Hack or attack? Qatari emir's allegedly contrarian 'comments' unsettle neighbors

Hack or attack? Qatari emir's allegedly contrarian 'comments' unsettle neighbors
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Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani (second left) is seen in a group photo with US President Donald Trump, Saudi King Salman, and other leaders of Muslim nations during the Arab-Islamic-American Summit in Riyadh on May 21, 2017. Qatari news media reports quoting Sheikh Tamim as allegedly endorsing Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah and criticizing the summit has caused tensions with Qatar’s Gulf neighbors. (AFP file photo)
Hack or attack? Qatari emir's allegedly contrarian 'comments' unsettle neighbors
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US President Donald Trump (R) and Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani take part in a bilateral meeting at a hotel in Riyadh on May 21, 2017. In an alleged statement by Sheikh Tamim, carried by Qatar's official news agency QNA, he endorse Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah — strongly diverging from the stance of Qatar’s Gulf neighbors. (AFP / MANDEL NGAN)
Updated 25 May 2017

Hack or attack? Qatari emir's allegedly contrarian 'comments' unsettle neighbors

Hack or attack? Qatari emir's allegedly contrarian 'comments' unsettle neighbors

JEDDAH: Tensions rose in the Gulf on Tuesday after a series of controversial comments attributed to Qatar’s emir, in a row that led to the blocking of Doha-aligned news websites in some neighboring states.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani’s alleged comments, carried by the official state news agency QNA, apparently saw him endorse Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah — strongly diverging from the stance of Qatar’s Gulf neighbors.
Doha claimed the report was the result of a hacking attack — but its Gulf neighbors responded nonetheless, particularly after the same comments were repeated in more than one language, on more than one outlet and at various times of the day in a manner which makes the story true and the hacking seem less likely. 
The Arabic-language website and phone application of Al-Jazeera and the Middle East Eye website were blocked in Saudi Arabia and the UAE a day after the Qatari state news agency carried inflammatory comments attributed to Sheikh Tamim. Egypt also blocked some Qatari outlets, Al-Watan reported.
Earlier reports also attributed to the official Qatar News Agency said that Doha has withdrawn its ambassadors from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE, according to the Al Arabiya News Channel.
Qatar’s Foreign Minister said early Wednesday that he did not make any statement regarding the withdrawal or eviction of five Arab ambassadors from Doha, Al Arabiya reported.
Qatar maintains that the statement posted to QNA was the result of a hack, and says it is being investigated. But the report in question was simultaneously posted in different languages and on social media platforms, where they remained, according to Al Arabiya.
The remarks led to a widespread backlash on social media, while access to some Qatar-sponsored media outlets was restricted elsewhere in the Gulf.
The emir’s alleged comments were in line with recent criticism waged against the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia by other Qatar-sponsored media outlets such as Al-Jazeera, Al-Arab and the London-based Middle East Eye.
Sheikh Tamim also allegedly spoke of “tensions” with the new US administration and predicted that US President Donald Trump will not last long, citing domestic political problems in Washington over ties with Russia.
Sheikh Tamim also seems to have praised Iran, which even the previous US administration under President Obama labeled as the “biggest state sponsor of terror.”
The emir reportedly said: “There is no wisdom in harboring hostility toward Iran.”
Despite the emir allegedly saying that the relations with Israel are “good,” he went on to describe Hamas — which is designated as a terrorist organization by the US, EU and Israel and is condemned even by Arab countries for firing missiles toward civilians — as the “official representative of Palestinians.”
Despite this apparent endorsement of Hamas, the emir seems to have still refuted allegations of his country supporting terror. Yet many claim Doha supports both Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which is designated a terrorist group by some fellow GCC countries.
The emir reportedly also criticized the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt for waging a campaign against Doha. All three countries are fierce critics of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, the emir seems to have not mentioned Saudi Arabia by name.
He did seem, however, to criticize what he described as “exaggerated” arms deals and said that countries should be spending such funds on development projects. That was an apparent attack on the recent enormous Saudi-US arms deals signed in Riyadh during President Trump’s visit.
The emir is said to have credited Al-Udeid Air Base, which houses the biggest US Air Force base in the region, with protecting Doha from some neighboring countries, without mentioning any names.
Whether the comments attributed to the emir are real or not, much of it reflects what was previously being reported by Qatari media outlets attacking Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain.
In a series of comments posted on his twitter account, Deputy Head of Dubai Police and General Security Dhahi Khalfan expressed his shock over the alleged statements.
In one tweet the Khalfan asked why Qatar would break the line of unity Riyadh has built, while in another he asked why Qatar would extend bridges with Iran.
Addressing Qatari citizens, Khalfan said: “You should not worry about Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Egypt, you should be worried about Iran."
“Saudi Arabia succeeded in convincing the world of its stances but Qatar refused to listen,” the Dubai police chief added.
“What does Qatar mean that the US base is there to protect it from its neighbors? Qatari people are dear to their neighbors.”


