Umrah pilgrims must book via app, says Saudi govt

News Network
March 22, 2023


Jeddah, Mar 22: Pilgrims who wish to perform the Muslim Umrah ritual are now required to reserve an appointment via the Nusuk or Tawakkalna apps, the Saudi interior ministry announced on Tuesday.

“The Umrah security plan for (this) year included managing and organizing crowds and traffic, providing humanitarian services, supporting and empowering the entities participating in implementing the plan, and distributing manpower,” said Director of Public Security Lt. Gen. Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Bassami.

He said that there were a “sufficient” number of bookings available, and called on pilgrims to adhere to their specific dates, all of which were being organized in coordination with the Ministry of Hajj and the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques.

He was speaking to reporters during a press conference for the leaders of the Umrah security forces on the ministry’s plans and preparations for this year’s Umrah season at the 911 Unified Operations Center in Makkah, the state-run SPA news agency reported.

“The expected densities in public transport stations at the entrances to Makkah and the vicinity of the Third Ring Road and next to the Holy Mosque of Makkah were taken into account, and the paths were reorganized to ensure crowd movement safety,” Al-Bassami said.

He stressed the importance of wearing face masks to preserve public health and in compliance with instructions for preventive measures and health regulations.

Al-Bassami said that large crowds would be directed accordingly and beggars who entered these sites would be dealt with firmly and strictly.

Director-General of Civil Defense Maj. Gen. Hammoud bin Suleiman Al-Faraj said: “The General Directorate of Civil Defense has completed its preparations in all sites frequented by pilgrims and visitors to ensure readiness, fire prevention and protection, especially in areas that witness high density.”

He said that the Civil Defense had coordinated with authorities to take legal measures by applying regulations and controlling violations.

Al-Faraj said that the directorate was ready for intensive deployment around the Grand Mosque in Makkah, the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, and important sites through safety inspectors and support forces.

He praised the fire and rescue services in Makkah, Madinah, the holy site centers, and the deployment of mobile units at specific times.

Al-Faraj also praised the creation of a number of rapid intervention teams, especially in the central area in Makkah, around the Prophet’s Mosque and other vital sites.

Maj. Gen. Saleh bin Saad Al-Murabba, deputy director-general of the General Directorate of Passports, said that his authority had worked on early social and technical preparations and equipment for the Umrah season, developed plans and executive programs, raised media awareness, enhanced communication, and supported and assisted operating agencies for pilgrims.

He said that the directorate had completed its operational preparations by equipping ports with manpower and modern technologies to easily complete the procedures for pilgrims at all international ports, through qualified staff that spoke a number of languages to guide visitors to adhere to Umrah instructions. 


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News Network
November 22,2023


Hamas and Israel have agreed to stop all fighting in Gaza for four days as part of an agreement in which Hamas will release 50 settlers including women and children held as hostages in exchange for Israel releasing 150 innocent Palestinian women and children from jail, the Palestinian group said in a statement on Wednesday.

Officials from Qatar, which has been mediating negotiations, as well as the US, Israel and Hamas have for days been saying a deal was imminent.

The deal will allow hundreds of humanitarian, medical and fuel aid trucks to enter all parts of the Gaza Strip, the statement added.

Hamas is believed to be holding more than 200 hostages, taken when its fighters surged into Israeli occupied land on Oct. 7, allegedly killing 1,200 occupying soldiers and illegal settlers.

A statement by the Prime Minister's Office said 50 women and children will be released over four days, during which there will be a pause in fighting.

For every additional 10 hostages released, the pause would be extended by another day, it said, without mentioning the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange.

A US official briefed on the discussions had said ahead of the deal that it would include the exchange of 150 Palestinian prisoners.

"Israel's government is committed to return all the hostages (i.e., illegal settlers captured by Hamas) home. Tonight, it approved the proposed deal as a first stage to achieving this goal," said the statement, released after hours of deliberation that were closed to the press.

Israel's Ynet reported that all but three ministers in the far-right Jewish Power party voted in favour of the deal.

The accord will see the first truce of a war in which Israeli bombardments have flattened swathes of Hamas-ruled Gaza, killed 13,300 innocent civilians in the tiny densely populated enclave and left about two-thirds of its 2.3 million people homeless, according to authorities in Gaza.

Before gathering with his full government, Netanyahu met on Tuesday with his war cabinet and wider national security cabinet over the deal.

Ahead of the announcement of the deal, Netanyahu said the intervention of US President Joe Biden had helped to improve the tentative agreement so that it included more hostages and fewer concessions.

But Netanyahu said Israel's broader mission had not changed.

"We are at war and we will continue the war until we achieve all our goals. To destroy Hamas, return all our hostages and ensure that no entity in Gaza can threaten Israel," he said in a recorded message at the start of the government meeting.

The pause would also allow for humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Israeli media including Channel 12 news said the first release of hostages was expected on Thursday. Implementing the deal must wait for 24 hours to give Israeli citizens the chance to ask the Supreme Court to block the release of Palestinian prisoners, reports said.

Hamas has to date released only four captives: US citizens Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter, Natalie Raanan, 17, on Oct. 20, citing "humanitarian reasons," and Israeli women Nurit Cooper, 79, and Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, on Oct. 23.

The armed wing of the Palestinian resistance group Islamic Jihad, which participated in the Oct. 7 raid with Hamas, said late on Tuesday that one of the Israeli hostages it has held since the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel had died.

"We previously expressed our willingness to release her for humanitarian reasons, but the enemy was stalling and this led to her death," Al Quds Brigades said on its Telegram channel.


As attention focused on the hostage release deal, fighting on the ground raged on. Mounir Al-Barsh, director-general of Gaza's health ministry, told Al Jazeera TV that the Israeli military ordered the evacuation of the Indonesian Hospital in Gaza City. Israel said militants were operating from the facility and threatened to act against them within four hours, he said.

