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
November 27,2023

A Palestinian prisoner hugs a relative after detainees were released from Israeli jails and returned to the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on November 26, 2023.

The Palestinian resistance movement Hamas says it seeks to extend a four-day truce with the Israeli regime after it expires on Monday.

"We are seeking to extend the four-day truce with Israel if serious efforts are made [by the regime] to increase the number of Palestinian detainees released from Israeli prisons," the group said in a brief statement carried by the Palestinian Information Center on Sunday.

The truce took effect on Friday after a night of intense Israeli bombardment, requiring the release of Israeli captives held in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners incarcerated in the regime's jails. It mandated the release of 50 Israeli captives in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners.

So far following the deal, the regime has released three 39-strong batches of Palestinian prisoners. In return, Hamas has freed nearly 40 Israeli captives and a number of foreign nationals.

Following the statement, a member of Hamas' Political Bureau, Khalil al-Hayya, confirmed the movement's seriousness about extending the truce into a "comprehensive prisoner exchange deal," the agency reported.

"We were concerned from day one about the return of detained women and children to their families," he said, adding, "We will strive with full diligence to secure the release of more civilian detainees."

He added that once the movement makes sure about the possibility of securing the freedom of more Palestinian detainees, it will inform concerned parties about extension of the truce.

"We want to stop the aggression against our people and [make sure about] the entry of aid into the Gaza Strip," the official said.

After the truce entered into force, Ziyad Nakhalah, the secretary general of the Gaza-based Islamic Jihad resistance movement, said the Israeli regime agreed to the truce because it failed to achieve its stated goals in the Gaza war and also due to its "losses on the battlefield."

"Had it not been for the losses on the battlefield, the Zionist regime would not have agreed to the ceasefire agreement and the exchange of prisoners," Nakhalah added in a televised address.

He said the resistance would "force the Zionist enemy to exchange all the prisoners on a wider scale."

"The rest of the enemy's prisoners, including officers and soldiers, will not be released without the release of the rest of our prisoners, and this issue is related to the end of the war and aggression," Nakhala asserted. 


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News Network
November 20,2023


As many as 59 Palestinian journalists have been killed and dozens injured during the Israeli regime's ongoing war on the Gaza Strip, says an independent human rights advocacy group.

Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor provided the information in a press statement released through Palestinian media on Sunday.

According to the statement, the fatalities equaled "the highest-ever number of journalists killed in wars and conflicts in modern history."

The group attributed the regime's brutality towards journalists to its efforts to impose "a real and comprehensive media blackout" during the war.

The Israeli regime started the war on Gaza after the territory's Palestinian resistance groups carried out the surprise Operation al-Aqsa Storm against the occupied territories on October 7 in response to the regime’s intensified crimes against the Palestinian people.

Gaza's Health Ministry says at least 13,000 Palestinians, including more than 5,000 children, have so far been killed, and about 30,000 people have been injured.

The killing spree targeting journalists, Euro-Med Monitor said, came amid unfounded allegations by some Israeli officials that Palestinian press crews had prior knowledge of the October 7 operation.

According to the group, "Israel purposefully [has] left no safe haven for journalists in the Gaza Strip. Journalists were targeted even when they were wearing press jackets in the field, in press tents erected for media coverage next to hospitals, or even in their family homes."

The latest of the fatalities were caused on Saturday, when the regime's forces killed two journalists in an airstrike targeting Gaza's Bureij refugee camp.

The victims were identified as Sari Mansour and his colleague Hassouna Salim. They lost their lives after Mansour’s home came under an Israeli bombardment inside the camp, which is located in the central Gaza Strip.

According to Euro-Med Monitor, the Israeli war has led to complete or partial destruction of at least 117 press offices.

The regime has also restricted satellite channels operating in the Palestinian territories during the war, including Lebanon's al-Mayadeen television network, and has threatened to restrict Qatar's Al Jazeera network.

The advocacy body added that it has "received identical testimonies from [Palestinian] journalists expressing their fear that the media equipment they received from international organizations via Israel may include location-tracking and eavesdropping devices, which may have facilitated their targeting during the war."

