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman said that Saudi Arabia is the biggest success story of the 21st century.

In an interview with Bret Baier, chief political anchor of Fox News, at NEOM, the Crown Prince said the Palestinian issue is crucial to normalizing ties with Israel as he wanted to see a good life for the Palestinians. In the interview on “Special Report with Bret Baier” that was aired on Thursday morning, he reiterated that if Iran possessed a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia would do the same “for security reasons and the balance of power.”

Saudi Arabia had achieved the fastest growth in gross domestic product (GDP) among the G20 countries for two consecutive years, the Crown Prince said while pointing out about the bid to join G7. “We tried to join the G7, but some countries wanted to dictate their conditions to us,” he said.

In his first interview with a major American news network since 2019, the Crown Prince addressed a wide range of domestic, regional and international issues. Prince Mohammed bin Salman highlighted the robust growth and comprehensive social and economic reforms that Saudi Arabia is witnessing under its Vision 2030. “Saudi Arabia is so big, so I'm quite sure most people in the world, directly or indirectly, have something to do with Saudi Arabia. Our vision is great and we are surprised every day when achieving our goals quickly as our non-oil growth this year will be among the fastest in the G20 countries,” he said.

When asked about efforts to normalize relations with Israel, the Crown Prince emphasized that the Kingdom has no relationship with Israel at present. “Every day we get closer, it seems it's for the first time real one serious. We get to see how it goes," he said. The Crown Prince insisted his country could work with Israel, no matter who is in charge, calling the deal "the biggest historical deal since the end of the Cold War," which he stated would rest upon agreements related to the treatment of the Palestinians. "If we have a breakthrough of reaching a deal that gives the Palestinians their needs and makes the region calm, we're going to work with whoever is there," he said, while reiterating that he wanted to see "a good life for the Palestinians."

When asked about the potential for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon and what it means for Saudi Arabia, the Crown Prince clearly stated that should Iran ever obtain such a weapon Saudi Arabia would "have to get one, for security reasons, for balancing power." "We are concerned if any country gets a nuclear weapon: That's a bad, that's a bad move," he said. "They don't need to get nuclear weapons because you cannot use them. Any country using a nuclear weapon that means they are having a war with the rest of the world," he said while reiterating the position of Saudi Arabia that the region must be stable for Saudi Arabia to achieve its goals. "The world cannot see another Hiroshima. If the world sees 100,000 people dead that means you are in a war with the rest of the world. So to use this effort to reach a nuclear weapon because you cannot use it if you use it, you got to have a big fight with the rest of the world."

The Crown Prince also spoke about relations with the United States, saying: “We have important security ties with Washington. We have a special relationship with President Joe Biden, and he is very focused and prepares himself well,” he said while adding that Saudi Arabia wants American and foreign companies to come and invest in a safe environment in the Middle East. "We are one of the five largest buyers of American weapons, and our move to buy weapons from countries other than the United States is not in their interest."

He also highlighted the various attacks Osama bin Laden planned and executed against Saudi Arabia in the 1990s. Bin Laden was able to recruit Saudis to help his cause but that it "doesn’t make any sense" for the country itself to help a man actively hurting it. "After that, killing Saudis and foreign people at that time in Saudi Arabia, he's our enemy and he's the American enemy," the Crown Prince said.

Referring to the Khashoggi issue, the Crown Prince said that Saudi Arabia prosecuted those involved in Khashoggi’s killing and made reforms to prevent such things happening again. “Anyone involved in Khashoggi’s killing is serving time in prison and must face the law. We take all the legal measurements that any country took ... We did that in Saudi Arabia and the case was closed," he said. "Also, we try to reform the security system to be sure that these kinds of mistakes do not happen again, and we can see in the past five years nothing of those things happened. It's not part of what Saudi Arabia does." He noted that the country is working to reform some laws and the government does not interfere in the work of the judiciary.

The Crown Prince also touched on economic files, stressing that the Kingdom monitors supply and demand in the oil market and takes the necessary measures to stabilize the energy market. “Our role in OPEC + is to bridge the gap between supply and demand. We are keen on the stability of energy markets and we are doing what is necessary in this regard.”

Referring to the recent deal signed with regard to establishing India – Middle East – Europe Economic Corridor during the G20 Summit, the Crown Prince said that the Economic Corridor that will connect the Middle East with Europe will save time and money and will shorten the distance to Europe to 3-6 days.

Regarding the BRICS group of countries, Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that this group “is not against the United States, as evidenced by the presence of Washington’s allies within it.” The Crown Prince stressed that the BRICS group, which includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, is not a political alliance.

