UN sets sights on Western Sahara talks in December: diplomats

UN sets sights on Western Sahara talks in December: diplomats
A general view from the Al-Mahbes area shows Moroccan soldiers (back-R) guarding a lookout post along the fence dividing the Polisario controlled Western Sahara and Morocco. (File photo /AFP)
Updated 01 October 2018

UN sets sights on Western Sahara talks in December: diplomats

UN sets sights on Western Sahara talks in December: diplomats

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations has invited Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front to talks in December on ending their decades-old conflict over Western Sahara, diplomats said Saturday.
UN envoy Horst Koehler, a former president of Germany and ex-director of the International Monetary Fund, has invited the two sides along with Algeria and Mauritania to Geneva for talks on December 4-5.
In letters sent to the four parties on Friday, the envoy requested a response by October 20, according to diplomatic sources.
Morocco and the Polisario Front fought for control of Western Sahara from 1975 to 1991.
Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict have been deadlocked since the last round of UN-sponsored talks in 2008.
Morocco maintains that negotiations on a settlement should focus on its proposal for autonomy for Western Sahara and rejects the Polisario’s insistence on an independence referendum.
The Security Council in April approved a US-drafted resolution that urged Morocco and the Polisario to prepare for talks, setting a six-month deadline for action.
Algerian Foreign Minister Abdelkader Messahel told the UN General Assembly on Saturday that his government backed UN efforts to re-start talks on Western Sahara.
He stressed that a solution must uphold the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination.
Morocco’s Prime Minister Saadeddine Othmani told the assembly that Western Sahara was a source of instability in North Africa and accused Algeria of stoking the dispute.
The Security Council has extended the mandate of the MINURSO force in Western Sahara until October 31 and is expected to take stock of progress toward a political solution before that deadline.


Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses

Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses
Updated 2 min 29 sec ago

Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses

Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses
  • The region is replete with historical heritage because it is an ancient region known for its generosity and hospitality

RIYADH: Old neighborhoods in the heart of the city of Hail, in northern Saudi Arabia, are popular attractions, especially with older visitors who like to wander around and look at the traditional mud houses that remind them of their childhood days.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the region in these buildings, both the surviving examples of those built a century ago and the more recent buildings that mimic their style.

Mohammed Al-Na’am is the supervisor of several Al-Na’am heritage houses. These properties, which are owned by his family and were built many decades ago, are open 24 hours a day to visitors and passers-by, who can stop by for a coffee and some food or even stay the night. There are many other houses across the Hail region that are similarly welcoming, he said.

His heritage houses are usually busy with visitors from Hail and beyond, who appreciate the generosity of their hosts, he said. Most of those who visit the houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, are particularly impressed by the ornately decorated walls and ceilings, which have been restored and renovated with a modern touch, Al-Na’am added.

“Hail is replete with historical heritage because it is an ancient region known for its generosity and hospitality,” he said. “This explains the interest in the ancient buildings of the region.”

The traditional buildings in the region differ from those in other parts of the Kingdom, and some other Gulf countries, because they were designed and built with the help of Iraqi specialists and architects and so include distinctive plaster decorations in a variety of shapes and forms, he explained. Some examples have been well maintained and preserved while others are in need of restoration.

While this traditional style of building enjoys enduring popularity, Al-Na’am said, the high cost of constructing mud houses and the need for continuous maintenance means that modern versions are often built using concrete. This allows the classic mud-house style to be preserved while reducing the cost of construction and maintenance.

“Some modern buildings maintain the traditional design used in ancient buildings and use the same style of decorations, especially those in the city center,” he said. But this style of ancient buildings originally developed and spread in the villages of the region, not in the city.

HIGHLIGHT

The traditional buildings in the region differ from those in other parts of the Kingdom, and some other Gulf countries, because they were designed and built with the help of Iraqi specialists and architects and so include distinctive plaster decorations in a variety of shapes and forms. Some examples have been well maintained and preserved while others are in need of restoration.

One feature of these buildings is the design of the majlis or sitting rooms, which often have relatively high ceilings to make it easier to keep the room clear of smoke from the fire during the winter and keep it cool in the summer, said Al-Na’am.

