Saudi Arabia set to make call on Skype, Viber and WhatsApp blocks

March 27,2013

Wapp

Jeddah, Mar 27: An agreement is expected to be reached between the Saudi telecommunication sector and operators of WhatsApp, Viber and Skype, Al Arabiya reported Tuesday, after the Saudi government threatened to block the messaging applications earlier in the week.

A source told Al Arabiya that the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) officially requested the Saudi Telecommunications Company (STC) to find a technical solution that will enable the government to monitor WhatsApp, Viber and Skype this week.

Abdulrahman Mazi, the managing director of the National Information Systems Company, said that local telecommunications companies and IP providers in Saudi Arabia will be obliged to block the applications if no agreement is reached.

The government will study the possibility of blocking the mentioned applications if it fails to reach a decision with the operators, the source added.

However, the process of blocking the applications will take three to four months, he said.

Mazil told Al Arabiya that the licenses of IP providers in Saudi Arabia oblige them to disclose any type of data when the government requests so, especially for security reasons.

He added that the Kingdom request to monitor these applications is not new; several countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom have taken the same step.

If the agreement is reached, Mazi said the income of Saudi telecommunication companies will increase. The step might add a monthly charge of SR10 ($2.5) for the users of these services.

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Hajj 2020: Officials outline health, security measures

Agencies
July 16,2020

Riyadh, Jul 16: Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif, minister of interior and chairman of the Hajj Supreme Committee, chaired a virtual meeting on Wednesday with the heads of  security agencies and officials in charge of this year’s Hajj season.

During the meeting, the minister and security officials discussed organizational issues related to Hajj, including preventive and precautionary steps related to fighting the coronavirus disease, procedures related to pilgrims commuting to the holy sites, and mechanisms to facilitate performing the Hajj rituals.

Prince Abdul Aziz confirmed abiding by the directives of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to take all precautions to preserve the safety of the pilgrims, and facilitate their performance of their Hajj rituals, according to the highest health standards to contain the new coronavirus pandemic.

Saudi Arabia has decided to allow only a limited number of domestic pilgrims to perform Hajj this year in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Only those expatriates between the ages of 20 and 50 who are not suffering from any chronic diseases can apply for the pilgrimage.

Earlier, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said that requests from people of 160 nationalities in the Kingdom have been screened electronically to select who will perform Hajj this year.

Of the pilgrims who will receive approval, 70 percent will be non-Saudis residing in the Kingdom and the remaining 30 percent will be Saudi citizens.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior said that anyone found entering the sites of Hajj (Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat) without a permit from July 18 till the end of Dhu Al-Hijjah 12 will be issued with a fine of SR10,000 ($2,600).

The fine will be doubled if the offence is repeated. Security personnel will be posted on roads leading to the holy sites to ensure that anyone who breaks the law will be stopped and fined.

Around 2.5 million foreign and domestic pilgrims performed Hajj last year.

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Trail of death and devastation as massive explosion rocks Lebanon's capital

Agencies
August 4,2020

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Beirut, Aug 4: A massive explosion has shaken the Lebanese capital of Beirut, with a very high number of casualties expected.

A warehouse at the Beirut Port caught fire on Tuesday afternoon, triggering a huge explosion, Lebanon’s official National News Agency (NNA) reported.

Several smaller explosions were heard before the bigger one occurred.

Abbas Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon’s General Security, said that “highly explosive materials” confiscated earlier had been stored at the site.

Footage shared on social media captured the moment of the bigger explosion, with a colossal shock wave seen traveling fast across several hundreds of meters and shrouding the area in thick smoke.

The blast left enormous material damage to the surrounding buildings and structures. But it was not immediately known how big an area was affected.

There was also no immediate casualty count. Graphic amateur video from the scene showed bodies strewn on the ground, with their clothes blown off.

The NNA said rescue operations were underway. Ambulances were seen heading toward the scene in central Beirut.

Lebanese LBC television channel quoted Lebanon’s Health Minister Hamad Hasan as saying that the blast had caused a “very high number of injuries” and “extensive damage.”

