Iran-Saudi talks have gone a ‘good distance,’ Iran’s foreign minister says in Beirut

Iran-Saudi talks have gone a ‘good distance,’ Iran’s foreign minister says in Beirut
Amirabdollahian held a joint press conference with his Lebanese counterpart Abdullah Bou Habib. (AP)
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Updated 08 October 2021

Iran-Saudi talks have gone a ‘good distance,’ Iran’s foreign minister says in Beirut

Iran-Saudi talks have gone a ‘good distance,’ Iran’s foreign minister says in Beirut

BEIRUT: Talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia have covered a “good distance,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told a news conference in Beirut on Thursday, referring to efforts to improve ties.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati welcomed on behalf of his government “the positivity prevailing on the Saudi-Iranian talks, hosted by Iraq.”

He stressed the need to “believe in the honest intentions of the interlocutors to put an end to the conflict and pave the way for the establishment of new relationships based on mutual respect, to achieve states’ sovereignty and non-interference of internal affairs and preserve their stability and security and achieve the aspirations of their peoples, which will have positive effects on Lebanon.”

Amirabdollahian held a joint press conference with his Lebanese counterpart Abdullah Bou Habib, during which Amirabdollahian announced that “the dialogue that we believe in aims to address regional and international issues and we have come a long way in our talks with Saudi Arabia.”

Amirabdollahian discussed with Lebanese officials the arrival of the first Iranian gasoline shipment to Syria’s Banyas port. This will be shipped to Lebanon by Syrian tankers that Hezbollah will get into the country through illegal crossings.

None of the Lebanese officials directly criticized the Iranian fuel shipped into the country despite the sanctions placed on Iran.

Instead, President Michel Aoun reiterated “Iran’s solidarity with Lebanon during its crisis and the aids it has provided for the country in the aftermath of the Beirut port blast.”

According to his media office, Aoun reiterated “Lebanon’s support for the efforts exerted by Iran to promote rapprochement with the countries in the region, especially Arab countries, through the ongoing dialogue that aims to converge views on disputed issues.”

Amirabdollahian highlighted “his country’s solid support for Lebanon and the Iranian government’s readiness to assist Lebanon amid the difficult circumstances the country has been going through.”

The media office at the presidential palace ascertained that Amirabdollahian “reiterated his country’s position regarding the latest developments and the negotiations held between Tehran and Arab and foreign countries on several issues, notably concerning the nuclear issue.”

Following his meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Amirabdollahian considered “the presence of foreign troops the main factor for the regional instability and insecurity.”

He said: “We agreed that all regional problems and issues should be addressed by the people of the region themselves.”

Mikati told Amirabdollahian that “today, Lebanon is in desperate need to promote the Lebanese’ confidence in their state and its institutions, through establishing normal relationships with other states based on mutual respect and common interests, to meet the peoples’ aspirations.”

Mikati stressed that “Lebanon welcomes any efforts exerted by any brotherly and friendly state and the international community as long as it helps Lebanon maintain its constitutional institutions and its role in protecting and strengthening its legal, security and military forces.”

Amirabdollahian also announced that “Iranian companies are ready to build two power plants with a capacity of 1,000 megawatts in Beirut and the south of Lebanon, within 18 months.”

On the Middle East crisis, he said, “from Beirut, we recognize one state only, and that is Palestine, and its capital is Jerusalem”.

According to some sources, Amirabdollahian met Palestinian leaders in refugee camps in Lebanon and is likely to meet Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah before heading to Damascus.

Three hours before his arrival in Beirut, demonstrators took to the streets to protest “the Iranian occupation of Lebanon.”

The protest was carried out by a group of activists who marched toward the Lebanese Foreign Ministry’s headquarters. Protesters held signs calling for “the implementation of international resolutions and the removal of illegal arms,” and rejecting “the project to transform Lebanon into a satellite state of the Iranian regime.”

Many took to social media and traditional media outlets to express their surprise at the Iranian official’s speech from Beirut airport, where he said that his country “firmly stands by Lebanon to break the unjust siege imposed on it during this critical phase.”