“Most of the sitting rooms are decorated with plaster featuring geometric shapes,” he added. “However, today’s buildings use gypsum plaster and cement, which have lower costs.”

Some people continue to keep the old traditions alive by working with authentic materials. Abdullah Al-Khuzam, a member of the National Program for the Development of Handicrafts, has been passionate about building mud houses for more than 30 years.

He said he mixes the mud he uses, and that other materials used in the construction include tree trunks and palm-tree fronds. He described the Hail architectural style as durable and solid, with strong walls ranging in thickness from 30 to 40 centimeters. Mixing the mud is a delicate process that requires special skills, and is not as random as it might appear, he added.

“For example, certain parts of the building require a certain amount of mud and clay and a certain quantity of soil,” he explained. “For other parts, mud and soil are mixed and soft hay is added. The mixture is fermented for seven to 14 days before construction starts.”

Al-Khuzam, who is also a well-known fine artist, has taken part in many heritage exhibitions in the Kingdom and other countries.

“My participation in these events aimed to promote our traditional heritage and introduce the next generations to the traditional methods our forefathers used,” he said. The traditional designs and construction methods used in old buildings reflected the values and beliefs of the community, said Al-Khuzam. It was usual, for example, for doors in mud houses to be positioned in such a way that they did not reveal the interior of the house. A wall would block the view. Decorations were also an important part of the design process.

“Our forefathers paid special attention to the sitting room’s construction, which reflected their taste in art and architecture,” he said. “The majority of sitting rooms were decorated with engravings on the walls as well as Qur’anic verses, wise proverbs and drawings of plants.”

The majlis, where guests were hosted, was known as al-qahwa (the coffee area), he explained, and the area overlooking the yard was called liwan (summer majlis).

One feature that sets houses in Hail apart from those in other areas, according to Al-Khuzam, is the yard. Typically, it is a large space with an orange tree in the center. Orange trees live a long time and are a signature feature of yards in Hail. Some also have palm trees.

Another prominent feature of architecture in the region is something called a “dome,” which is located in front of the building. It is where the residents of the house traditionally spend most of their time during the summer. It also helps to shield the rest of the house from the sun and rain.

The previously mentioned majlis or sitting room in the heart of the house is where family members gather during the cold days of winter and light a fire to keep warm. The heads of the family occupy the main bedroom, while the children share rooms that are divided between boys and girls.

One of the nicest parts of a traditional Hail house is called “al-qubaiba.” Located off a corridor or a corner, it is a small space usually used by women, especially the elderly, to pray. A clay pot filled with water is stored there to keep it cool.

Al-Khuzam’s enduring passion for Hail’s old buildings is clear.

“I have been ready to do anything for the sake of this precious heritage and legacy,” he said. “I was glad when I heard that the Ministry of Culture had decided to restore the heritage sitting rooms in the city of Hail. These public places represent an important aspect of the traditions and values of the people of Hail, reflecting their generosity to visitors and passers-by. Some of them are open from after Asr prayers until midnight.

“I was a member of the team that restored these sitting rooms. I am grateful for the authorities’ support and for giving us the opportunity to put our touches on the historic buildings in the area.”

Mohammed Al-Halfi, a historian and doctorate student at King Saud University, said a house represents a part of a family’s identity and offers an insight into their history. Houses built close together are indicative of the close relationships between the people that lived in them, he explained.

They reveal how these people planned their lives together and built houses that reflected their environments and surroundings, he added. In the rural desert environment, known for its harshness and extreme summer heat, mud houses helped to manage the temperature.

“Using mud in architecture became an art hundreds of years ago, and still is,” said Al-Halfi. “Guest and living rooms in today’s houses have the same style as the old ones, and this reflects our pride in this identity and our heritage.”

He added that a study of the materials, design and construction techniques that were used to make the mud houses reveals the expertise of the builders. They took into account all factors to ensure the structures were perfectly suited to the local conditions, including the terrain and climate, and even the rising and setting of the sun.

“We must view mud houses as a historical source when studying any society,” said Al-Halfi. “These houses deserve to be studied, economically and socially, to get more information about the community at the time.

“That is why we find mud houses differ from one region to another, according to the cultures of their inhabitants and the building requirements available in their environments.”