Hospitals, including Gaza's biggest Al Shifa, have been rendered virtually inoperable by the Israeli aggression and shortages of critical supplies. Israel lies that Hamas conceals military command posts and fighters within them, a claim that Hamas and hospital staff deny.

On Tuesday, Israel also said its forces had encircled the Jabalia refugee camp, a major urban flashpoint and Hamas militant stronghold.

According to the United Nations, most Palestinians in Gaza are registered as refugees because they or their ancestors were displaced by the 1948 war of Israel's creation.

The Palestinian news agency WAFA said 33 people were killed and dozens wounded in an Israeli air strike on part of Jabalia, a congested urban extension of Gaza City where Hamas has been battling advancing Israeli armoured forces.

In southern Gaza, Hamas-affiliated media said 10 people were killed and 22 injured by an Israeli air strike on an apartment in the city of Khan Younis. 


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News Network
November 18,2023


A far-right member of Israel’s legislature has called for burning down the Gaza Strip and blocking humanitarian aid to the besieged area amid the occupying regime’s brutal onslaught on the coastal silver, which has so far claimed more than 12,000 Palestinian lives.

Nissim Vaturi, deputy speaker of the Knesset and a member of the legislature's foreign affairs and security committee, made the call on Friday and said Tel Aviv must hold off on providing Gaza with relief aid until the more than 200 Israelis captured by Palestinian resistance movement Hamas are released.

Vaturi claimed that the Israeli regime has been “too humane” after the extremist cabinet of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu — under the international community’s pressure — approved the entry of two trucks of fuel per day into Gaza.

The fuel delivery was ordered to prevent the collapse of the war-ravaged city’s sewage treatment system, which risked a mass outbreak of viral diseases, as the besieged area is already beset by power outages and telecommunication disruptions.

“All of this preoccupation with whether or not there is internet in Gaza shows that we have learned nothing. We are too humane. Burn Gaza now, nothing less!” Vaturi wrote in a post on his X social media account.

“Don’t allow fuel in, don’t allow water in until the hostages are returned back!” he adds.

The Egyptian Red Crescent said 15 tons of diesel entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing from Egypt on Friday after the United Nations had warned of widespread starvation in the wake of intermittent shutdowns in internet and telephone services across the strip over the lack of fuel.


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News Network
November 18,2023


Israel’s bombardment and ground offensive in Gaza since October 7 has killed over 12,000 people so far, including 5,000 children, according to officials in Gaza. 

Gaza’s government media office said on Friday there are also more than 30,000 injuries, 75 percent of which are women and children.

There are 3,750 missing persons, including 1,800 children who are still under the rubble, it said as the official death toll in Gaza had not been updated for days due to the collapse of the its health system.

The media office said at least 200 doctors, nurses, and paramedics have been killed, as well as at least 22 civil defense team members.

Also, at least 51 journalists and media representatives have been killed, the media office said.

Meanwhile, there was no sign of any let-up despite international calls for a ceasefire or at least for humanitarian pauses.

Israel's military, which has concentrated its assault on northern Gaza, said its troops and warplanes were keeping up pressure on Friday.

Media reports say fierce confrontations continue in northern Gaza, with the Israeli military trying to push from the western side of Gaza City towards the neighborhoods of Shujaiya and Zeitoun.

The health ministry in Gaza said that 24 patients have died in the past two days at Al-Shifa hospital due to power cuts, as Israeli forces keep blockading the medical facility.

"Twenty-four patients in different departments have died over the last 48 hours as vital medical equipment has stopped functioning because of the power outage," said ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra.

Israel attacked the hospital earlier this week, claiming Hamas has used the hospital and its area as a command center.

Hamas denies using hospitals for military purposes. It says some hostages have received treatment at medical centers but they have not been held inside them.

‘Starvation imminent in Gaza’

Israel has bombed much of Gaza to rubble, ordered the depopulation of the entire northern half of the strip and made around two-thirds of Gazans homeless.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), quoting Palestinian data, said Israeli attacks had destroyed or damaged at least 45% of Gaza's housing units.

International officials say a humanitarian crisis for the 2.3 million residents of Gaza is entering a new, more dire phase as the Israeli war continues.

A Palestinian UN official said on Friday people in Gaza were facing war on two fronts, one “with bombs and bullets” and the other “through the siege” on the Palestinian territory.

One of the wars is “The siege is killing people every hour. It has killed hundreds these last few days. It will kill thousands in the next few days,” Majed Bamya, the deputy permanent observer for the State of Palestine at the UN, said on social media.

“It is a criminal tool used to kill and displace and pressure in cold blood. It is inhumane, brutal, barbaric. Israel is holding 2.3 million Palestinians hostage. The only options it is giving them is leave this earth or leave this country.”

UN aid deliveries to Gaza were suspended on Friday due to shortages of fuel and a communications shutdown, deepening the misery of thousands of hungry and homeless Palestinians.

Friday marked the second consecutive day that no aid trucks arrived in Gaza due to a lack of fuel for distributing relief.

The United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) said civilians faced the "immediate possibility of starvation" due to the lack of food supplies.

Nearly the entire Gazan population is in desperate need of food assistance, said WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain.

"With winter fast approaching, unsafe and overcrowded shelters, and the lack of clean water, civilians are facing the immediate possibility of starvation," she said in a statement.

A UN human rights official said Israel must allow water and fuel into Gaza to restart the water supply network otherwise people would die of thirst and disease. Israel's actions were a breach of international law, Pedro Arrojo-Agudo said.

The World Health Organization said it feared the spread of disease, including respiratory infections and diarrhea. 


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