Families rejoice as GCC Summit cements the ties that bind Gulf countries

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the GCC Summit in AlUla that the agreement to mend ties with Qatar underscored the importance of solidarity and security among Gulf, Arab and Muslim states. (Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court)
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the GCC Summit in AlUla that the agreement to mend ties with Qatar underscored the importance of solidarity and security among Gulf, Arab and Muslim states. (Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court)
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Updated 06 January 2021

Families rejoice as GCC Summit cements the ties that bind Gulf countries

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the GCC Summit in AlUla that the agreement to mend ties with Qatar underscored the importance of solidarity and security among Gulf, Arab and Muslim states. (Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court)
  • Saudi Arabia reopened its airspace and land and sea borders with Qatar in advance of the 41st GCC Summit in AlUla
  • Families divided by the three-year border closure took to social media to celebrate the announcement

 

JEDDAH: Social media in the Gulf region has been flooded with celebratory joy since news broke that Saudi Arabia had reopened its airspace and land and sea borders with Qatar as part of a deal to end a three-year diplomatic crisis. For many, the story is deeply personal.

On Tuesday Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the GCC Summit in AlUla that the agreement to mend ties with Qatar underscored the importance of solidarity and security among Gulf, Arab and Muslim states.

A public embrace earlier in the day between the Crown Prince and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani at AlUla airport capped the Qatari ruler’s arrival on Saudi soil for the first time since 2017.




audi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman held a meeting with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani at the Maraya Hall in the historic city of Al-Ula on Tuesday. (Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court)

For hundreds of separated families, the significance of the reopening of borders and resumption of travel between Saudi Arabia and Qatar cannot be overstated, given the unique social fabric of the Gulf region, with its cross-border ties of marriage and blood.

Videos surfaced on social media showing men, women and children dancing and rejoicing at the easing of the crisis. Many said they were looking forward to reunions in the near future with their loved ones on the other side of the border.

In one video, a Qatari boy could be seen jumping with excitement as he spoke with his father over the phone, exchanging promises of a reunion amid laughter, tears of joy visible on the boy’s face. “Yalla (come on), let’s go” the boy said and the father replied something to the effect: Get ready soon, my son.

Equally euphoric were the sentiments of Ismail Mohammed @soom3a70, a forward for Qatar’s Al-Duhail FC football club. Born and raised in Makkah, the city where his mother still resides, he took to the social-media platform to express his delight with the latest developments. “Good news mom, our get-together is near,” he wrote.

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Similar scenes were probably playing out among members of many other families separated since 2017. Sara Abdulhakeem Abdullah, a 22-year-old Saudi who married her Qatari husband in 2018, can now freely travel to the Kingdom.

“I was awakened by my husband late last night with the news of the reopening of borders,” she told Arab News. “Words fail me. It is so hard to put my feelings into words. I had been trying for a long time to find an easy way to go back to Jeddah where my parental family resides.”

Despite the restrictions on air travel within the GCC countries on account of the coronavirus pandemic, last month Abdullah was able to briefly visit her loved ones in Jeddah with the support of her Qatari family. But the journey was circuitous and tiring both for her and her daughter, now a year old.

“Moving from one airport to another, waiting in transit for hours, is not the easiest thing,” she said. “The journey was worth it in the end as I had not seen my father or siblings since getting married.”




Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gives Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani a tour around the historic city of AlUla on Tuesday. (Supplied)

As a newlywed who had to adjust to a new life abroad for the first time in her life, Sara said it was not easy being unable to meet up with her parental family. The pain of the separation was even more pronounced during her pregnancy, when she was not sure when her parents and siblings would be able to meet the first granddaughter of the family.

Shortly before her due date, she was united with her mother and youngest sister but the reunion was still short of three family members. Although she was relieved to have them by her side, her joy was short-lived as the two visitors had to return to Saudi Arabia within a month.

“It was the most difficult thing one can ever imagine, a feeling I wouldn’t want anyone to experience. Those first few months of marriage were one thing, but not having my mother around when I needed her was the most difficult,” she said. “But it’s all old news now. The good times are soon to come.”

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Twitter: @Rawanradwan8


Syria reports Israeli missile attack near capital, Damascus

Syria reports Israeli missile attack near capital, Damascus
Updated 01 March 2021

Syria reports Israeli missile attack near capital, Damascus

Syria reports Israeli missile attack near capital, Damascus
  • Israel has launched hundreds of strikes against Iran-linked military targets in Syria over the years, but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations
  • Israel views Iranian entrenchment on its northern frontier as a red line

DAMASCUS: Syrian air defenses were activated in the capital Damascus and its southern suburbs Sunday night to repel an Israeli missile attack, state media reported. There was no word on casualties.
State TV quoted an unnamed military official as saying that most of the Israeli missiles were shot down before reaching their targets near Damascus.
Israel has launched hundreds of strikes against Iran-linked military targets in Syria over the years, but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations.
Israel views Iranian entrenchment on its northern frontier as a red line, and it has repeatedly struck Iran-linked facilities and weapons convoys destined for Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group.
The attack comes after the United States launched airstrikes in Syria on Thursday, targeting facilities near the Iraqi border used by Iranian-backed militia groups.
The Pentagon said the strikes were retaliation for a rocket attack in Iraq earlier this month that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a US service member and other coalition troops.


