Key regional issues top agenda of GCC summit

Updated 17 December 2012
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Key regional issues top agenda of GCC summit

Key regional developments, particularly the intransigent attitude of Syria, Iran and Israel, will top the agenda of the summit of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Bahrain next week. The ministerial council of the GCC has finalized the summit agenda, which is more focused on regional issues, closer defense cooperation, security threats, commercial cooperation and above all citizens' welfare.
"Bahrain is gearing up to host the 33rd GCC summit on Dec. 24," said Saleem S. A. Al-Alwi, a spokesman of the GCC General Secretariat, here yesterday. He said that there were "many challenges" facing the GCC today. It is therefore important for this regional bloc to address the major issues and the obstacles that it is facing, he added. The agenda has been formulated in such a way that it seeks to strengthen the GCC's structure and achieve the aspirations of its people after it is discussed by the summit.
Al-Alwi said that the Riyadh-based GCC Secretariat and the Bahraini government are gearing to host the two-day summit in Manama. To this end, he noted GCC Secretary-General Abdullateef Al-Zayani held talks with Hamoud bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa, Bahrain's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, here yesterday. A contingent of officials from the Riyadh-based GCC General Secretariat will also fly to Manama early next week. Hundreds of top officials including dozens of ministers from the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia will also participate in the summit talks.
Referring to the agenda of the GCC summit, a statement released by the GCC Secretariat, said that "it is critical for the GCC to speed up its works on the future road map toward full integration." The changing environment in the region as well as developments that have taken place within the past decade define the priorities of the GCC as regional bloc, it said, quoting GCC chief Al-Zayani. Al-Zayani said in the statement, that the topics of discussion among the heads of GCC states will not be "limited" to certain issues or problems affecting the region.
They may choose any other subject or any other topic that falls beyond the format of traditional agenda, he added. Of course, regional issues and the latest international developments will figure high in the talks, but the events in Syria are set to hold a special significance. The GCC, especially Saudi Arabia, has been actively involved in providing assistance to Syrians as they struggle with the difficult situation in their country. The summit may also review reports that call for closer security cooperation, formation of the GCC Union, formation of a joint GCC police force and cooperation in the field of nuclear energy.
This will be in addition to the "subject of environment and economic unification" to be taken up for discussions, said a GCC official, who did not want to be identified. In addition, each country has its own opinion and every member state has also witnessed various developments — especially when it comes to infrastructure, education and population, he observed. All of these variables have made it necessary today that the Gulf countries address what best can be attained for its people in the coming decades.
Referring to the forthcoming summit, the statement further said that "the summit will continue the trend of achievements. When you look at the larger picture, you see that the GCC has never regressed and that it has always moved forward." Today’s GCC is different from what it was 10 or 20 years ago, it added.
All issues to be discussed at the summit are interlinked besides being urgent that calls for urgent attention, said the statement. “We cannot separate security issues from economic or political issues or even social issues," read the statement.


Brother of Saudi student missing in the Philippines laments ‘weak’ search effort

Occidental Mindoro province. (Courtesy: google map)
Updated 2 min 7 sec ago
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Brother of Saudi student missing in the Philippines laments ‘weak’ search effort

  • A civil aviation authority spokesman, Eric Apolonio, said the flying school had hired two private divers, two technicians and sonar equipment to continue the search operation

JEDDAH, ISLAMABAD: The brother of a Saudi aviation student, who went missing over a week ago while on a training flight in the Philippines, on Sunday criticized the government for its “very weak” search efforts and the Saudi Embassy in Manila for its lack of help.
Abdullah Khalid Al-Sharif, a 23-year-old student at the Orient Flying School, was on a training flight on May 17 in Occidental Mindoro province when contact was lost with his plane. His flying instructor, Capt. Jose Nelson Yapparcon, is also missing.
The Philippine Navy told Arab News that the BE55, a light twin-engine aircraft, was believed to have crashed in the San Jose Strait, about 42 km from the nearest shoreline.
“There are efforts made by the Philippine government but they are very weak,” Abdul Majeed Al-Sharif, Abdullah’s older brother, told Arab News. “No cooperation from the (Saudi) embassy.”
“Still searching through our personal efforts. My uncle, my elder brother and my cousin … We brought, by our own efforts, a sonar to search under the water. We needed the embassy’s efforts to facilitate our work with the authorities, but they didn’t help unfortunately.”
A civil aviation authority spokesman, Eric Apolonio, said the flying school had hired two private divers, two technicians and sonar equipment to continue the search operation.
The Saudi embassy said on Sunday it had set up a team that was working around the clock with Philippine authorities to find the missing trainee and his instructor.
“The Saudi Foreign Ministry constantly follows up with the embassy on the search for the student,” the statement said. “We will continue to make efforts to search for him in coordination with the Philippine Interior Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the civil aviation authority and other agencies.”
Philippine Navy fleet commander Rear Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo said the supposed crash site, based on the aircraft’s last known location, was about 42 km from the nearest shoreline with depth of waters in the area exceeding 600 feet, beyond the capacity of technical divers and equipment.
“You can’t do any salvage operations with our equipment given the depth of the waters in the area,” Bacordo told Arab News, saying the side-scan sonar being used by the navy could only penetrate up to about 180 feet. “It’s also beyond the capacity of our technical divers, who can only go as far as 100 to 300 feet.”

Previous search operations conducted by the navy, along with the Philippine Coast Guard immediately after the crash, have failed to yield results.
Apolonio said the Orient Flying School had hired a sonar with a greater capacity than the equipment used by the navy.
“It can detect more than the expected depth of the area,” he told Arab News, and the (Orient Flying School) operators already coordinated with the navy in the area so they can start new search operations.”
But weather conditions in the area were also hampering the search effort, he added, and the search area may have to be expanded because of the undercurrent.
Apolonio also confirmed that the plane had been involved in a previous accident, in Palawan province in July 2015, but that as far as he knew the aircraft had passed all safety protocols before the May 17 flight.
“We have safety procedures and a checklist and it (aircraft) passed all these. It has been used as a trainer aircraft for years now,” he said, adding that the possibility that the aircraft had developed a problem could not be ruled out.
The spokesman said a statement about the pair would be released only after they were found.
“As of now, we can’t announce what really happened,” he said, adding that the aviation authority was closely communicating with Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic mission in the Philippines.
The Al-Arabiya news website reported Al-Sharif as saying that he believed his brother and the instructor were still alive.
Al-Sharif said a friend of his in the Kingdom had called his missing brother’s number on Saturday several times and that a stranger had answered the call on the fourth time.  
It was a five-minute call with a Filipino, according to the Al-Arabiya report.
“My friend did not understand what she was saying, she was talking loudly. After asking her if she can speak in English, she answered yes, then the call was cut off.” Al-Sharif said his friend called again, but the mobile was switched off.
Al-Sharif also said a fisherman had found a bag containing the instructor’s identity card, bank cards and pictures but that none of his brother’s belongings were found. He said his brother may have been kidnapped.
Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the Philippines Dr. Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Busairi said the embassy knew about the call. “We have handled it delicately. We sent all the information to security services for site monitoring, and we confirm that the embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Saudi Arabia are very interested and concerned with following the details of the case,” Al-Arabiya reported the ambassador as saying.
The ambassador also denied the embassy had been unhelpful. The lack of publicity was at the request of the family, who did not want to talk to the media, he told Al-Arabiya.