Two killed, 120 injured in Abu Dhabi gas explosion

Two killed, 120 injured in Abu Dhabi gas explosion
The blast on Monday set off a fire that damaged the facades of six buildings and a number of stores. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 26 May 2022

Two killed, 120 injured in Abu Dhabi gas explosion

Two killed, 120 injured in Abu Dhabi gas explosion
  • Two people were killed and 120 injured in a gas cylinder explosion in a restaurant in Abu Dhabi
  • The blast on Monday set off a fire that damaged the facades of six buildings and a number of stores

ABU DHABI: Two people were killed and 120 injured in a gas cylinder explosion in a restaurant in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi, police said.
Initial reports “showed that 64 people sustained minor injuries, 56 others were moderately wounded, and two people died,” police tweeted.
The blast on Monday set off a fire that damaged the facades of six buildings and a number of stores before being brought under control, they added.
Four of the damaged buildings were “safely” evacuated, with efforts underway to find their residents temporary housing “until the buildings are completely secured,” the police said.
Pictures released by Abu Dhabi police showed first responders tending to a person on a gurney, and debris and broken glass strewn across the pavement.
A witness told The National newspaper that he heard two explosions around lunchtime.
“The first sound was small and people started calling the fire and police,” said the man, who was not identified.
“Then soon, there was a big blast. It was a really big sound. The windows shook and in some offices, the windows shattered.”
The authorities gave no indication of foul play.
However, the UAE has been on heightened alert since a Houthi drone and missile attack killed three oil workers in Abu Dhabi on January 17.


Saudi women participating in Makkah’s General Cars Syndicate for the first time

Women are now part of the General Syndicate of Cars for the first time, and the are proud and honored to work during Hajj.
Women are now part of the General Syndicate of Cars for the first time, and the are proud and honored to work during Hajj.
Updated 43 min 47 sec ago

Saudi women participating in Makkah’s General Cars Syndicate for the first time

Women are now part of the General Syndicate of Cars for the first time, and the are proud and honored to work during Hajj.
  • ‘Our leadership has made it possible for women to work, especially in all government sectors’

MAKKAH: Women will be part of the General Cars Syndicate in Makkah for the first time since it was set up nine decades ago.

The syndicate is an executive body that arranges and organizes pilgrim transportation through affiliated companies.

I am grateful that women now have more professional opportunities to participate and serve during Hajj.

Binan Basnan, Customer service specialist - General Syndicate of Cars

Khadijah Fida, a journalist and content creator at the syndicate, said: “A lot of women have been assisting with work for Hajj in the Kingdom for decades. I saw my father’s work in this sector, along with my brother and husband, and today I have also participated in it. Our leadership has made it possible for women to work, especially in all government sectors, and play an active role in line with Saudi Vision 2030.

(From L to R) Binan Basnan, Mervat Habhab & Khadijah Fida. (Supplied)

“Today, I represent the General Cars Syndicate in the media, public relations, creating quality material, and monitoring the successes of the transport information center during Hajj. I am proud and honored to be a woman from Makkah who works in the syndicate that greatly and actively contributes to the success of Hajj and the safe transport of pilgrims.

The syndicate is always working on creating and establishing an institutional framework for this association that has made a dramatic difference in transport in Makkah.

Khadija Fida, Journalist and content creator - General Syndicate of Cars

“We experience Makkah’s Hajj and Umrah seasons, and the syndicate is always working on creating and establishing an institutional framework for this association that has made a dramatic difference in transport in Makkah to bring comfort to pilgrims who (earlier) struggled on dirt roads to reach Makkah.”

Mervat Habhab, a customer service specialist at the syndicate’s information center, said that women’s roles had become more noticeable and significant.

“It is my mission to interact and address the situation of every beneficiary, based on their needs, and transport them to the relevant departments for a quick response and intervention. It is an honorable and wonderful mission to contribute to the service of pilgrims when those services were limited to men. In this prosperous era and these blessed days, I have the opportunity to play an important and active part as a woman from Makkah who loves God and her homeland.”

Habhab added that government support motivated them to improve their work performance every year.

Binan Basnan, another customer service specialist at the syndicate, said: “I am proud and honored to work in a great institution such as the General Cars Syndicate that serves pilgrims on their Hajj journey through receiving their inquiries and complaints. I am grateful that women now have more professional opportunities to participate and serve during Hajj. I hope to be rewarded (by God) and thank our government, which gave us these great opportunities.”


