Pilgrims embark on the journey of their lives from Beirut

Departure halls at Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport was packed with Lebanese, Palestinian, and Syrian pilgrims as they began leaving for Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj this year. (AN photo)
Updated 11 August 2018

Pilgrims embark on the journey of their lives from Beirut

  • Extra flights arranged to transport Muslims for the pilgrimage
  • Pilgrims hope God would inspire Lebanese officials to join hands and work for the supreme interest, stability and unity of Lebanon

BEIRUT:  Departure halls at Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport were packed with Lebanese, Palestinian, and Syrian pilgrims as they began leaving for Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj this year.

Some pilgrims arrived at the airport six hours before their flight’s departure time in order to complete their travel procedures.

An estimated 12,000 pilgrims are set to leave Beirut by mid-August — 7,000 Lebanese, 1,500 Palestinians and 4,000 Syrians in addition to numbers of Lebanese and non-Lebanese expatriates who stop at Beirut’s airport as a transit point before they continue their journey to Saudi Arabia.

The entrances and halls of Beirut’s airport, as well as the roads leading to it, have been flooded with Hajj travelers waiting to board flights operated by Middle East Airlines (MEA) and Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia). 

MEA has laid on 60 extra flights to carry pilgrims from Beirut to Jeddah and Madinah, in addition to its regular daily flights between Beirut and Saudi Arabia. 

This means that MEA will have between eight and 11 extra flights a day.

Saudia, on the other hand, is operating three regular flights a day.

Some of the Syrian pilgrims said they had obtained Hajj visas while in Syrian territory, and came to Rafic Hariri International Airport with organized Hajj trips.

The Syrian pilgrims arriving from Syria, especially the elderly, looked exhausted and sat on the airport’s floor.

Many of them wished that security and stability prevail in Syria and that the brotherly ties between the Syrian and Lebanese people, as well as their countries, become stronger.

“This would benefit both countries,” they said.

A number of Lebanese pilgrims expressed their happiness to be going on “the journey of their lives,” hoping for security and stability to prevail in Lebanon and the Arab and Muslim world.

They also hoped that God would inspire Lebanese officials to unite for the sake of the supreme interest, stability and unity of Lebanon, to agree on all measures contributing to the country’s stability and security.


Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 01 October 2020

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”