Media outlets wondered “what siege he was talking about.”

Former minister Richard Kouyoumjian described Amirabdollahian’s visit as “the establishment of occupation, guardianship, dominance, interference.”

“We must mainly not yield to the alliance of minorities under the era of humiliation.”

The central news agency quoted a political source wondering “what assistance and what siege Amirabdollahian was talking about? The international community is fully mobilized to help Lebanon and is awaiting reforms to provide support. The US allowed the access of Egyptian gas to Beirut through Syria and Jordan. However, the shortage of US dollars to buy fuel is the result of decades of corruption of the political ruling class, which Hezbollah is part of.”

The political source was also quoted as saying that the reason behind “Lebanon’s exclusion by the Gulf is the complete lack of Lebanese legitimacy under Hezbollah’s control and the state’s inaction on the groups’ military, political and smuggling violations.”


Saudi elementary, kindergarten students excited about return to school

For the first few weeks after schools reopen the program will in particular focus on psychological efforts to help students get back into the school routine. (Supplied)
For the first few weeks after schools reopen the program will in particular focus on psychological efforts to help students get back into the school routine. (Supplied)
Updated 22 January 2022

Saudi elementary, kindergarten students excited about return to school

For the first few weeks after schools reopen the program will in particular focus on psychological efforts to help students get back into the school routine. (Supplied)
  • Psychological preparation and support important for the children as it will help them resume their studies and interactions with their peers, says mother-of-two

JEDDAH: As teachers and education authorities prepare for the long-awaited return of younger children to school classrooms on Sunday, so too are the students and their parents.

The Saudi Ministry of Education announced last week that elementary schools and kindergartens will reopen on Jan. 23, almost two years after they closed as a health precaution to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The resumption of in-person teaching for the under-12s had been postponed from October last year.
“It’s a decision we must face one day and my children are excited to return to school and it is better for them,” Ala’a Alama, mother of two, told Arab News.
Schools in Saudi Arabia closed classrooms and switched to online learning soon after the pandemic began in early 2020. More than 5 million students across the Kingdom used specially developed distance-learning platforms called Madrasati and Rawdati.  Jumana Haj Ahmad, UNICEF’s deputy representative for the Gulf region, said that Saudi authorities had played a world-leading role in the provision of online education.
In preparation for the long-awaited return of students, senior school officials across the Kingdom have implemented a program to prepare pupils, parents and teachers for a safe resumption of classes.

HIGHLIGHTS

• In preparation for the long-awaited return of students, senior school officials across the Kingdom have implemented a program to prepare pupils, parents and teachers for a safe resumption of classes.

• It focus on four key areas: Reassuring students and parents about the return to school and face-to-face learning; reminding them of the importance of adhering to safety protocols while in school; providing parents with a platform through which they can ask questions and share concerns; and motivating students to study and participate in activities.

It focus on four key areas: Reassuring students and parents about the return to school and face-to-face learning; reminding them of the importance of adhering to safety protocols while in school; providing parents with a platform through which they can ask questions and share concerns; and motivating students to study and participate in activities.
For the first few weeks after schools reopen the program will in particular focus on psychological efforts to help students get back into the school routine. As part of the program, schools will offer art activities, children’s theater, cultural and entertainment workshops, take photos and shoot videos as students return, and distribute gifts.
Alama said that psychological preparation and support is important for the children as it will help them to resume their studies and interactions with their peers.
Schools will also provide 22 cultural, sports and awareness activities to give students plenty of opportunities to get physically active again after a hiatus of almost two years.
Meanwhile, the online education facilities will remain available for children with serious health conditions that prevent them from returning to the classroom.
Educators in charge of kindergartens and elementary schools across the Kingdom will follow safety guidelines from the Saudi Public Health Authority: Morning assemblies will remain suspended; sports activities must be conducted in spacious, well-ventilated locations; organized entry and departure from school will be organized; and social-distancing measures must be followed in classrooms.
Alama said her children, who are 7 and 10 years old, are aware of all the precautionary measures they need to follow.
“During the pandemic, they learned the importance of washing their hands, maintaining social distancing, and using masks, sanitizers and disinfecting wipes, which are all kept in a kit prepared for them to take to school,” she said.
UNICEF’s Ahmad this week praised the decision by Saudi authorities to resume in-person teaching for children under the age of 12. Older children have already returned to classrooms.
Ahmad said it is an important step and added that during a pandemic, schools should be the last places to close and first to reopen.
 In addition,  Saudi Arabia’s provision of online education through its two platforms and TV and video channels was world-leading. She also praised the Ministry of Education’s efforts to ensure children’s successful psychological and social growth, and programs designed to protect them from abuse.