Saudi Arabia reopens King Fahd Causeway for travelers to and from Bahrain

Saudi Arabia reopens King Fahd Causeway for travelers to and from Bahrain
Updated 16 May 2021

Saudi Arabia reopens King Fahd Causeway for travelers to and from Bahrain

Saudi Arabia reopens King Fahd Causeway for travelers to and from Bahrain
  • Travel suspension for citizens, and the opening of land, sea and air ports would be lifted starting Sunday
  • A coronavirus insurance certificate is required for travelers below 18 years

DUBAI: Hundreds of thousands of daily travelers between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain through the King Fahd Causeway may once again access the border crossing when travel restrictions are lifted on Sunday, May 17.
Residents shuttle between the two countries via King Fahd Causeway, but the travel artery was closed on March 8, 2020, because of COVID-19 safety precautions.
Travel suspension for citizens, and the opening of land, sea and air ports would be lifted starting Sunday, state news agency SPA reported.
An additional 10 lanes were installed to the departure area, bringing the total to 27 lanes, in addition to 36 lanes in the arrival area, Duwaihi Al-Sahli, director of King Fahd Causeway Passports, was quoted by the report as saying.
However, only those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or those who have recovered from the disease would be allowed to leave the Kingdom, authorities. They would be required to present proof via the Tawakkalna app installed in their mobile phones.
A coronavirus insurance certificate is required for travelers below 18 years.
For travelers heading from Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, they will be required to carry any of the health applications approved in the GCC countries, which confirm whether they are vaccinated or have recovered from the virus, Bahrain’s news agency BNA reported.
They can also present PCR certificates which should not exceed 72 hours from the time of taking the sample, BNA added.
Jordan meanwhile said that exemptions previously announced for passengers’ entry through the Omari border post with Saudi Arabia have been canceled effective on Monday.
The decision was made after a series of measures were taken recently to help ease the entry of Jordanians and visitors from Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf countries, state news agency Petra reported, citing Interior Minister Mazen Al-Faraya.
Border regulations previously required the presentation of a certificate proving they received two coronavirus vaccine doses and a negative PCR test 72 hours prior.
Travelers can now pass without registering on the platform or having a PCR test on the border, the report said.


Taif closes popular park after increase in visitors during Eid

Taif closes popular park after  increase in visitors during Eid
Updated 16 May 2021

Taif closes popular park after increase in visitors during Eid

Taif closes popular park after  increase in visitors during Eid

TAIF: Taif municipality closed Al-Ruddaf Park after an increase in the number of visitors in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Earlier, a joint committee closed two other parks in Taif that neglected to properly implement precautionary measures.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Province municipality carried out 1,192 inspection tours and 12 other joint tours with relevant authorities, in markets, commercial centers and retail stores.

The tours resulted in the closure of 17 establishments found to be in violation of preventative measures in place to prevent the spread of the disease.

The municipality confirmed that it would continue its intensive monitoring tours and awareness-raising campaigns at commercial and food establishments in the markets.

INNUMBERS

432,269 - total COVID-19 cases in Saudi Arabia

416,759 - total recoveries

7,147 - total deaths

It is also ensuring that the protocols are applied inside stores, especially in barbershops and women’s beauty centers.

It called on everyone to cooperate and report violations through the complaints call center 940.

Jeddah carried out 7,356 inspection tours of commercial centers and facilities and identified 323 violations for issues related to overcrowding and the failure to effectively use the Tawakkalna app. Authorities have shut down 92 commercial outlets for breaching COVID-19 protocols.

Saudi Arabia reported 13 more COVID-19-related deaths on Saturday. The death toll now stands at 7,147. The Ministry of Health reported 837 new cases, raising the number of people who have now contracted the disease to 432,269, with 8,363 active cases, 1,331 of which are in critical condition.

According to the ministry, 290 of the newly recorded cases were in Riyadh, 240 in Makkah, 97 in the Eastern Province and 55 in Madinah. In addition, 1,012 patients have recovered from the disease, bringing the total number of recoveries to 416,759.

Saudi Arabia has so far conducted 17,916,457 PCR tests, with 47,586 carried out in the past 24 hours.

Saudis and expatriates in the Kingdom continue to receive their COVID-19 jabs, with 11,400,807 people inoculated so far.