UN calls for children in Syria camps to be allowed home

UN calls for children in Syria camps to be allowed home
Updated 28 February 2021

UN calls for children in Syria camps to be allowed home

UN calls for children in Syria camps to be allowed home
  • UNICEF made its plea a day after three children died in a fire at Al-Hol camp
  • Syria’s Kurds hold thousands of alleged militants in jails and tens of thousands of their family members in camps in northeast Syria

BEIRUT: The UN children’s agency called Sunday for all minors held in displacement camps or jails in northeast Syria to be allowed home.
UNICEF made its plea a day after three children died in a fire at the overcrowded camp of Al-Hol, for people displaced in the fight against Daesh.
After years of leading the US-backed fight against Daesh, Syria’s Kurds hold thousands of alleged militants in jails and tens of thousands of their family members in camps in northeast Syria.
They hail from Syria, neighboring Iraq and dozens of other foreign countries.
Many are children.
“In the northeast of Syria, there are more than 22,000 foreign children from at least 60 nationalities who languish in camps and prisons, in addition to many thousands of Syrian children,” UNICEF regional director Ted Chaiban said in a statement, without giving a number of children held in jails.
He urged authorities in the northeast of Syria and UN member states to “do everything possible to bring children currently in the northeast of Syria back home.”
They should do this “through integrating Syrian children in their local communities and the repatriation of foreign children,” he added.
The Kurdish authorities have started sending thousands of displaced Syrians home from the camps.
But repeated calls for Western countries to repatriate their nationals have largely fallen on deaf ears, with just a handful of children and even fewer women being brought home.
Three children and a woman died on Saturday after a stove exploded in the Al-Hol camp, starting a fire, a Kurdish official said.
The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said at least 26 were injured.
Al-Hol is home to more than 62,000 people, displaced family members and relatives of alleged IS fighters, more than half of them children, it says.
A spate of killings, including decapitations, has rocked the camp since the start of the year, and humanitarian actors have repeatedly deplored living conditions there.
On February 1, the Save the Children charity also urged Iraq and Western countries to repatriate children from northeast Syria faster.
Daesh overran large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014.
Kurdish-led forces backed air strikes by a US-led coalition expelled Daesh from their last patch of territory in Syria in March 2019, in a battle that displaced tens of thousands.


Egypt opens online registration for COVID-19 vaccination

Egypt opens online registration for COVID-19 vaccination
Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt opens online registration for COVID-19 vaccination

Egypt opens online registration for COVID-19 vaccination
  • Text messages will be sent to prompt all those eligible to register for the vaccine as part of the Egyptian president’s initiative to eliminate waiting lists and facilitate the vaccination process

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Health and Population Hala Zayed announced on Sunday the start of online registration to obtain the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination for eligible citizens.

Khaled Mujahid, the ministry’s spokesman, said that registration has begun for eligible groups, including persons with tumors and kidney failure; those who have undergone operations, including open-heart surgery, and kidney and liver operations; and those with cerebral or peripheral catheters.

Text messages will be sent to prompt all those eligible to register for the vaccine as part of the Egyptian president’s initiative to eliminate waiting lists and facilitate the vaccination process.

Mujahid said that offices have been allocated in health units and hospitals across Egypt to register those who are unable to do so online. The spokesman pointed out that the site informs citizens of all details concerning the vaccine and allows them to register their data so that priority is automatically given according to age and chronic disease.

Mujahid said that the categories of people eligible to register on the website are divided into three groups in line with universally recognized priorities. These groups include health workers, those with chronic diseases and the elderly.

He explained that those registering online will have to enter identifying data, including name, ID number and contact information, such as phone number, where a verification code will be sent. Following this, the governorate and nearest health unit where the citizen may be vaccinated are determined.


US disappointed by Iran move on nuclear talks, remains ready to engage

US disappointed by Iran move on nuclear talks, remains ready to engage
Updated 16 min 12 sec ago

US disappointed by Iran move on nuclear talks, remains ready to engage

US disappointed by Iran move on nuclear talks, remains ready to engage
  • US would consult P5+1 partners on the best way forward
  • Iran says US must lift all its unilateral sanctions first

