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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News Network
September 13,2020

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Riyadh, Sept 13: Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday that it would lift totally the restrictions on citizens for leaving and returning to the Kingdom, with opening all land, sea and airports starting from Jan. 1, 2021 in line with the coronavirus-related precautionary measures and protocols.

Citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council states as well as expatriates and their dependents on valid visa will be allowed to enter the Kingdom effective from Sept. 15.

They include expatriates who have valid exit and reentry visa, work visa, residency permit (iqama) and visit visas provided that they fulfill all the coronavirus related precautionary measures and protocols and a coronavirus negative test result carried out 48 hours before the entry of the Kingdom.

The decision was taken on the basis of the reports presented by the competent authorities regarding the latest developments in combating the pandemic in the Kingdom, the Saudi Press Agency reported quoting an official source at the Ministry of Interior.

The report highlighted the continuing high rates of the epidemic spread in a number of countries, some of which are currently facing a second wave of the pandemic.

The decision is also out of the government’s keenness on the safety and health of citizens in light of the possibility of not having a safe and effective vaccine to prevent this disease before the end of 2020, the spokesman said.

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News Network
September 14,2020

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Jeddah, Sept 14: The resumption of Umrah service will begin in the near future with only a limited number of domestic pilgrims being allowed to perform the ritual in the initial phase, Okaz/Saudi Gazette has learnt from informed sources.

The Ministry of Interior announced on Sunday partial lifting of travel restrictions from Sept. 15 and the total lifting of the restrictions effective from Jan. 1, 2021. The ministry stated that a plan to lift the suspension of Umrah service will be announced gradually in light of the developments related to the pandemic.

According to the sources, domestic pilgrims will be allowed to perform the pilgrimage provided they fulfill certain terms and conditions. It will be mandatory for the pilgrims to carry with them a medical certificate to show that they are tested negative for the coronavirus.

The opening of the door for Umrah will be made in line with the coronavirus precautionary measures and preventive protocols. The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah will announce soon the terms and conditions in this regard, the source pointed out.

The source confirmed that there will be a mobile application that specifies the date and time of performance of the pilgrimage by each pilgrim and that a permit to perform Umrah will be issued by the concerned authorities to those fulfilling the terms and conditions.

Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah for Hajj Affairs Dr. Hussein Al-Sharif confirmed to Okaz/Saudi Gazette earlier that the ministry will work to evaluate the experience of the exceptional success of the last Hajj. He said that the ministry will take advantage of this successful experience in implementing high-quality health and regulatory measures for the coming Umrah season.

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Agencies
September 23,2020

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Saudi Arabia celebrates its National Day on Wednesday this year, with concerts and other events, while adhering to COVID-19 precautionary measures, to commemorate the Kingdom’s unification under its founder, King Abdulaziz Al Saud, 90 years ago.

Celebrations amid the coronavirus pandemic

This year, the country’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) organized a string of concerts that will take place from September 22-26 to celebrate the national holiday, in accordance with GEA guidelines that were put in place to ensure everyone’s safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The guidelines emphasize the importance of wearing masks, social distancing, reducing the duration of social contact, in addition to other preventative measures.

However, authorities in the Kingdom have reduced the number of attendees expected to attend the concerts as a precautionary measure against the spread of the coronavirus, according to Rotana Music, a record label company involved in organizing the concerts.

Also happening this year, Saudi designer Omaima Kindassa is staging a fashion show in Jeddah to showcase traditional clothing from regions around the Kingdom, inspired by the traditions of the diverse tribal communities in the country.

On Wednesday, more than 60 military and civilian aircrafts will participate in a live show that will air on Saudi TV 1, GEA said in a tweet, adding that it will be the largest air show in the history of Saudi Arabia’s National Day celebrations.

Additionally, GEA has set up an online platform for free National Day-themed printables that includes logos, images, and illustrations that users could download and print at home to use for decorative purposes.

Sense of unity

Saudis feel “a sense of unity” every year on National Day, 30-year-old Sultan al-Osaimi from Riyadh told Al Arabiya English.

“I feel like people are united on National Day, you can feel it in the air. Everyone feels a sense of belonging, this is especially heightened on national holidays,” al-Osaimi said.

“Everybody gets excited, people dress up in green [the color of the Saudi flag].”

“I am proud to be from this country. May our country always stay safe,” al-Osaimi added.

Al Anoud bin Juma, a 23-year-old, echoed al-Osaimi’s remarks.

“Although many people will stay home due to COVID-19, I really feel like Saudis have a genuine feeling of belonging and unity, this year more than ever.”

Bin Juma, who lives in Riyadh but is a Qassim native, explained that this feeling of unity comes from the safety and security the Kingdom provides, even during a global pandemic. “I feel safe here [in Saudi] and I appreciate the efforts of the country during the coronavirus crisis.”

“Saudi Arabia always puts its citizens and residents first, and I am very thankful to be from this country,” Bin Juma said, adding that she loves to celebrate its National Day.

Previous National Day celebrations

In 2005, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz made September 23 a national holiday in the Kingdom.

Since then, the country celebrated its national day in various ways. Last year, Saudi Arabia’s 89th National Day featured over 70 entertainment events across the Kingdom, including light shows, fireworks, and music performances, organized by the country’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) for a five-day National Day Season.

In 2018, more than 900,000 fireworks lit up the sky simultaneously from over 58 sites across the Kingdom in celebration of its 88th National Day.

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