Saudi Arabia leads Arab action in UN to highlight Palestine violence

Saudi Arabia leads Arab action in UN to highlight Palestine violence
Updated 16 May 2021

Saudi Arabia leads Arab action in UN to highlight Palestine violence

Saudi Arabia leads Arab action in UN to highlight Palestine violence
  • Saudi envoy urges world community to protect civilians

NEW YORK: Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the UN in New York, Abdallah Al-Mouallami, has met the permanent Chinese delegation to the UN in his capacity as president of the Security Council for this month, as the Kingdom leads Arab action on Palestine.

The Arab small group meetings aim to provide information in the Security Council about the Israeli attacks against Palestinians, especially recent ones so that the international community can carry out its duties to protect civilians.

The meeting was attended by Faisal Al-Haqbani, the special political committee’s official from Saudi Arabia’s permanent delegation to the UN.

Al-Mouallami also met the president of the UN General Assembly, Volkan Bozkır, as the Kingdom leads an Islamic movement for Palestine. The meetings of the Islamic Group with the president of the General Assembly aim to shed light on the recent Israeli attacks to urge the international community to protect civilians.

Saudi Arabia has always been the first to support the Palestinian cause in the UN and before the international community.

On Friday, the Saudi foreign minister spoke to the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Riyad Al-Maliki on the phone. During the call, Prince Faisal bin Farhan affirmed the Kingdom’s condemnation of illegal practices carried out by Israeli authorities, and the need to immediately stop the country’s escalatory actions that violate all international norms and conventions.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation in Jerusalem and Gaza, at the request of Saudi Arabia.

The meeting between foreign ministers of OIC member nations will address continuing Israeli attacks in the Palestinian territories.


Saudis pack their bags and prepare for bumpy takeoff

Saudis pack their bags and prepare for bumpy takeoff
Updated 16 May 2021

Saudis pack their bags and prepare for bumpy takeoff

Saudis pack their bags and prepare for bumpy takeoff
  • Coronavirus restrictions in some countries have restricted Saudi travelers’ options

JEDDAH: With summer knocking on our doors, Saudi travelers will head to the Kingdom’s airports for their first international journeys in over a year — but many face challenges ahead.

After more than 14 months of international flight bans, Saudis are ready to don their blue disposable face masks and use up their air miles on May 17.

Almost 11.5 million residents of the Kingdom have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine jab and more than 400,000 recoveries have been reported by the Saudi health ministry, which means almost 12 million Saudis are now allowed to cross borders to neighboring countries or travel further.

While some Saudis have restricted their holiday or business destinations to the safest areas due to COVID-19 protocols, many are undeterred by the challenges ahead and can’t wait to fasten their seatbelts.

Planning a holiday in the coming months will be far from easy — choices are limited and quarantine measures are in place in a number of destinations that are popular for summer holidays. However, many tourists are still willing to travel and face the music. 

In the wake of the global pandemic, both countries and individual travelers are wary of restrictions. But even with a massive vaccine rollout in place, and authorities easing travel abroad for those who have been vaccinated and those who have recovered from the illness, many Saudis are opting to head closer to home. 

“As soon as we heard that Bahrain is allowing Saudis in without the need to quarantine, we raced to book our hotel and tickets, but they were fully booked for the first week,” said 34-year old Maha Al-Hussain from Riyadh.

“My family and I had the good fortune to visit Jeddah every now and then, but we’d like a holiday for the children to roam free and swim all day, so everyone can just take a break.”

My family and I have been searching for a new and different place to travel to for a few days now and my father was adamant that we do so especially since we’re all vaccinated.

Kholoud Yousef

The mother of three told Arab News that although it is hard to book flights for seven people at the moment, the family decided to make the four-hour drive to Bahrain and hope for a smooth entry at the King Fahd Causeway. 

“All of the adults are vaccinated and our children know the rules by now,” she said. “We went through hardships as did everyone this year. The trip is important for us all and we’ve been extra careful through it all. We’ll continue being careful until we’re back home again.”

Earlier, Bahrain announced that all GCC visitors who are fully vaccinated or recovered are no longer required to undergo a PCR test on arrival but must show evidence of vaccination or recovery. 

For Saudis, a little more care and attention is given, with a welcome back campaign launched by the neighboring island kingdom featuring the slogan “walahna alaikom,” or “we’ve missed you.”

While the state of travel to the 20 countries on the list remains in place, airlines are ready to operate normally to many cities across the world, although a number of countries are limiting arrivals. 

Several EU member states have limited arrivals from outside the EU, while others are allowing visitors back but with restrictions. 

On Friday, Greek Ambassador to the Kingdom Alexis Konstantoloulos announced that Saudis wishing to travel to Greece will be able to do so with a negative PCR test or vaccination certification and on completion of a passenger location form.

