Pilgrims converge on Mount Arafat for peak of hajj

Agencies
July 31, 2020

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Mount Arafat, July 30: Muslim pilgrims converged Thursday on Saudi Arabia's Mount Arafat for the climax of this year's hajj, the smallest in modern times and a sharp contrast to the massive crowds of previous years.

A tight security cordon has been erected all around the foot of the rocky hill outside Mecca, also known as Jabal al-Rahma or Mount of Mercy.

Pilgrims, donning masks and observing social distancing, were brought in buses from neighbouring Mina, state television showed, as Saudi authorities impose measures to prevent a coronavirus outbreak.

They were subject to temperature checks and attended a sermon -- which state media said was translated into 10 languages -- before they set off on the climb to the summit for hours of Koran recitals and prayers to atone for their sins.

The scene was strikingly different to last year's ritual when a sea of pilgrims ascended Mount Arafat, marshalled by tens of thousands of stewards in a bid to prevent any crushes.

After sunset prayers, pilgrims will make their way down Mount Arafat to Muzdalifah, another holy site where they will sleep under the stars to prepare for the final stage of hajj, the symbolic "stoning of the devil".

It takes place on Friday and also marks the beginning of Eid al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice.

The hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, is usually one of the world's largest religious gatherings.

But only up to 10,000 people already residing in the kingdom will participate in this year's ritual, compared with 2019's gathering of some 2.5 million from around the world.

"You are not our guests but those of God, the custodian of the two holy mosques (Saudi Arabia's King Salman) and the nation," Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten said in a video released by the media ministry on Wednesday.

Security cordon

A security cordon has been thrown around the holy sites to prevent any security breaches, an interior ministry spokesman said.

Riyadh faced strong criticism in 2015 when some 2,300 worshippers were killed in the deadliest stampede in the gathering's history.

But this year, those risks are greatly reduced by the much smaller crowd.

The pilgrims have all been tested for the virus, and foreign journalists were barred from this year's hajj, usually a huge global media event.

As part of the rites completed over five days in the holy city of Mecca and its surroundings, the pilgrims converged on Mount Arafat after spending the night in Mina.

A district of Mecca, Mina sits in a narrow valley surrounded by rocky mountains, and is transformed each year into a vast encampment for pilgrims.

They began the hajj on Wednesday with their first "tawaf", the circumambulation of the Kaaba, a large structure in Mecca’s Grand Mosque towards which Muslims around the world pray.

The Kaaba is draped in a black cloth embroidered in gold with Koranic verses and known as the kiswa, which is changed each year during the pilgrimage.

Pilgrims were brought inside the mosque in small batches, walking along paths marked on the floor, in sharp contrast to the normal sea of humanity that swirls around the Kaaba during hajj.

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News Network
September 13,2020

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Dubai, Sept 13: An Indian in the UAE was honoured by the police for returning a bag containing USD 14,000 and gold, a media report said on Saturday.

Retesh James Gupta, who lives in Dubai, was praised by the Dubai Police for his honesty and gave him a certificate of appreciation for being a responsible resident, Gulf News reported.

The bag he returned to the police contained USD 14,000 cash and gold worth 200,000 dirhams (USD 54,452), it said.

Brigadier Yousef Abdullah Salim Al Adidi, Director of Al Qusais Police Station, awarded Gupta at the police station and emphasised the importance of collaboration between the community and police.

It was not immediately known who was the owner of the bag.

Mr Gupta thanked the Dubai Police for awarding him, saying the gesture gave him pride and joy.

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News Network
September 16,2020

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Palestinian resistance fighters in the Gaza Strip have traded strikes with the Israeli military as the signing of contentious normalization treaties between Tel Aviv and two Arab regimes provokes another flare-up in the blockaded territory.

Palestinian Arabic-language Ma’an news agency, citing local sources, reported that Israeli fighter jets and helicopters bombed a training base run by the Hamas resistance movement northwest of Beit Lahiya town early on Wednesday.