The Crown Prince also explained about the measures being taken to make the Kingdom a major global tourism destination. He said that attracting tourism is linked to developing other major sectors, including sports, entertainment and culture. “We do not mind developing the sports sector as it has become effective in economic returns. We are working to ensure that sports contribute 1.5 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) soon,” he added.


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News Network
September 20,2023


Gaza City, Sept 20: Israeli occupation forces have killed three Palestinians during a raid in the occupied West Bank, and another Palestinian in a separate incident in the besieged Gaza Strip.

Palestinian health officials said the West Bank assault took place on Tuesday in the Jenin refugee camp, with some 20 others also injured.

The officials did not identify the martyred Palestinians.

The 25-year-old Palestinian man killed in Gaza was identified as Yousef Salem Radwan.

He was shot dead by Israeli forces at the border fence east of Khan Yunis, in the besieged Gaza Strip.

The victim was shot in the head. At least nine others were injured, one of them critically.

Separately, two others were injured from live bullets east of Jabalya in the north of Gaza and many others suffered from suffocation after inhaling tear gas fired by the Israeli soldiers.

Protests at the Gaza border have been taking place for several days against Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian prisoners incarcerated in Israeli jails and the repeated desecration of al-Aqsa Mosque by extremist Israeli settlers.

This came as Israeli forces brutally assaulted Muslim worshipers at one of the main entrances to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the occupied Old City of al-Quds.

The assault took place as the occupation soldiers beat up three worshipers, including an elderly man and an elderly woman, near Bab as-Silsila (the Chain Gate) on Sunday morning.

Earlier in the day, Israeli occupation troops intensified their presence around the al-Aqsa Mosque complex, restricting the access of Muslim worshipers to the sacred site and preventing the entry of Palestinian citizens.

They also allowed scores of Israeli settlers to enter the compound in separate groups.

The Jordan-run Islamic Waqf Department, which is in charge of al-Aqsa Mosque affairs, said in a statement that Israeli forces had permitted the provocative settler incursion.

The regime soldiers also assaulted Muslim worshipers and tried to forcibly evacuate them from the al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard, it noted.

Israeli settler incursions into al-Aqsa Mosque and violence against Palestinians have been on the rise since the far-right extremist cabinet of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office last December.

This is while only Muslims are allowed to pray in the al-Aqsa Mosque complex under a status quo arrangement originally reached more than a century ago. Non-Muslim visitors are allowed visits at certain times and only to certain areas.

Mohammad Hamadeh, the spokesman for Hamas in occupied al-Quds, recently emphasized that the break-ins into the al-Aqsa are a continuation of the occupiers’ acts of aggression.

He also stressed that the Palestinian resistance would go on until the decline and elimination of the usurping regime.


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News Network
September 17,2023


Dubai, Sept 17: The number of Israeli tourists visiting the UAE surpassed the one million mark since the signing of the Abraham Accord three years ago.

According to data released by the UAE Embassy in Israel, the number of flights increased from zero to 106 per week in three years, reflecting growing economic relations.

The UAE and Israel signed the Abraham Accord in September 2020, establishing economic and political relations. Since then, the two countries have signed numerous agreements to give fillip to trade, travel, tourism and other industries, especially new-age technologies such as artificial intelligence.

The UAE also signed the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (Cepa) with Israel. It was the first free trade agreement of Israel with a Gulf country, giving greater market access for UAE products entering the Israeli market, covering more than 96 per cent of tariff lines and 99 per cent value of trade with Israel.

"The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between the UAE and Israel will serve as a major engine to strengthen economic and commercial ties between the UAE and Israel. We expect the agreement to produce significant mutual economic benefits,” said Mohamed Al Khaja, the UAE ambassador to Israel, at the signing of the customs agreement recently.

Dh20.55 billion

According to the latest figures released by the UAE Embassy in Israel on X (formerly Twitter), bilateral trade between the UAE and Israel reached $5.6 billion (Dh20.55 billion) in three years since the signing of the Abraham Accord.

The trade of goods – excluding software – between the UAE and Israel reached $ 1.29 billion in the first five months of 2023 as compared to $912.5 million in the same period last year, up more than 41 per cent.

Trade of goods between the two countries during the January-May 2023 period exceeded all trade between them in 2021, said the Embassy of Israel in the UAE.

While the number of Israeli companies operating in the UAE has surpassed 70, signing more than 120 agreements and memorandum of understanding with local entities.


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