US-backed Syrian force declare victory over Daesh in Raqqa

US-backed Syrian force declare victory over Daesh in Raqqa
In this Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017 photo, fighters from the Women’s Protection Units, or YPJ, hold a celebration in Paradise Square in Raqqa, Syria. (AP Photo/Gabriel Chaim)
Updated 20 October 2017

US-backed Syrian force declare victory over Daesh in Raqqa

US-backed Syrian force declare victory over Daesh in Raqqa

BEIRUT: A US-backed Syrian force declared victory over Daesh in its former “capital” of Raqqa on Friday, declaring the northern Syrian city free of any extremist presence.
At a press conference held inside the city Friday, the Kurdish-led force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces formally handed over administration of the devastated northern city to a council made up of local officials and tribal leaders.
In a highly symbolic move, the press conference was held inside the city’s sports stadium which Daesh militants had turned into an arms depot and a huge prison where they incarcerated and tortured their opponents.
“Our victory is one against terrorism, and the liberation of Raqqa marks the latest chapter in the fight against terrorists in Syria,” said Talal Sillo, a spokesman and senior SDF commander.
Standing before a backdrop of shattered buildings, Sillo urged the international community and aid organizations to assist with the city’s reconstruction.
Associated Press drone footage from Raqqa showed the extent of devastation caused by weeks of fighting between Kurdish-led forces and Daesh and thousands of bombs dropped by the US-led coalition.
Footage from Thursday shows the bombed-out shells of buildings and heaps of concrete slabs lay piled on streets littered with destroyed cars. Entire neighborhoods are seen turned to rubble, with little sign of civilian life.
The video showed entire blocks in the city as uninhabitable with knocked-out walls and blown-out windows and doors, while some buildings had several stories turned to piles of debris. The stadium that was used as an arms depot and prison by the extremists appears to have suffered less damage compared with surrounding buildings.
“We call upon all countries and peace-loving forces and all humanitarian organizations to participate in rebuilding the city and villages around it and help in removing the scars of war that were inflicted by the (Daesh) group,” Sillo said.
Sillo said 655 local and international fighters lost their lives during the four-month battle for Raqqa.
Long before the ground offensive by the Syrian Democratic Forces began in Raqqa in early June, warplanes pounded the city for months.
The US-backed Kurdish-led SDF announced Tuesday they have driven Daesh militants out of the city after weeks of fighting.
The fall of Raqqa marks a major defeat for Daesh, which has seen its territories steadily shrink since last year. Daesh took over Raqqa, located on the Euphrates River, in January 2014, and transformed it into the epicenter of its brutal rule.


Cirque du Soleil heads to Saudi in special one-off show

Cirque du Soleil heads to Saudi in special one-off show
Updated 11 September 2018

Cirque du Soleil heads to Saudi in special one-off show

Cirque du Soleil heads to Saudi in special one-off show
  • More than 80 artists will take the stage at the King Fahd International Stadium for the show
  • About 250 costumes have been specially made to respect local traditions

MONTREAL: Cirque du Soleil will stage a show in Saudi Arabia for the first time later this month, the high-flying acrobatic troupe announced Monday.
The show will take place in the Saudi capital on Sept. 23 to coincide with the country's national day, public relations director Marie-Helene Lagace told AFP.
More than 80 artists will take the stage at the King Fahd International Stadium for the show, which will also be shown on Saudi state television. Cirque says it will be one of its biggest one-off productions ever.
About 250 costumes have been specially made to respect local traditions and conform to "the artistic standards for which we are known," Lagace said.
The announcement of Cirque du Soleil's appearance in Saudi Arabia was first made in Los Angeles in April, Lagace noted. But it was unclear whether the show would go on given the diplomatic tensions.
At the behest of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has reopened movie theaters and allowed women and men to attend some concerts together.


Journey of faith: Pilgrims begin moving into Mina

Journey of faith: Pilgrims begin moving into Mina
Updated 25 September 2015

Journey of faith: Pilgrims begin moving into Mina

Journey of faith: Pilgrims begin moving into Mina
MINA: As the night wore on Monday, pilgrims started filling into the tent city of Mina.
They came in ones and twos, some on foot, some in wheelchairs, many in buses and SUVs arranged by the pilgrim establishments.
All roads and highways from Jeddah, Madinah, Riyadh, Dammam, Abha, Jazan and Taif were leading into Makkah and Mina.
The first leg of the five-day Haj begins on Tuesday when all pilgrims will spend the night in Mina before heading to Arafat on Wednesday morning.
Under the leadership of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal have arranged foolproof safety and security measures for the pilgrims.
Nearly 100,000 men in uniform are at the holy sites to make the journey of a lifetime for nearly 2 million pilgrims safe and secure.
“Haj is where you see near-perfect synchronization among all government agencies, ministries and pilgrim establishments,” said prominent Saudi analyst Sami Al-Nwaiser. “It is gigantic task and the goal is to organize a successful, smooth and hassle-free Haj.”
Traffic moved at a snail's pace on the Jeddah-Makkah Expressway. In addition to the permanent security checkpoint at Al-Shumaisy, there were four new checkpoints to keep undocumented pilgrims away. The 85 km journey from Jeddah to Makkah takes an hour in regular days. On Monday, it took three hours.
At the Al-Shumaisy checkpoint, security personnel were armed with latest high-tech gadgets that looked like iPads. They were screening the permits on those machines.
All alternate routes to Makkah and the holy sites were teeming with security forces in their vehicles, flashing with blue beacons.
Inside Makkah, it was hot and windy. At 7:38 p.m., the mercury was hovering at 40 degrees Celsius. In Mina, it was a different scene. It rained on Monday evening bringing down the temperature considerably. The maximum temperature for Tuesday in Makkah has been forecast to be 46.
The Kingdom has spent billions of riyals improving infrastructural facilities at Makkah, Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifa, including trains, roads, telecom and electricity networks.
“It is a mind-boggling exercise,” said Anwar Khursheed, a first-time pilgrim from Pakistan, who teaches at Punjab University. “Allah has conferred the highest honor of serving the Two Holy Mosques on the Al-Sauds and they have done everything that is humanly possible and doable to make the journey of the guests of Allah comfortable.”

