First group of Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian pilgrims leave Beirut for Hajj

Ambassador Walid Al-Bukhari with Makkah-bound pilgrims at the Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut where he oversaw their safe departure. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 02 August 2019

First group of Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian pilgrims leave Beirut for Hajj

  • Saudi ambassador says 20,000 electronic visas issued to pilgrims traveling from Lebanon

BEIRUT: The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon on Thursday joined the first batch of 20,000 pilgrims from the country leaving Beirut to perform Hajj.

Envoy Walid Al-Bukhari, accompanied Makkah-bound pilgrims to the capital’s Rafic Hariri International Airport where he oversaw their safe departure.

The Saudi Embassy has completed 20,000 electronic visas for worshippers traveling from Lebanon to the Kingdom for this year’s holy pilgrimage.

Al-Bukhari said that 10,000 visas had been allocated to Lebanese citizens, 6,000 to Syrian refugees residing in Syria and Lebanon, and 1,500 to Palestinian refugees. In addition, visas had been issued to diplomats, international organizations and many people who had applied for a courtesy residence.

The ambassador handed out copies of the Holy Qur’an, sweets and white roses to the departing pilgrims at Beirut airport, with the help of the representative of Lebanon’s grand mufti and the director general of the Islamic Endowments, Sheikh Mohammed Anis Al-Arwadi.

“The Hajj agreement that is annually concluded between the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah and the Lebanese Hajj Committee allocates equal quotas in granting Hajj visas to all sects, as a form of respect for this duty,” Al-Bukhari said.

With a backdrop of banners, hanging inside the airport’s departure hall, bearing the slogan “Hajj is a message of peace,” the Lebanese pilgrims boarded flights with Middle East Airlines and Saudi Arabian Airlines, many of them thanking Saudi Embassy officials for their assistance.

“The Kingdom is taking care of all of God’s guests, under the leadership and guidance of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to provide the best and highest-quality services and performance level to ease the Hajj rituals,” the envoy added.

Al-Bukhari said the electronic visas issued by the Kingdom’s diplomatic and consular missions around the world formed part of a program of initiatives aimed at streamlining travel services for pilgrims and other visitors to Saudi Arabia.

“The high religious spirituality of Hajj transcends culture and race. Hajj is a message of peace, and Saudi Arabia will not allow any political slogans in order to respect the privacy and spirituality of this duty,” the ambassador added.

“The Saudi Cabinet confirmed last week in a statement that it would not allow the use of any religious slogans, because Hajj is a message of peace that carries very divine spirituality. One must aim for spiritual communication to perform this duty.”

Al-Arwadi said: “The means by which Saudi Arabia is helping pilgrims perform their rituals are huge by human standards. It is mobilizing all of its resources to secure and facilitate Hajj for everyone with no exceptions.”

He also thanked Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for following up on the achievements of the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Call and Guidance, stressing that “Saudi Arabia is the Muslims’ shelter and whatever affects it, affects the entire Islamic world.”

Russia’s Putin lauds good relations with Saudi Arabia, condemns Aramco attacks

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin during a bilateral meeting at the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Buenos Aires. (File/AFP)
Updated 13 October 2019

Russia’s Putin lauds good relations with Saudi Arabia, condemns Aramco attacks

  • Moscow could play a key role in easing regional tensions given its good ties with Gulf states and Iran
  • The Russian president made his only trip to Riyadh way back in 2007

RIYADH: Russian President Vladimir Putin has praised relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia and condemned the recent attacks on state-owned Aramco oil facilities.
Putin said such attacks only strengthened cooperation between oil producers inside and outside OPEC, an alliance known as OPEC+, and that Russia would work with its partners to reduce attempts to destabilize markets.
As President Donald Trump reinstated US sanctions, increasing pressure on Iran’s economy, there have been a series of attacks in Saudi Arabia and in Gulf waters that Washington and close allies have blamed on Iran, which denies responsibility.
Putin told Arab broadcasters in an interview aired on Sunday ahead of his visit to the Kingdom in more than a decade, that he has “very good relations” with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The Russian president is due to arrive in Saudi Arabia on Monday and then heads to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday.
Putin said that there has been a 38 percent growth in economic cooperation between the Kingdom and Russia.
Russia’s Direct Investment Fund and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund have created a base of $10 billion, with $2 billion in investments, he added.
Russian petrochemicals company Sibur Holding is looking to build a petrochemical complex worth more than $1 billion in investments, Putin also said.
Syrian Conflict
On Syria, where Russia and Iran have been key allies of President Bashar Assad in an 8-1/2-year civil war, the Russian president said they would not have been able to reach a positive outcome without Saudi cooperation.
“I would like to emphasize the positive role Saudi Arabia has played in resolving the Syrian crisis … without Saudi Arabia’s contribution toward a Syrian settlement, it would have been impossible to achieve a positive trend,” he said, thanking King Salman and Mohammed bin Salman for their “constructive approach.”
He said Moscow supports the Assad regime in Syria, not because they have no blame in the situation but to prevent terrorist organizations from infiltrating the war-torn country.
“We are working with Turkey and Iran to resolve the Syrian conflict, but without Saudi it would not be possible to come to a good solution,” he said.
A congress convened by Russia last year tasked the United Nations envoy for Syria with forming a committee to draft a new constitution, after many rounds of talks to end the war failed.
UN officials say forming a constitutional committee is key to political reforms and new elections meant to unify Syria and end a war which has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced about half of the pre-war 22 million population.
Turkey launched an assault last week against Kurdish forces in border areas of northern Syria, saying it seeks to set up a “safe zone” to resettle Syrian refugees but raising international alarm over the possibility of Daesh militants escaping from prisons.
Iran Deal
Asked if Moscow supported new a return to negotiations with Iran to limit its missile program as Trump has called for enforcing the nuclear deal first, Putin said the two issues should be dealt with separately.
“Most likely it (the missiles) can and should be discussed ... The missile program is one thing and the nuclear program is another thing,” he said. “Of course, this is necessary, but there is no need to merge one with the other...”
The Russian president said OPEC+ was an initiative introduced by the crown prince to increase their cooperation in oil sector, and that he was the one who suggested to expand military collaboration between the two countries.
Saudi Arabia was not just a regional energy player but also a global one, and “we care about our cooperation,” Putin said.
The Russian leader added that anything that threatens energy trade stability must be stopped, and “we should work together” to stop it.
Aramco Attacks
Putin also condemned the Sept. 14 attacks on Aramco facilities, noting “such actions do not bring any positive results to anybody, including perpetrators,” as they do not have a strong effect on the market.
“We condemn any such actions, end of story. This is the official position … regardless of who stood behind the incident,” said Putin.
He insisted Russia’s intelligence community does not know who perpetrated the Aramco attacks, but he also said that his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, has denied Tehran’s complicity in the attacks. Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Riyadh and Washington blamed Tehran.
However, Putin said: “It is wrong to determine who is guilty before it is known reliably and clearly who is behind this act,” Putin said, adding that he had agreed to help investigate the attack.
“If someone may have wanted to deal a blow to the oil market, they failed. There were indeed some fluctuations in prices, but I do not think it was anything too serious, even though the initial response was quite strong.
“We need to respond to any attempt to destabilize the market. Russia will certainly continue working with Saudi Arabia and other partners and friends in the Arab world to counter any attempts to wreak havoc in the market,” he said in an interview with Al Arabiya.
Putin believes Russia can play a positive role in resolving regional disagreements, because of Moscow’s positive relations with the Arab world, Iranians, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.