‘It is in our interest to see a strong Saudi Arabia’

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King Salman receives US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Riyadh Wednesday. (SPA)
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Houthi fighters ride on the back of a patrol truck Yemen's capital Sanaa on Wednesday. US Defense Secretary jim Mattis on Wednesday warned of Iranian efforts to create a Yemeni militia “in the image” of Lebanon’s Hezbollah. (REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)
Updated 20 April 2017
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‘It is in our interest to see a strong Saudi Arabia’

RIYADH: The US wants to see a strong Saudi Arabia, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said during talks with King Salman on Wednesday, aimed at reinvigorating the Riyadh-Washington alliance. 

Mattis said Iran was playing a destabilizing role in the region but its influence would be overcome to try to reach a solution to the conflict in Yemen through UN-brokered negotiations.

“Everywhere you look if there is trouble in the region, you find Iran,” Mattis told reporters in Riyadh after meeting senior Saudi officials. “We will have to overcome Iran’s efforts to destabilize yet another country and create another militia in their image of Lebanese Hezbollah, but the bottom line is we are on the right path for it,” Mattis added. 

Mattis also hinted that President Donald Trump could visit the Kingdom, a longtime US ally which has welcomed Washington’s firmer line against the common adversary Iran. “It is in our interest to see a strong Saudi Arabia,” Mattis said at the start of talks with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, pointing to the country’s “military security services and secret services.”

“What we can do here today could actually open the door possibly to bringing our president to Saudi Arabia,” Mattis said.

The two sides pledged to work closely to broaden security cooperation and to ramp up support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iranian-backed Houthi militias in Yemen.

Mattis’ talks with the king at Al-Yamamah Palace focused on “efforts to strengthen US-Saudi partnership,” said Johann Schmonsees, a spokesman of the US Embassy. 

Mattis discussed with the king and the deputy crown prince efforts to strengthen commitments to the US-Saudi security partnership, Schmonsees said.

Saud Al-Awadh, a political analyst, said: “The trip of the US defense secretary marks the first visit of the Pentagon chief to the Kingdom. It has added significance keeping in view the American counterterrorism operations and airstrikes in Yemen, where US forces are also providing moderate intelligence support to the Saudi-led forces.”

Mattis will also visit Israel, Egypt, Qatar and Djibouti. The Pentagon has billed the trip, Mattis’ fourth as defense secretary and second to the Middle East region, as an opportunity for him to discuss the ongoing fight against terrorism throughout the region. 

Mattis traveled to Egypt Thursday after wrapping up his two-day trip to the Kingdom. He will visit Israel Friday before returning to the Gulf Saturday for talks in Qatar. The trip is primarily aimed at boosting the alliance between the US and these five countries, which are important players in the region.


Height of adventure: Treading the ‘Edge of the World’ near Riyadh

Updated 19 April 2018
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Height of adventure: Treading the ‘Edge of the World’ near Riyadh

  • Cliffs in Tuwaiq were formed as a result of the movement of the Arabian plate toward the northeast because of the spread of the Red Sea rift
  • Several prominent Saudi tour companies offer daylong excursions to the site

Thrill seekers and fitness gurus all over the Kingdom will be pleased to know that their choices for weekend activities have increased. 

Several tour operators in Riyadh have started offering trips to the area known as the Edge of the World, making the location more accessible than ever.

With the country’s obesity rates on the rise and many citizens growing more concerned about their physical health and stress levels, people are seeking ways to maintain their fitness without having to restrict themselves to the monotony of a gym routine.

One such solution that has steadily increased in popularity over the past year is hiking, which many have embraced as being much more exciting and fulfilling than spending hours on the treadmill. And most popular of all for hiking and other fitness activities in a natural setting is the magnificent landmark of Jabal Fihrayn, more commonly known as the Edge of the World.

Described as a “window framed by rock,” the Edge of the World offers stunning views of the valley below, a lush grove of acacia trees teeming with wildlife and vegetation. The spot is well-known for being a favorite of visiting picnickers.

Hikers can choose from several trails of varying levels of difficulty, making their way to the top of the Tuwaiq escarpment to take in the magnificent views at the top of the trail, where the colossal cliff faces drop off to reveal the dizzying height from the valley below. In addition to the rich wildlife unique to the location, you can also find samples of fossilized coral and raw mineral deposits in certain areas of the valley.

The cliffs in the areas were formed as a result of the tectonic movement of the Arabian plate toward the northeast because of the spread of the Red Sea rift situated 1,000 km to the west of Tuwaiq.

Due to the increasing popularity of the site, the authorities have built a hardtop that leads to the gates of the sites and arrangements are in place to protect the area and its natural treasures. 

Several prominent Saudi tour companies offer daylong excursions to the site. The more intrepid explorer also has the option to go alone; though past visitors recommend that solo travelers take an all-terrain, 4x4 vehicle and extra precaution. Visitors can spend the day at the site and leave before 6 p.m. (when the gates are closed for the night) or stay behind for a night of camping to enjoy the sunset and the breathtaking celestial views of a star-studded night sky.

Nora Alfard, amateur hiking enthusiast and two-time visitor to the location, was quick to offer praise about her trip. 

“The trip out there was a bit tiring, but totally worth it,” she said. “The views are stunning, and the hiking itself is not that difficult. Most people should be able to make it to the top without too much trouble.” She said she was likely to go a third time, and encouraged others to do the same.

The Edge of the World is roughly 100km northwest of Riyadh, about 1.5 hours’ drive from the capital. Visitors should be prepared for at least 30 minutes of hiking, possibly more depending on your trail and your level of fitness and experience. Previous visitors recommend bringing water and snacks, and stress the importance of dressing appropriately — hiking shoes only!

Decoder

What is hiking?

Hiking means a long, vigorous walk, usually on trails in the countryside. Day hikers generally carry at least food, a map or a GPS navigation device.