Eyewitnesses confirmed that huge explosions were heard in the northern Gaza Strip before the site caught fire.

The sources noted that Israeli warplanes carried out four air raids against the site, while three others were launched by choppers.

Later, Israeli jets targeted another Hamas-run site in an area located between Deir al-Balah city in the central Gaza Strip and Khan Yunis in the southern sector of the Palestinian enclave.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in either attack.

The raids came shortly after Palestinian resistance fighters in the Gaza Strip fired a barrage of rockets into the Israeli-occupied territories.

Reacting to the news of the fresh flareup, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that the overnight rocket fire was meant to undermine Israel's deals with Arab states.

"They want to prevent peace, they won't. We will hit everyone who tries to harm us, and we will extend a hand of peace to all who reach out to us to make peace," Netanyahu said in a statement

‘A message of resistance’

Following the Israeli warplanes’ latest bombardment of the enclave, Hamas issued a warning to the Tel Aviv regime.

"The occupation (Israel) will pay the price for any aggression against our people or resistance sites and the response will be direct," said the resistance group in a statement.

"We will increase and expand our response to the extent that the occupation persists in its aggression," Hamas added on Wednesday.

The Palestinian rockets triggered sirens in the cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod, potentially sending hundreds of thousands of Israelis rushing to bomb shelters just as Netanyahu was signing agreements at the White House with Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani.

Two people were reportedly injured and several more treated for shock after a rocket slammed into a street in Ashdod, according to Israeli media.

Palestinians, who seek an independent state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, view the US-brokered deals as a betrayal of their cause.

Mohammad al-Hindi, a senior official with the Gaza-based Islamic Jihad resistance movement, said “the Gaza rockets are a message that this great vanity of the United States and Israel will be shattered by the Palestinians and that the final word is for those in the right.”

Hamas also said in a statement that the Palestinian nation “insists on continuing its struggle until it secures the return of all of its rights.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also protested the normalization deals with Israel, stating they will not foster peace in the Middle East as long as the United States and the Israeli regime do not recognize the rights of the Palestinian nation to establish an independent and sovereign state based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem al-Quds as its capital.

The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli land, air and sea blockade since June 2007, after Hamas, which has vowed to resist Israeli occupation, won the elections and rose to power in the enclave.

Since imposing the siege, Israel has also waged three wholesale wars against Gaza, killing and wounding thousands of Palestinians in each.

The crippling blockade has caused a sharp decline in the standard of living as well as unprecedented levels of unemployment and unrelenting poverty in the strip.

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News Network
September 16,2020

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Tbilisi, Sept 16: The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has approved the setting up of a regional office in Riyadh to support the growth of the Middle East’s tourism sector as it recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb said the UNWTO’s Executive Council members have approved the move to establish the office during a session in Georgia. The office will cover 13 countries within the region, and will serve as a platform to build long-term growth in the travel and tourism sector of the Middle East.

“International cooperation and the role of the UNWTO are more important than ever. I am therefore very excited that Saudi Arabia will become home to the first ever UNWTO Regional Office, which aims to support growth at a national and regional level,” Al-Khateeb said.

“In Saudi Arabia, we are very aware of the transformative power of tourism on the economy and people. We may still be a young destination, but tourism is at the forefront of Saudi Arabia’s vision for the future,” he added.

Recently, Al-Khateeb revealed that the Council of Ministers has given the Ministry of Tourism the go ahead to open a regional office of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in Riyadh as well as to establish a global academy for tourism training.

Al-Khateeb pointed out that the ministry, in cooperation with UNWTO, would work to lay the foundations and standards that enable the proposed academy to be among the best tourism academies in the world.

It is noteworthy that that the UNWTO secretary general praised the Saudi Summer season during a recent visit to the Kingdom during which he toured a number of Saudi summer destinations. Al-Khateeb hoped that the Kingdom, together with UNWTO, would launch a set of initiatives to develop the tourism sector in the region.

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