‘Schengen-style’ GCC visa likely by mid-2016

Updated 12 October 2015
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‘Schengen-style’ GCC visa likely by mid-2016

RIYADH: A unified visa for the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) may be available from the middle of next year, said GCC officials here.
The GCC General Secretariat is working on the ambitious proposal to introduce the visa that would allow foreigners to visit all GCC states, more or less similar to Europe’s Schengen visa.
“The unified GCC visa could soon become a reality following the meeting of the GCC tourism ministers in Oman last week,” said a Gulf official. He confirmed that tourism officials discussed a range of topics including the long-awaited unified visa proposal and a unified tourism policy at the meeting.
“All GCC countries stand to gain from the new tourism policy,” said Khalid bin Salem Al-Ghassani, GCC assistant secretary general for cultural and media affairs.
He made these remarks while speaking about the GCC tourism officials’ meeting, which was attended by Prince Sultan bin Salman, chief of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTNH).
Al-Ghassani said that a draft project submitted by the UAE on regulating and promoting the tourism industry sector was also discussed by the officials. The tourism officials discussed at length cooperation between the public and private sectors and a memo submitted by the GCC Secretariat to protect urban heritage.
Referring to the delay in legislation on the part of the GCC that will eventually introduce a unified visa, Salahuddin Al-Osaimi, a travel and tourism industry leader, said that “there is need to finalize the issue as early as possible … we must learn from the European experience in this regard.”
He spoke about the benefits of a common Schengen visa, that “allows a Saudi or an expatriate to visit 26 countries on one visa endorsement.”
A large number of trade and tourism projects are being implemented across the GCC including the Kingdom, Al-Osaimi pointed out.


Syrian regime’s killing spree continues in largest opposition holdout

A member of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham group watches as a convoy of busses gets ready to enter the towns of Fuaa and Kefraya to evacuate their residents on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 19 July 2018
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Syrian regime’s killing spree continues in largest opposition holdout

  • Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since 1967, and a cease-fire deal was reached in 1974
  • The regime offensive has displaced more than 230,000 people, many of them on the run in the open

BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces determined to retake the largest opposition holdout in the country’s southwest unleashed an intense bombing campaign, killing at least a dozen people and wounding over 100 in a densely populated town, activists and rescuers said on Wednesday.
The aerial bombardment of the town of Nawa came after talks to cede the town failed on Tuesday, triggering the heavy bombardment.
Separately, some 7,000 civilians were expected to be evacuated from two pro-regime villages in northwestern Syria as part of a negotiated deal with insurgents who have besieged them for three years.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said “frenzied” overnight bombing in Nawa and the town’s surroundings continued into Wednesday, with at least 350 missiles launched. The Observatory said at least 12 people were killed as rescuers struggled to get to the casualties.
Khaled Solh, head of the local Syria Civil Defense known as White Helmets, said they have documented 14 people killed while Nawa’s only hospital was bombed and rendered non-operational on late Tuesday. Only one ambulance was able to get to the town and civilians relied on their cars to bring out at least 150 wounded. He said one of the last orthopedists in the town was killed in the strikes.
The regime has stepped up its military offensive on the remaining opposition pockets in the southwestern region, which includes the Daraa and Quneitra provinces that straddle the border with Jordan and the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. In recent days, Syrian forces have turned to the last opposition pockets near the frontier with Israel.
Images from across the frontier in the Israel-occupied Golan Heights showed large plumes of smoke rising over the Nawa area, as the bombing continued on Wednesday.
Hundreds of civilians were seen taking cover in shelters along the frontier, apparently seeking safety in the de-militarized zone between the two countries. Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since 1967, and a cease-fire deal was reached in 1974.
In less than a month, regime forces backed by Russian air power have been able to seize control of most of southwestern Daraa province, including the provincial capital of the same name. The city of Daraa was the cradle of the uprising against Bashar Assad more than seven years ago.
Alongside the military offensive, the government has struck “reconciliation” deals, essentially a negotiated capitulation in a number of villages that have been in rebel hands for years, to restore government control there.
Talks to hand over Nawa, one of the most densely populated towns in Daraa province, have been ongoing for a couple of days. That has encouraged displaced civilians to return to Nawa, said a local activist who goes by the name Selma Mohammed.
But the talks faltered, triggering the overnight onslaught and a new wave of displacement, with hundreds leaving the town again.
On Wednesday, the bombing focused on towns and villages surrounding Nawa, making the road in and out of town deadly, Mohammed said.
The Observatory said warplanes and ground forces have also targeted the southern tip of the region, which is held by militants affiliated with Daesh.
The regime offensive has displaced more than 230,000 people, many of them on the run in the open. Jordan said it will not take in new refugees and Israeli soldiers have shooed away dozens of protesters who had approached the frontier Tuesday, demanding protection.
Meanwhile, about 7,000 Syrians were expected to be evacuated from two pro-regime villages in northwestern Syria, ending a three-year siege by insurgents who control the surrounding area. Dozens of buses arrived in the Foua and Kfraya villages to transport the evacuees on Wednesday, Syrian state media said.
Evacuation deals have been criticized by the UN as forced displacement. A negotiated deal to evacuate Foua and Kfraya villagers earlier this year faltered after the evacuation of only 40 people from a third village. The evacuees’ first stop is the regime-controlled city of Aleppo.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that Russian and Syrian authorities had set up a refugee center in Syria to help refugees return home from abroad.