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
January 24,2023

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Ramallah, Jan 24: A Palestinian man shot dead by Israeli soldiers last week posed no threat or danger, the Israeli army has openly admitted.

Ahmed Kahla, 46, from Ramon, near Silwad in the occupied West Bank, was shot in the neck from close range at a military checkpoint on Jan. 15.

The Israeli army initially claimed that Kahla had been shot because he got out of his car with a knife in his hand and ran toward soldiers with the intention of stabbing them.

Kahla’s son Qusai, 20, who was with his father at the time, said their car was stopped at the checkpoint and a soldier fired a stun grenade that hit the roof of the vehicle. When Kahla asked why they were being attacked, an officer used pepper spray on him and pulled him from the vehicle before the soldier shot him dead.

An army investigation found that Kahla had no intention of carrying out a stabbing attack and “the incident should not have ended in death.”

The victim’s brother Zayed, 45, said: “They killed him for no reason. We will take all measures to prosecute them.” The family intends to seek financial compensation from the army in the Israeli courts, and will also go to the International Criminal Court.

“We realize that their trial will not bring our brother Ahmed back to life, but we want them to pay the price for their crime,” Zayed said. “We want to deter them from killing more Palestinians in cold blood and without reason.”

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News Network
January 27,2023

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Israel has launched massive airstrikes on the besieged Gaza Strip a day after killing at least 10 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, prompting the Palestinian resistance to fire rockets at the occupied territories in retaliation.

The Palestinian Information center said Israeli warplanes raided areas west and south of Gaza, including posts belonging to the Palestinian resistance, on Thursday night and Friday at dawn.

The Quds News Network said that Palestinian citizens' homes have been inflicted with severe damage as a result of the violent Israeli bombing of a resistance site in the central Gaza Strip. 

In retaliation, the Palestinian resistance responded to the aggression by firing retaliatory rockets at illegal Israeli settlements surrounding the besieged Gaza Strip. Israeli media confirmed that at least eight rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military claimed that the rockets were intercepted by missile defenses, and said there were no injuries reported.

Security sources in Hamas said there had been 15 strikes on the enclave, with no injuries reported so far.

Hamas’s al-Qassam Brigades confirmed that its air defenses responded to the hostile Israeli warplanes in the skies of the Gaza Strip, with surface-to-air missiles and anti-ground missiles.

The Israeli air raids were carried out a day after 10 Palestinians were killed in separate Israeli attacks in the occupied West Bank.

Nine Palestinians lost their lives following a raid on Jenin refugee camp in the northern part of the West Bank. Israeli forces gunned down a 10th Palestinian during clashes in the holy occupied city of al-Quds.

In Jenin, more than 70 Israeli armed vehicles and hundreds of Israeli soldiers stormed the flashpoint city and the neighboring refugee camp, leaving the residents and popular resistance groups with no choice but to defend themselves and confront the occupation forces.

Among those killed by Israeli forces in Jenin was a Palestinian 61 year old woman identified as Majeda Obeid who was killed in her home while performing prayers.

Jenin resident Umm Youssef Al-Sawalmi said homes were hit during the raid. "Windows, doors, walls and even the refrigerator, everything was damaged by the bullets," she said.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad have vowed to respond to Thursday's army raid in Jenin. According to analysts, the Palestinian resistance has a legitimate right to defend itself in face of Israeli aggressions that have been ongoing for decades, with major escalations taking place since the far-right extremist regime headed by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office in December. 

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News Network
February 2,2023

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Israel has carried out new airstrikes against several areas across the Gaza Strip, triggering retaliatory rocket fire from Palestinian resistance groups based in the besieged enclave.

Israeli warplanes pounded targets in the center of Gaza City on Thursday, Palestinian media outlets reported, adding that the resistance groups’ anti-aircraft defense systems intercepted the regime’s fighter jets.

The Israeli military claimed in a statement that it struck a weapons manufacturing site belonging to the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas in the central Gaza Strip after confirming that it is “striking in” the coastal enclave.

It further said the strikes came in response to a rocket launch from the Gaza Strip into Israeli communities a day earlier.

Local sources and witnesses said that the first Israeli strike – out of at least seven – hit a training center belonging to the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas.

A second round of Israeli airstrikes targeted the resistance’s training center southwest of Gaza City, they added.

In response, the resistance groups fired a barrage of retaliatory rockets at illegal Israeli settlements surrounding the besieged Gaza Strip. Rocket sirens blared in the town of Sderot following the strikes, according to the Israeli military.  

The latest development comes almost a week after the Israeli military pounded areas west and south of Gaza, including posts belonging to the Palestinian resistance.

The strikes were carried out after at least 10 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, including a 61-year-old woman.

Last Thursday, more than 70 Israeli armed vehicles and hundreds of the regime’s soldiers stormed Jenin and the neighboring refugee camp, while Israeli snipers were deployed on rooftops and heavily armed soldiers opened fire at Palestinian youths who tried to block their way. Ten Palestinians were killed in the attack. 

Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad resistance movement vowed to respond to the raid.

According to reports, more than 30 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of 2023. 

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