WASHINGTON/TEHRAN: The United States on Sunday said it was disappointed that Iran had ruled out an informal meeting to discuss ways to revive its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, but said it remained ready to reengage in meaningful diplomacy on the issue.
“While we are disappointed at Iran’s response, we remain ready to reengage in meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance with JCPOA commitments,” a White House spokeswoman said, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iran nuclear deal.
She said Washington would be consulting with its P5+1 partners, the four other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — China, France, Russia, United Kingdom — plus Germany on the best way forward.
Iran dismissed Europe’s offer for an informal meeting, saying the time is not “suitable” as Washington has failed to lift sanctions.
The European Union’s political director earlier this month proposed the informal meeting involving all parties of the Vienna deal, a proposition accepted by US President Joe Biden’s administration.
Following Biden’s election, Washington, the European parties to the deal and Tehran have been trying to salvage the accord, which granted Iran international sanctions relief in return for restrictions on its nuclear program.
The accord has been nearing collapse since former president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran.
“Considering the recent positions and actions of the United States and the three European countries, (Iran) does not consider the time suitable to hold the informal meeting proposed by the European coordinator,” foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement.
“There has still been no change in the US positions and behavior yet,” he added, saying the Biden administration has continued “Trump’s failed policy of maximum pressure.”
Biden has signalled readiness to revive the deal, but insists Iran first return to all its nuclear commitments, most of which it suspended in response to the sanctions, while Tehran demands Washington take the first step by scrapping the sanctions.
The foreign ministry statement comes ahead of a quarterly meeting Monday of the United Nations nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors, which is likely to discuss Iran’s recent restrictions of some nuclear inspections.
“Remember: Trump failed to meet because of his ill-advised ‘Max Failure’,” Khatibzadeh wrote on Twitter shortly after his statement.
Tehran’s position is unchanged “with sanctions in place... Censuring is NOT diplomacy. It doesn’t work with Iran,” he added.
The US “has not even announced its commitment to fulfilling its responsibilities” under the deal and the UN Security Council resolution that enshrined it, the spokesman said in the statement.
“America must end its illegal and unilateral sanctions and return to its (deal) commitments. This needs neither negotiations nor resolutions,” he added.
Iran “will answer action with action, and just as it will return to (deal) commitments in accordance with the lifting of sanctions, it will respond to hostile actions and behaviors in the same way.”
Khatibzadeh said Tehran would continue to consult with other parties to the nuclear agreement, and European Union Foreign Minister Josep Borrell “in his capacity as the (deal) coordinator, both bilaterally and multilaterally.”
Iran last Tuesday started to restrict some site inspections by the IAEA, in continuation of suspended nuclear commitments in response to the US failure to lift its sanctions.
London, Paris and Berlin said they “deeply regret” the move and that they were “united in underlining the dangerous nature of this decision.”
IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said last week an interim three-month deal agreed during a visit to Tehran was “far from an ideal situation,” but will allow the body to continue monitoring “all the key activities.”
It will facilitate “time for the indispensable diplomacy that will be deployed,” he added.
Under the temporary agreement, data on Iran’s nuclear program “will be stored and not handed over to the IAEA,” according to Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The Iranian Atomic Energy Organization has said that if US sanctions are still not lifted after three months, it will start erasing the recordings.
(With Reuters and AFP)


Former Mosul priest: Pope’s Iraq visit a ‘precious gift’ for all

Former Mosul priest: Pope’s Iraq visit a ‘precious gift’ for all
Updated 28 February 2021

Former Mosul priest: Pope’s Iraq visit a ‘precious gift’ for all

Former Mosul priest: Pope’s Iraq visit a ‘precious gift’ for all
  • ‘Like a dove, he’ll bring a twig of peace to all the people living in this land who’ve suffered for too long,’ priest tells Arab News
  • Pope Francis due to arrive in Baghdad on March 5

ROME: The pope’s upcoming visit to Iraq is a “precious gift” not only for the Christians who live there, but for all those who after years of war want a return to peace and coexistence between religions, a priest who worked for eight years in the diocese of Mosul told Arab News.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. Pope Francis is coming … to invite us to all be instruments of peace,” said Fr. Jalal Jako.

“Like a dove, he’ll bring a twig of peace to all the people living in this land who’ve suffered for too long.”

Jako, currently in Italy, will return to Iraq for the pope’s visit, which will begin on March 5.

The priest was born in Qaraqosh, a historic Christian city near Mosul, which is part of the pope’s itinerary.

Jalal Jako visiting a church in Qaraqosh after it was badly damaged by Daesh. (Supplied)

He fled the region in August 2014 along with nearly 150,000 Christians and made his way to Erbil in northern Iraq. There, Jako worked in a refugee camp where he said the conditions for those who had fled the extremists were “terrible.”

When he returned to Qaraqosh three years later, “We found that everything had been destroyed,” he said.

The pope will be welcomed by Iraq’s prime minister in Baghdad and then visit the country’s president at the presidential palace, where he will meet with local authorities, representatives of civil society and the diplomatic corps.

Pope Francis will also meet with bishops and priests at the Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad.

On March 6, he will fly to the city of Najaf and meet with Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani. The pope will return to Baghdad that day and celebrate Holy Mass at the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph.

On March 7 he will visit Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and meet with religious and civil authorities of the autonomous region. He will also visit the city of Qaraqosh. His return to Rome is scheduled for March 8 from Baghdad.

Jako said: “We can’t fail to be there at such an important moment for us Christians — the first visit of a pope to Iraq. He’ll tell us, ‘No more blood, live all as brothers.’ Thus he’ll send out a message that all the Iraqi people need.”

Jako added: “Pope John Paul II was supposed to come on a pilgrimage in 2000 … but it wasn’t possible for him. Pope Francis is keeping his predecessor’s promise to come to Iraq to visit a Christian community that today has only 500,000 faithful, a third of the number who lived there in 2003. He comes as the leader of a Church that respects all religions and aims to build peace.”