Israeli military accused of using media to trick Hamas

Israeli military accused of using media to trick Hamas
Updated 59 min 2 sec ago

Israeli military accused of using media to trick Hamas

Israeli military accused of using media to trick Hamas
JERUSALEM: Early Friday, just after midnight, the Israeli military put out an ominous statement to the media: “IDF air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip.”
The terse statement set off frenzied speculation that Israel had launched a ground invasion of Gaza — a much-feared scenario that would mark a bloody escalation of this week’s operation against Hamas militants. Some reporters were even told outright the incursion had begun.
Hours later, the military issued a “clarification.” There were no troops inside Gaza. But by then, several major news outlets had erroneously reported the ground offensive was under way.
While the army attempted to play down the incident as a misunderstanding, well-placed Israeli military commentators said the media had been used as part of an elaborate ruse to lure Hamas militants into a deadly trap that may have killed dozens of fighters.
“They didn’t lie,” said Or Heller, a veteran military correspondent on Israel’s Channel 13 TV. “It was a manipulation. It was smart and it was successful.”
This is how it unfolded:
Late Thursday, after days of airstrikes, Israel announced it was calling up thousands of reservists and amassing troops along the border ahead of a possible ground invasion. In another sign of escalation, Israeli tanks stationed along the border opened fire at targets inside Gaza.
In previous rounds of fighting, ground incursions have resulted in widespread destruction in Gaza and heavy casualties on both sides.
That set the stage for the late-night deception. According to Heller, Israel began scrambling forces along the border in what appeared to be final preparations for an invasion. Then came the announcement to the media, issued simultaneously in Hebrew and Arabic on Twitter. There followed alerts in major outlets that the invasion was under way.
The Israeli moves sent Hamas fighters rushing into defensive positions in an underground network of tunnels known as the Metro, according to Heller and other Israeli reports.
Israel called in 160 warplanes and bombarded the tunnels for 40 minutes, the military said. Heller said it was his understanding that scores of militants had been killed, though he said it was impossible to say.
“What we saw tonight was a very sophisticated operation that had a media aspect to it,” Heller said.
Hamas has not commented on the incident, and it was impossible to confirm the Israeli reports.
Heller said veteran Israeli correspondents, who have close ties to the military and in many cases have served themselves, knew that there was no way Israel was sending troops across enemy lines at this stage. Heller and other military correspondents even put out statements on Twitter assuring the jittery public that there was no ground operation.
The Associated Press, based on its analysis of the army’s statement, phone calls to military officials and on the ground reporting in Gaza, concluded there was no ground incursion and did not report there was one.
But others said the military had misled them or even lied when asked to clarify, turning the foreign media into an accessory of sorts.
Felicia Schwartz, correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, said she alerted news of a ground offensive after receiving explicit confirmation from Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman.
In a statement posted on Twitter, she said Conricus “told me directly, `There are ground troops in Gaza.’ That was the basis for a first story saying so. He retracted that statement two hours later and I changed the story to reflect that, and that is noted in the text and will be corrected.”
Speaking to reporters on Friday morning, Conricus blamed an “internal miscommunication.”
“These things can sometimes happen in the midst of a complex operation with many moving parts and with an unclear picture of what was happening,” he said. “As soon as I understood that I had the wrong information, I updated the relevant people with a clarification.”
Militaries around the world have long used deception and trickery against their enemies. Two years ago, the Israeli military reportedly faked the injuries of soldiers at the scene of a Hezbollah missile strike, going so far as to evacuate them to a hospital in a helicopter.
According to reports at the time, the army staged the injuries to trick Hezbollah into thinking it had inflicted casualties and therefore would agree to a cease-fire.
Friday’s misleading statement further strained what has often been a rocky relationship between the IDF and the foreign media.
Peter Lerner, a former military spokesman to the foreign media, said the Israeli public in general has long felt the international media focus too heavily on the Palestinian side of the story while minimizing Israeli concerns and suffering — and the army is similarly inclined.
Lerner said he felt it was unlikely the military intentionally lied, but damage was done regardless.
“Your currency is credibility,” he said. “I think this is a crisis of that credibility in the way it’s being portrayed.”

