Helping Gazans fulfil Hajj dream

Palestinian Muslim pilgrims arrive at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip, on August 14, 2017, ahead of their departure to the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Makkah. (AFP)
Updated 03 August 2019

Helping Gazans fulfil Hajj dream

  • A special tent city has been set up to accommodate all pilgrims during their stay in Saudi Arabia

JERUSALEM: Omar Mohammad Raboun has been trying to perform the Hajj pilgrimage for 10 years.
This year his name and that of his wife, Amira, popped up when the Palestinian Ministry of Islamic Waqf chose them in the lottery for Gazans to participate. 
Omar, 69, is a retired employee of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), and told Arab News that he could not wait to visit the Kaaba and tour Madinah. “I have been waiting a long time for this opportunity to carry out the fifth duty of all Muslim believers,” he said.
While the pilgrimage has been known for centuries as a source of hardship, this year’s delegation expect to have things made easier as a result of an agreement reached with Palestine Airways to fly the pilgrims from Cairo International Airport directly to Madinah. Omar has never flown before, but said: “I am a believer and I know that our lives are in God’s hands.”
Amira, mother of four boys and five girls, is not as keen. “I have never flown also but to be honest I am a bit afraid,” she said. 

HIGHLIGHTS

• While the pilgrimage has been known for centuries as a source of hardship, this year’s delegation expect to have things made easier as a result of an agreement reached with Palestine Airways to fly the pilgrims from Cairo International Airport directly to Madinah.

• Palestine Airways has rented modern planes from EgyptAir to help transport the pilgrims back and forth to the holy places in Saudi Arabia.  

Both Omar and Amira collected their tickets and vouchers at the Hanief Travel Agency, which organizes the Hajj trips. Mohammad Abdel Bari, the owner of the agency, told Arab News that this year’s pilgrims will have an easier time getting to Makkah and Madinah. “We have coordinated with the Egyptian and Saudi authorities and we have been promised that the travelers will be checked only at the first check point and then will be able to whiz through all other checkpoints in Sinai until they get to Cairo International Airport.”
Ramadan Barghouti, a senior official at Palestine Airways, told Arab News the Palestinian company has rented modern planes from EgyptAir to help transport the pilgrims back and forth to the holy places in Saudi Arabia. 
“We have secured excellent deals with EgyptAir and we are able to offer the pilgrims land and air transport, as well as accommodation, for $3,942 per person,” said Barghouti, adding that Gazan would depart on July 25 and be back in Gaza just after Eid Al-Adha, around the week of Aug. 18.
Assem Salem, the Palestinian minister of transport, has stated that 3,000 Gazans will travel on the annual Hajj pilgrimage this year exclusively with Palestine Airways in coordination with EgyptAir.
A special tent city has been set up to accommodate all pilgrims during their stay in the Kingdom.


UN warns of severe aid cuts in Yemen without new funds soon

Updated 22 August 2019

UN warns of severe aid cuts in Yemen without new funds soon

  • Donors have pledged $2.6 billion to meet the urgent needs of more than 20 million Yemenis
  • But UN humanitarian chief Lise Grande says less than half the amount has been received so far
UNITED NATIONS: The UN humanitarian chief in Yemen warned Wednesday that unless significant new funding is received in the coming weeks, food rations for 12 million people in the war-torn country will be reduced and at least 2.5 million malnourished children will be cut off from life-saving services.
Lise Grande said the UN was forced to suspend most vaccination campaigns in May, and without new money a “staggering” 22 life-saving programs in Yemen will close in the next two months.
At a UN pledging conference in February, donors pledged $2.6 billion to meet the urgent needs of more than 20 million Yemenis, but Grande said that to date, less than half the amount has been received.
“When money doesn’t come, people die,” she said in a statement Wednesday.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by Iran-backed Houthi Shiite rebels who control much of the country’s north. A Saudi-led coalition that includes the United Arab Emirates allied with Yemen’s internationally recognized government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.
The fighting in the Arab world’s poorest country has left thousands of civilians and created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine.
UN deputy humanitarian chief Ursula Mueller told the Security Council on Tuesday that 12 million Yemenis have been assisted every month, “but much of this is about to stop” because only 34% of the UN’s $4.2 billion appeal for 2019 has been funded.
At this time last year, she said, 65% of the appeal was funded, including generous contributions from Yemen’s neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The UN humanitarian office in New York said Wednesday that Saudi Arabia and the UAE each pledged $750 million to its Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan for 2019.
Grande said the UN is grateful to donors who have lived up to their promises, and in half the districts where people were facing famine “conditions have improved to the point where families are no longer at risk of starvation.”
But she said of the 34 major UN humanitarian programs in Yemen, only three are funded for the entire year. Several have been forced to close in recent weeks, Grande said, and many large-scale projects designed to help destitute, hungry families have been unable to start.
Without new funds in the coming weeks, she said, 19 million people will also lose access to health care, including 1 million women who depend on the UN for reproductive health services. In addition, Grande said, clean water programs for 5 million people will have to shut down at the end of October and tens of thousands of displaced families may find themselves homeless.
“Millions of people in Yemen, who through no fault of their own are the victims of this conflict, depend on us to survive,” she said. “All of us are ashamed by the situation. It’s heart-breaking to look a family in the eye and say we have no money to help.”