Interactive screens guide visitors at Makkah’s Grand Mosque

It aims to facilitate access to ritual sites as well as key locations, including the Mataf. (SPA)
It aims to facilitate access to ritual sites as well as key locations, including the Mataf. (SPA)
Updated 22 January 2022

Interactive screens guide visitors at Makkah’s Grand Mosque

It aims to facilitate access to ritual sites as well as key locations, including the Mataf. (SPA)
  • The interactive screens display data in six major languages and provide a QR code

MAKKAH: As part of its plan to develop and upgrade the quality of the guidance system, the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques has launched a new service for worshippers, providing them with interactive screens that display the guidance map of the Grand Mosque and its facilities.
It aims to facilitate access to ritual sites as well as key locations, including the Mataf (the area for circumambulation around the Holy Kaaba) and Mas’a building, through providing direct movement paths from the location of the user to the destination.
The interactive screens also display data in six major languages and provide a QR code so that the routes can be viewed via personal devices. 


Experts praise new Saudi specialist anti-fraud units

 Legal and financial experts emphasized the importance of combating financial fraud crimes, which have serious criminal and economic ramifications on society. (Supplied)
Legal and financial experts emphasized the importance of combating financial fraud crimes, which have serious criminal and economic ramifications on society. (Supplied)
Updated 21 January 2022

Experts praise new Saudi specialist anti-fraud units

 Legal and financial experts emphasized the importance of combating financial fraud crimes, which have serious criminal and economic ramifications on society. (Supplied)
  • The new legislation defines all aspects of financial crimes in detail and sets out the maximum penalties while taking into account the rapid pace of technological advances

RIYADH: Legal and financial experts have supported the decision of the Saudi Attorney General Saud Al-Mojeb to create new specialized units for investigating financial fraud.
Zahra Al-Nasser, an assistant professor in the department of finance and banking at Dar Al-Uloom University, told Arab News that the move to form new specialized units to investigate financial fraud will significantly enhance business sector governance and protect against the degradation of the pillars of economic prosperity.
“The best example is the collapse of the Saudi financial market in 2006. The market lost more than SR1 trillion ($266 billion), which is still fresh in the minds of investors, affected investor confidence, and resulted in the loss of much of their wealth and savings. One of the reasons was the Saudi market’s weak legislation,” Al-Nasser said.

Legal advisor, Thamer Al-Enezi. (Supplied)

Thamer Al-Enezi, a legal adviser, told Arab News that financial fraud has become an international issue, deceiving some highly educated workers due to its professionalism.
Al-Enezi said it was necessary to have highly efficient specialists to deal with fraud.

The Public Prosecution stressed the importance of addressing all cases of financial fraud, particularly those that involve cross-border networks.
The new legislation defines all aspects of financial crimes in detail and sets out the maximum penalties while taking into account the rapid pace of technological advances.
The Public Prosecution added that the new units have specialists in financial fraud crimes who are members of the Public Prosecution Office and have received investigation training courses.
The courses include criminal patterns and methods, tracking perpetrators, and stolen funds.

The possible punishments for individuals convicted of committing financial crimes include up to seven years in prison and a maximum fine of SR5 million ($1.3 million).