Euro-Med Monitor asserted that targeting journalists is considered a war crime under international humanitarian law. 


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News Network
November 23,2023


Jerusalem, Nov 23: Israel said a four-day Gaza truce and hostage release will not start until at least Friday, stalling a breakthrough deal to pause the war with Hamas.

Israeli national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi indicated the release of at least 50 Israeli and foreign hostages held by Hamas was still on track, but would not happen on Thursday as expected.

“The contacts on the release of our hostages are advancing and continuing constantly,” he said in a statement.

“The start of the release will take place according to the original agreement between the sides, and not before Friday.”

A second Israeli official said that a temporary halt in fighting would also not begin on Thursday.

The delay is a hammer blow to families desperate to see their loved ones return home, and to two million-plus Gazans praying for an end to 47 days of war and deprivation.

The complex and carefully choreographed deal saw Israel and Hamas agree a four-day truce, during which at least 50 hostages taken in the Palestinian resistance group’s October 7 operation would be released.

For every 10 additional hostages released, there would be an extra day’s “pause” in fighting, an Israeli government document said.

Three Americans, including three-year-old Abigail Mor Idan, were among those earmarked for release.

In turn, Israel would release at least 150 Palestinian women and children and allow more humanitarian aid into the besieged coastal territory after weeks of bombardment and heavy fighting.

It was not immediately clear what caused the delay, which came after weeks of talks involving Israel, Palestinian militant groups, Qatar, Egypt and the United States.

Qatari foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari said Thursday that implementation of the accord “continues and is going positively.”

“The truce agreement that was reached will be concluded in the coming hours,” he said.

The agreement has been approved by Hamas leaders and by Israel — despite fierce opposition from some within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government.

Minister for National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir described the deal as a “historic mistake” that would embolden Hamas and risk the lives of Israeli troops.

Netanyahu has backed the agreement with Hamas, but vowed the truce will be temporary and will not end the campaign to destroy Hamas.

“We are winning and will continue to fight until absolute victory,” he said on Wednesday, vowing to secure Israel from threats emanating from Gaza and Lebanon, home to Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

Tensions rose on Israel’s northern border early Thursday, after Hezbollah said five fighters, including the son of a senior lawmaker, had been killed.

Since the Israel-Hamas war began on October 7, the frontier between Lebanon and Israel has seen almost daily exchanges of fire, raising fears the Gaza war fuel a region wide conflagration.

Israel’s army said in statements Wednesday evening that it had struck a number of Hezbollah targets, including a “terrorist cell” and infrastructure.

In Washington, the White House said President Joe Biden had spoken to Netanyahu on Wednesday and “emphasized the importance of maintaining calm along the Lebanese border as well as in the West Bank.”

The White House has pressed Israel not to escalate clashes with Hezbollah, for fear of sparking a war that could drag in US and Iranian forces.

Biden also spoke to the leaders of Qatar and Egypt Wednesday, as he pushed for the truce to be “fully implemented” and to “ultimately secure the release of all hostages.”

Families on both sides grappled with a lack of clarity over how the releases would unfold.

“We don’t know who will get out because Hamas will release the names every evening of those who will get out the next day,” said Gilad Korngold, whose son and daughter-in-law are being held in Gaza along with their two children and other relatives.

Israel’s list of eligible Palestinian prisoners included 123 detainees under 18 and 33 women, among them Shrouq Dwayyat, convicted of attempted murder in a 2015 knife attack.

“I had hoped that she would come out in a deal,” her mother, Sameera Dwayyat, said, but added that her relief was tempered by “great pain in my heart” over the dead children in Gaza.

In Khan Yunis, southern Gaza, displaced Palestinians remained skeptical about the Israel-Hamas deal.

“What truce are they talking about? We don’t need a truce just so aid can come in. We want to go home,” said Maysara Assabagh, who fled northern Gaza for a hospital that now shelters about 35,000 displaced people.

Large parts of Gaza have been flattened by thousands of air strikes, and the territory faces shortages of food, water and fuel.


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