FASTFACTS

Saudis permitted to travel abroad: • Saudis who have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

• Saudis who have received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine no less than 14 days before the flight.

• Citizens who recovered from COVID-19 at least six months before the flight.

“Welcome back to our Saudi friends, Greece is expecting you,” he tweeted.

Pre-travel PCR tests conducted no more than 72-48 hours before arrival, travel insurance, five to 10 days of quarantine on arrival at the traveler’s expense and post-arrival PCR tests are among the requirements a number EU member states are requesting, but the numbers are limited as many countries are restricting nonessential travel. 

The UK, a favorite destination for many Saudis, will require self-isolation on arrival as Saudi Arabia remains in its amber category. The list will be reviewed every three weeks, according to UK officials.

Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Australia, Russia, Spain, Poland, Vietnam, Czech Republic and Belgium are among countries still suspending international tourist arrivals.

Citizens are urged to review travel restrictions for each destination as each country requires a different set of requirements before traveling and on arrival.

“Dubai is next,” said 32-year-old PR director Yousef A. “I’ve visited Dubai many times in the past few years and it has become something of a second home for my family and I,” he told Arab News.

“I did my homework. Saudi Arabia is on the UAE’s safe ‘green list’ and no quarantine is required. As soon as the Saudi authorities allow it, that will be my next destination.” 

The search for relaxed COVID-19 restrictions has been continuing for weeks after news was confirmed that the Kingdom’s travel ban would be lifted on May 17, but it is a struggle, as 27-year-old Kholoud Yousef explained to Arab News.

“We initially planned on traveling to Bali during the first week after the ban was lifted, but when we heard we’d have to quarantine for five days and take two PCR tests, we realized it would take a good chunk out of our holiday time and we don’t want to be holed up in our hotel rooms,” she told Arab News.

“My family and I have been searching for a new and different place to travel to for a few days now and my father was adamant that we do so especially since we’re all vaccinated. 

We’re putting Bali on hold for now and heading to Morocco next week, and it was an easy choice. All we needed was a confirmed hotel reservation. It feels good to know that we can travel again. Hopefully, this is going to be one great trip.”


Al-Ahsa’s fabled pottery industry stands test of time

Al-Ahsa’s fabled pottery industry stands test of time
Updated 16 May 2021

Al-Ahsa’s fabled pottery industry stands test of time

Al-Ahsa’s fabled pottery industry stands test of time
  • Among the most prominent pottery site in Al-Ahsa is Dogha Al-Gharash, located west of Al-Qarah Mountain

AL-AHSA: Al-Ahsa’s pottery markets and factories, which have operated for centuries, see a surge in business during the holy month of Ramadan. Many Saudis buy pottery products to prepare and decorate their Ramadan and Eid tables, as part of local customs and traditions.

Pottery vessels have a range of shapes and uses, including utensil and food containers, pots for preserving and cooling water, and antiques for decorating tables, including incense burners, vases and piggy banks. These are considered part of local heritage and folklore across the Kingdom.

Among the most prominent pottery site in Al-Ahsa is Dogha Al-Gharash, located west of Al-Qarah Mountain. This factory was founded more than 150 years ago and has become one of the main tourist and heritage sites in the region.

The chief craftsman in Al-Ahsa, Wassil Ali Al-Gharash, who supervises the factory, said that the pottery market during Ramadan sees “remarkable activity” in terms of manufacturing and sales.

“This is because of its uses and forms that overlap and suit Ramadan and Eid tables, in addition to the special aesthetic atmosphere that pottery adds, bringing back memories of past decades,” he added.

Al-Gharash said that pottery, a technique that has been honed for millennia in the Arabian Gulf, involves several steps. The first is the choosing of appropriate clay, the main material, which is then cleaned and formed.

Clay is then used to shape a vessel by hand or through molds and pottery wheels. The shaped clay is then left in a suitable place to dry. In the final step, the shaped clay is cooked in special ovens, thus becoming a high-quality product ready for sale and use.

Al-Gharash said that pottery is an art that requires patience, accuracy, skill and an experienced hand with a special touch.

Hassan Ali Al-Shomali, a young pottery maker, said that clay used in pottery vessels is sourced from Al-Qarah Mountain and its surroundings, and is of three types: Red, green and yellow, all of which are mixed in certain proportions with water to form a paste.

He added that pottery has preserved its place in households due to its many advantages, including low costs and its ability to bear heat when used to cook foods.

The pottery industry remains one of the most important parts of Al-Ahsa’s allure. A segment of the local community has managed to maintain a robust handmade pottery market despite modern developments in manufacturing and production.

Pottery producers also receive the attention and care of authorities concerned with preserving heritage, legacies, and social traditions as well as supporting professions and folk crafts.