ThePlace: Tayeb Al-Ism, one of Saudi Arabia’s most stunning natural attractions

ThePlace: Tayeb Al-Ism, one of Saudi Arabia’s most stunning natural attractions
Updated 15 May 2021

ThePlace: Tayeb Al-Ism, one of Saudi Arabia’s most stunning natural attractions

ThePlace: Tayeb Al-Ism, one of Saudi Arabia’s most stunning natural attractions
  • Small streams run through the stones and groves of palm trees dot the inside of the valley

Tayeb Al-Ism is one of Saudi Arabia’s most stunning natural attractions. Visitors to the valley enjoy one surprise after another. The valley is located on the Gulf of Aqaba, 15 kilometers north of the coastal town of Maqna.

Palm groves and granite massifs surround the valley’s entrance, which is located between two massifs that appear to be split in half.

After leaving their cars, visitors follow a pedestrian bridge that gives hikers the impression that they are about to embark on a magical journey. Small streams run through the stones and groves of palm trees dot the inside of the valley.

Shade and the large number of streams help to regulate the temperature, ensuring conditions in the heart of Tayeb Al-Ism are always pleasant.

Moses is believed to have spent his voluntary exile in Madyan, the ancient name of the Gulf of Aqaba, and reached Tayeb Al-Ism, hence the name “Valley of Moses.”


Where We Are Going Today: Khosh Hal

Where We Are Going Today: Khosh Hal
Updated 15 May 2021

Where We Are Going Today: Khosh Hal

Where We Are Going Today: Khosh Hal

Khosh Hal restaurant in Jeddah’s Aziziah district offers authentic Pakistani flavors with a modern twist.

The menu features traditional dishes such as mixed grill platter, butter chicken, mutton kunna and Khosh Hal’s special chicken biryani.

Freshly made bread includes naan, roti, tandoori paratha and the hot and delicately crispy purri — a fried bread eaten with different stews.

Pakora, one of the most popular Pakistani appetizers, is a deep-fried combination of chickpea flour, onion, green chilli and dry coriander.

After a meal of rich flavors and spices, diners can enjoy a refreshing kulfi, a delicious drink or dessert flavored with orange, mango, strawberry or coconut.

For more information visit Instagram account: @Khoshhalrstaurant.


Eligibility rules, amount of aid revealed for job seekers in Saudi Arabia

Eligibility rules, amount of aid revealed for job seekers in Saudi Arabia
Updated 15 May 2021

Eligibility rules, amount of aid revealed for job seekers in Saudi Arabia

Eligibility rules, amount of aid revealed for job seekers in Saudi Arabia
  • Under a new system, citizens and residents between ages of 20 and 40 can receive payments for up to 15 months

JEDDAH: The details of a financial aid system for job seekers, which was recently approved by Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers, have been revealed.

Payments will be made to eligible claimants for up to 15 months. They will receive SR2,000 ($530) a month for the first four months after a successful claim, SR1,500 a month for the following four months, SR1,000 a month for four months after that, and SR750 a month for the final three months.

To be eligible for the aid, applicants will have to meet a number of conditions. They must be Saudi nationals or permanent residents of the Kingdom, between the ages of 20 and 40, able to work, and seriously and actively looking for a job.

They must not already be employed in the public or private sectors, or receiving a retirement pension, income from social security, or any other allowance. The owners of commercial enterprises are not eligible for the aid, nor are students or trainees at any stage of their education or training.

FASTFACT

Payments will be made to eligible claimants for up to 15 months. They will receive SR2,000 ($530) a month for the first four months after a successful claim, SR1,500 a month for the following four months, SR1,000 a month for four months after that, and SR750 a month for the final three months.

In addition, an applicant will not qualify for aid if his or her wealth exceeds a certain amount, but the exact figure for this was not specified. Applicants must not previously have benefited from the job-search aid system or any other financial allowances paid to job seekers.

The authorities said the new system aims to regulate the system of financial aid for people looking for work and clearly define the rules for eligibility. In addition it is designed to support job seekers, motivate them to enter the labor market, and set out the rights, responsibilities and obligations of the Human Resources Development Fund and those who are looking for work.

Applications to the fund can be submitted online or through authorized representatives. Individuals whose applications are rejected have the right to file an appeal with the relevant authorities.