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud said an unspecified number of firefighters dispatched to extinguish the initial fire had been killed in the explosion.

“As they were putting out the fire, the explosion took place and we’ve [lost them],” he said, breaking down on live TV.

The explosion comes at a time when the Arab country is passing through its worst economic and financial crisis in decades, and amid rising tensions with Israel.

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Operations begin at UAE's Barakah plant, the first nuclear power station in Arab world

Agencies
August 2,2020

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Dubai, Aug 2: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced on Saturday that it has started operations in the first of four reactors at the Barakah nuclear power station - the first nuclear power plant in the Arab world.

Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), which is building and operating the plant with Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) said in a press release that its subsidiary Nawah Energy Company "has successfully started up Unit 1 of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant, located in the Al Dhafrah Region of Abu Dhabi".

That signals that Unit 1, which had fuel rods loaded in March, has achieved "criticality" - a sustained fission chain reaction.

"The start-up of Unit 1 marks the first time that the reactor safely produces heat, which is used to create steam, turning a turbine to generate electricity," said ENEC.

Barakah, which was originally scheduled to open in 2017, has been dogged by delays and is billions of dollars over budget. It has also raised myriad concerns among nuclear energy veterans who are concerned about the potential risks Barakah could visit upon the Arabian Peninsula, from an environmental catastrophe to a nuclear arms race.

Paul Dorfman, an honorary senior research fellow at the Energy Institute, University College London and founder and chair of the Nuclear Consulting Group, has criticised the Barakah reactors' "cheap and cheerful" design that he says cuts corners on safety.

Dorfman authored a report (PDF) last year detailing key safety features Barakah's reactors lack, such as a "core catcher" to literally stop the core of a reactor from breaching the containment building in the event of a meltdown. The reactors are also missing so-called Generation III Defence-In-Depth reinforcements to the containment building to shield against a radiological release resulting from a missile or fighter jet attack.

Both of these engineering features are standard on new reactors built in Europe, says Dorfman.

There have been at least 13 aerial attacks on nuclear facilities in the Middle East - more than any other region on earth.

The vulnerability of critical infrastructure in the Arabian Peninsula was further laid bare last year after Saudi Arabia's oil facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais were attacked by 18 drones and seven cruise missiles - an assault that temporarily knocked out more than half of the kingdom's oil production.

On Saturday, Dorfman reiterated his concern that there is no regional protocol in place to determine liability should an accident or incident at Barakah result in radioactive contamination spreading from the UAE to its neighbours. 

"Given Barakah has started up, because of all the well-rehearsed nuclear safety and security problems, it may be critically important that the Gulf states collectively evolve a Nuclear Accident Liability Convention, so that if anything does go wrong, victim states may have some sort of redress," Dorfman told Al Jazeera. 

The UAE has substantial oil and gas reserves, but it has made huge investments in developing alternative energy sources, including nuclear and solar.

Experts though have questioned why the UAE - which is bathed in sunlight and wind - has pushed ahead with nuclear energy - a far more expensive and riskier option than renewable energy sources.

When the UAE first announced Barakah in 2009, nuclear power was cheaper than solar and wind. But by 2012 - when the Emirates started breaking ground to build the reactors - solar and wind costs had plummeted dramatically.

Between 2009 and 2019, utility-scale average solar photovoltaic costs fell 89 percent and wind fell 43 percent, while nuclear jumped 26 percent, according to an analysis by the financial advisory and asset manager Lazard.

There are also concerns about the potential for Barakah to foment nuclear proliferation in the Middle East - a region rife with geopolitical fault lines and well-documented history of nuclear secrecy.

The UAE has sought to distance itself from the region's bad behaviour by agreeing not to enrich its own uranium or reprocess spent fuel. It has also signed up to the United Nation's nuclear watchdog's Additional Protocol, significantly enhancing inspection capabilities, and secured a 123 Agreement with the United States that allows bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation.

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