Keeping Hajis safe: Unfit foodstuff seized

Keeping Hajis safe: Unfit foodstuff seized
Updated 25 September 2015

Keeping Hajis safe: Unfit foodstuff seized

Keeping Hajis safe: Unfit foodstuff seized
RIYADH: In a major drive to keep Hajis healthy, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry has confiscated 4,211 unfit consumable items and 40,000 non-consumable items from the shops in Makkah and Madinah.
The inspections were carried out intensively to prevent the sale of unhealthy goods that contravene the local regulations to the pilgrims, said the ministry.
The confiscated items included Zamzam water, frozen chicken, frozen meat, potatoes, pickles, cheese, pineapple jam, olive oil, juice, biscuits, dairy products, cake, chips, tea, cookies with dates, croissant, soda, spices and candies.
The seized non-consumable items were found not in compliance with the Saudi Standard Specifications and Consumer Protection Regulation.
They included electric plugs, cell chargers, mobile accessories, chains, cosmetic items, eyeliners, cream, Vaseline, incense, henna, shampoo, soap, washing liquid, handbags and perfumes.
The ministry has also planned to begin intensive inspections of jewelry and precious metal shops to verify calibration and to check the scales used in such stores.
The authorities regularly inspect fuel stations, especially those located on the pilgrims’ routes, to calibrate the fuel pumps. Tire shops are inspected to verify their items’ quality and validity and to confiscate second-hand and expired tires.

Coalition jets wreck Sanaa runway as Tehran defies blockade

Coalition jets wreck Sanaa runway as Tehran defies blockade
Updated 30 April 2015

Coalition jets wreck Sanaa runway as Tehran defies blockade

Coalition jets wreck Sanaa runway as Tehran defies blockade

SANAA: Coalition warplanes destroyed the runway at Sanaa’s rebel-held airport Tuesday after an Iranian plane “defied” a blockade on Yemeni airspace, the spokesman for the Saudi-led alliance said on Tuesday.
Brig. Gen. Ahmad Al-Assiri said the pilot of the Iranian plane dismissed the coalition’s warnings not to fly in to Sanaa airport after entering through an unauthorized route.
“This forced air forces to destroy the runway at Sanaa airport to prevent him from landing” and forced him to turn back to Iran, he said.
Planes flying to the Yemeni capital must pass through Saudi Arabia’s Bisha Domestic Airport in the south which is assigned with the duty to “search any plane going to Sanaa,” said Assiri.
This showed that there was “something not right” about the Iranian plane, he said, adding that “these are irresponsible actions” carried out in “defiance of blockade measures.”
Assiri said that planes bringing aid from Doctors Without Borders, the International Migration Organization, and other humanitarian groups had landed in Sanaa.


Houthi attacks draw new coalition strikes

Houthi attacks draw new coalition strikes
Updated 26 April 2015

Houthi attacks draw new coalition strikes

Houthi attacks draw new coalition strikes

Saudi-led coalition warplanes launched new strikes on Houthi positions in south Yemen on Thursday in response to an attack carried out by the militia and its allies, raising concerns about peace prospects and driving up oil prices.
Informed sources in Dhalie said the Houthi forces had obliterated the house of Col. Mosleh Al-Oudi, a pro-government military officer. “Houthi tanks were firing haphazardly in Jalilah region, causing serious injuries to two citizens,” one source said.
Yemeni political analyst Mohammed Jumaih said he expected the Houthis to accept the UN resolution 2216 without any further pressure. “It’s an opportunity for them and the ball is in their court,” he said.
Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh left Yemen early Wednesday and an official announcement over the deposed leader’s departure from the country is expected shortly, the local Yemen 24 website cited high-level sources in Riyadh as saying.
The sources added that it was agreed for Saleh and his family to leave Yemen but the destination is still unknown.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon meanwhile informed the Security Council that he plans to appoint Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed as his new envoy to Yemen, replacing Morocco’s Jamal Benomar.
Saudi Ambassador to the US Adel Al-Jubeir told reporters in Washington: “The Kingdom will do anything necessary to protect the people of Yemen and the legitimate government of Yemen. Having Yemen fail cannot be an option for us or our coalition partners.” Meanwhile, at least 23 Yemeni rebels were killed in fresh coalition airstrikes Thursday in the southern town of Daleh, a Yemeni official said.
In Taez, meanwhile, a Red Cross official said his team retrieved the bodies of 10 pro-government soldiers thought to have died when rebels overran a loyalist base there.
Speaking to AFP, the official said there were more bodies but that the Red Cross team was being denied access to the site by the Houthi rebels in the area.
Several rebel positions in schools and public buildings were “razed” by airstrikes in Daleh as well as in the nearby province of Lahj, said Nasser Al-Shuaibi, a leader of armed groups loyal to President Abed Rubbo Mansour Hadi.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Riad Yassine said there was no communication between the government and the Houthis. “There can be no communication until they put their weapons aside,” he told reporters during a visit to Bahrain, adding talks could start only when the Houthis withdrew from all cities and the situation stabilized.