Pentagon chief arrives in Riyadh as Iran tensions simmer and Russia makes moves

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper is welcomed by Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Oct. 21, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 22 October 2019

Pentagon chief arrives in Riyadh as Iran tensions simmer and Russia makes moves

RIYADH: US Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday, with tensions simmering between Washington and Tehran, and Russia seeking to boost its influence in the Middle East.
Esper is likely to meet King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on his first trip to the key regional ally since taking office this summer, a visit intended partly to reassure Riyadh over bilateral ties.
Upon landing in Riyadh, he met the head of US Central Command, which is responsible for military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

US-Iran tensions have risen to new highs since May 2018, when the Trump administration withdrew from an international accord that put limits on Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions.
As reinstated sanctions put pressure on Iran’s economy, there have been a series of attacks which Washington and close allies blame on Tehran. Iran denies responsibility.
The United States has deployed about 3,000 additional military forces since May to bolster Saudi defenses, including an air expeditionary wing and air defense personnel.
Despite the additional troops, President Donald Trump’s sudden withdrawal of forces from northeastern Syria has raised questions about Washington’s commitment to allies and opened the door for Russia to increase its regional influence.
The move was criticized as a betrayal of Kurdish allies who fought for years alongside US troops against Daesh. Esper said on Monday that at least some troops might stay to deny Daesh and others access to oil fields.
A senior US defense official said the United States still wants to be seen as the partner of choice in the region and Russia was not as dependable, whether it be the level of training or the military equipment it can provide.
“That being said, the Gulf, they feel vulnerable. They feel exposed, understandably so,” the official said. “They’re having diplomatic relationships with all relevant players in the region and Russia, particularly since its activities in Syria, has shown itself to be a player in the region now.”

President Vladimir Putin signalled Moscow’s growing Middle East clout last week on his first visit to Saudi Arabia in over a decade.
LONGSTANDING ALLIANCE
Military officials from Arab countries plus the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Pakistan and South Korea met in Riyadh on Monday to discuss freedom of navigation and Iranian activities in the region.
“I am sensing a tremendous amount of discomfort in the Middle East about what the president’s moves with the Kurds means for the durability of any country’s relationship with the United States,” said Jon Alterman, Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Iran has responded apprehensively to previous US troop deployments this year. But Riyadh and Tehran have shown a willingness to talk.


Ministry makes 14-day gap between two Umrahs mandatory

Each group will be accompanied by supervisors who will ensure pilgrims respect social distancing, and follow instructions and a pre-adopted timeline. (SPA)
Updated 30 September 2020

Ministry makes 14-day gap between two Umrahs mandatory

  • The Kingdom is adopting extra vigilance during the Hajj and Umrah seasons to protect Muslims around the world
  • Umrah app to be available on Android soon

MAKKAH: Pilgrims must wait 14 days before booking another date for Umrah, while the Eatmarna app will be launched on Android soon, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said.

“Pilgrims can perform Umrah twice, but must wait 14 days before performing Umrah the second time, to give a chance to everyone to perform Umrah in line with the necessary precautionary measures brought about by the coronavirus,” Dr. Amr Al-Maddah, the ministry’s chief planning and strategy officer, told Arab News.
The ministry is studying  the available spots that can  be used by the pilgrims to perform Umrah while maintaining social distancing, ensuring health protocols.
Al-Maddah said that so far 35,000 requests have been registered to perform Umrah.
Pilgrims will start performing Umrah on Oct. 4 within the first stage of the Umrah plan this year, in line with health protocols and procedures.
In the first phase, pilgrims will perform Umrah at six different times a day, giving each pilgrim three hours.


He added that between the sunset and evening prayers, pilgrims will not be allowed to perform Umrah and, instead, this period will be allocated to cleaning and disinfecting. “Pilgrims will start performing Umrah at midnight, with the place disinfected before the arrival of each group.”
Each group will be accompanied by supervisors who will ensure pilgrims respect social distancing, and follow instructions and a pre-adopted timeline. Isolation rooms will be provided at the central area’s hotels to handle any potential cases.
The second stage, scheduled to start two weeks later, will be preceded by a comprehensive assessment of the first stage to address any shortcomings.
“The Kingdom is adopting extra vigilance during the Hajj and Umrah seasons to protect Muslims around the world, and allow them to perform their pilgrimage in ease and peace in line with precautionary measures,” said Al-Maddah.
“The three-stage plan will provide feedback on pilgrims’ commitment to protocols and adjustment to current circumstances.”
He said that the app was supposed to be launched earlier, but was delayed due to Android policies.
The app was presented to both Apple and Android at the same time, but Apple completed the procedures earlier, he added.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Islamic Affairs, Call and Guidance, Sheikh Dr. Abdullatif bin Abdul Aziz Al Al-Sheikh, announced the ministry’s readiness to receive Umrah performers in all Miqats in accordance with approved health protocols.
He commended leadership efforts to confront the pandemic, in addition to the government sector role in ensuring the safety of citizens, residents and Umrah performers.