Al-Enezi, who owns a law firm, added that some financial frauds use the corporate entity as a cover, affecting the corporate sector’s reliability.
Therefore, a package of preventive measures was taken by government agencies such as the Saudi Central Bank and other authorities such as the Public Prosecution to protect society from money fraud. These measures help adhere to high governance standards and maintain formidable cybersecurity levels.
Al-Enezi pointed out that some of these crimes have technical flaws that facilitate financial fraud detection.
The law for combating financial fraud stipulates that guilty parties will be imprisoned “for no more than seven years and fined no more than SR5 million.”
Al-Nasser said that companies are now expected to take bolder steps to fight fraud, such as updating frameworks and approaches, increasing commitment and compliance, enhancing precautions and using deeper audits.
She said that companies may incur additional costs as they update procedures because many of them fall into financial fraud due to “weak internal governance mechanisms.”
The assistant professor praised the new units and focus on financial fraud, which she said would improve investor confidence and contribute to “the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals through the Financial Sector Development Program, which aims to deepen the financial market, increase liquidity levels and improve transparency.”


Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale launches local art ecosystem forum

Diriyah Biennale Contemporary Art kicks off local art ecosystem forum from Jan. 21 to 22 in Diriyah. (Supplied)
Diriyah Biennale Contemporary Art kicks off local art ecosystem forum from Jan. 21 to 22 in Diriyah. (Supplied)
Updated 21 January 2022

Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale launches local art ecosystem forum

Diriyah Biennale Contemporary Art kicks off local art ecosystem forum from Jan. 21 to 22 in Diriyah. (Supplied)
  • This public program, held in the Jax neighborhood in Diriyah, is supporting the growth of the local art ecosystem in the Kingdom

RIYADH: The Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale kicked off its two-day local art ecosystem forum to build bridges of knowledge and communication between the participating cultural entities.

This public program, held in the Jax neighborhood in Diriyah, is supporting the growth of the local art ecosystem in the Kingdom by gathering important contributors and investors interested in shaping the infrastructure of Saudi art and culture.

The forum sheds light on the opportunities that the different entities’ initiatives provide and seeks to grow a bigger network to strengthen the vision for art and cultural development in Saudi.

Key speakers of the first day of the forum included Aya Albakree, CEO of the Diriyah Biennale Foundation, Dina Amin, CEO of the Visual Arts Commission, Farah Abushullaih, museum director at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, and Nora AlDabal, arts and creative planning director at the Royal Commission For AlUla.

The second day’s programs will see input from Ilaria Bonacossa, arts and culture liaison at the Royal Commission for Riyadh City, Navid Niknejad, business enterprise and innovation director at AMAALA, Reem Alsultan, CEO of the Misk Art Institute, and Antonia Carver, director of Art Jameel.

The biennale, which opened to the public officially on Dec.11 and will run until March 11 next year, is located in the newly converted warehouses in the JAX district. It unfolds in six sections, featuring works by some 64 artists from around the world, with a particular focus on the 27 Saudi artists.


Blinken condemns Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, UAE in call with Saudi FM

Blinken condemns Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, UAE in call with Saudi FM
Updated 21 January 2022

Blinken condemns Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, UAE in call with Saudi FM

Blinken condemns Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, UAE in call with Saudi FM
  • Friday’s call came after this week’s attacks on Abu Dhabi in the UAE and continued launches aimed toward Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE and reiterated Washington’s support for the Kingdom and Gulf countries in a phonecall with foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan.

Blinken said the US was committed to helping Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies defend themselves against threats from Yemen and other places in the region, the State Department said.

“Secretary Blinken reiterated the US commitment to help Gulf partners improve their capabilities to defend against threats from Yemen and elsewhere in the region and underscored the importance of mitigating civilian harm,” spokesman Ned Price said.

Friday’s call came after this week’s attacks on Abu Dhabi in the UAE and continued launches aimed toward Saudi Arabia, claimed by the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen.

Civilian sites, including Abu Dhabi’s International Airport, were targeted with missiles and drones. At least three civilians were killed, and a handful of others injured in the UAE capital.

“The Secretary condemned the January 17 Houthi attack on both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that struck civilian sites in the UAE, including Abu Dhabi’s international airport, and killed and wounded civilians,” Price said in the statement.