Lebanon-Israel maritime border dispute returns to the fore

An Israeli navy vessel is pictured off the coast of rosh Hanikra, an area at the border between Israel and Lebanon
An Israeli navy vessel is pictured off the coast of rosh Hanikra, an area at the border between Israel and Lebanon
Updated 2 min 1 sec ago

Lebanon-Israel maritime border dispute returns to the fore

An Israeli navy vessel is pictured off the coast of rosh Hanikra, an area at the border between Israel and Lebanon
  • US mediator Amos Hochstein sent a proposal to Lebanon in March on the demarcation starting from Line 23, which was drawn in a zigzag form

BEIRUT: A maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel has returned to the fore following a security development on Saturday night.

Israel’s army spokesman Avichay Adraee said warplanes and an Israeli missile ship had intercepted three drones that approached from Lebanon’s side toward the airspace over Israel’s economic waters.

Hezbollah’s military wing, the Islamic Resistance, confirmed the incident in a statement: “A group affiliated with martyrs Jamil Skaff and Mahdi Yaghi launched three drones of different sizes toward the disputed area, over the Karish gas field, to carry out reconnaissance missions. The mission was accomplished and the message was conveyed.”

Lebanon mostly stayed silent on the development, although caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib said there was a possibility of reaching an agreement on the border issue in September and that information from the US and UN showed there was progress in the negotiations.

FASTFACT

Israel’s army spokesman Avichay Adraee said warplanes and an Israeli missile ship had intercepted three drones that approached from Lebanon’s side toward the airspace over Israel’s economic waters.

US mediator Amos Hochstein sent a proposal to Lebanon in March on the demarcation starting from Line 23, which was drawn in a zigzag form.

Lebanon handed him an oral response, which he did not reveal, pending the Israeli response.

Lebanon has been unable to confirm that Line 29 — which includes the Karish gas field — is the maritime border of Lebanon due to the failure of President Michel Aoun to sign a draft amendment to Decree 6433.

It was issued in 2011 and specified that Line 23 was the point for negotiations with Israel to demarcate the maritime borders. However, Aoun considers Line 29 to be the point for negotiations.

Line 29 gives Lebanon an additional area estimated at 1,430 square km while, according to the decree deposited with the UN, Lebanon only gets 860 square km of the disputed area.

Mohammed Yazbeck, Ayatollah Khamenei’s legal representative in Lebanon, said on Sunday: “Lebanon’s preservation of its wealth can only be achieved by informing the enemy that we are strong. The message was delivered by drones. This message is not only for the Israeli enemy but also for the American mediator, to understand that Lebanon’s rights cannot be underestimated or ridiculed.”

Former MP Fares Souaid said: “Hezbollah’s drones over Karish are aimed at reminding all parties that Iran is present in the ongoing negotiations between Lebanon and Israel over border demarcation under American auspices and at the expense of the Lebanese interest.

“The incident confirmed by Hezbollah may take place once again, and more serious incidents may occur. Therefore, we call on the nation’s representatives to raise the issue of Iran’s occupation within Parliament.”

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that Hezbollah constituted an “obstacle” to an agreement between Lebanon and Israel.

“The party continues to walk the path of terrorism and undermines Lebanon’s ability to reach an agreement on the maritime borders.”

He said Israel would continue to protect itself, its citizens, and its interests.

Israel’s army said Hezbollah was trying to undermine the country’s sovereignty on the ground, in the air, and at sea. “The economic waters are part of Israel and are not a conflict zone. No discussion is necessary,” it added.

Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that the drones were flown near the Karish gas field. One was downed by a fighter jet, and the other two were taken out by Barak 8 missiles launched from a missile ship.

It said Hezbollah had sent out different types of drones that flew at low altitudes. They were monitored and intercepted through coordination between the naval and air forces.

The newspaper quoted the Israeli army as saying: “Initial assessments indicated that the drones were not armed and did not pose any threat. This is an attempt to undermine negotiations with Lebanon regarding the maritime border, and Hezbollah wants to destroy Lebanon.”

The report said Hezbollah had previously sent out drones to Israeli territory, but Saturday night’s development was the first time that such an operation had been carried out on the floating gas platform in Karish, where no gas had yet been extracted.

“The incident is a message to Israel that Hezbollah can carry out the threats made by its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, in recent weeks. By launching these drones, Hezbollah acted against the Lebanese interest, despite the progress made in the file of demarcating the maritime borders through the efforts of American mediator Amos Hochstein," it said. "What happened not only violates the negotiations but also indicates that Hezbollah violated its position regarding not taking any action without a Lebanese national agreement or consensus.”


REVIEW: Circlys - saving platform

Photo/Supplied
Photo/Supplied
Updated 16 min 19 sec ago

REVIEW: Circlys - saving platform

Photo/Supplied
  • Eligible members must have accounts documented through the national information center “Nafath,” have a fixed income and a Saudi bank account

Many people when they have a certain income worry about having a proper amount of savings in their bank accounts.

Saving is known to be one of the best steps toward a healthy financial status and there are many ways to go about it.

One example is Circlys, an official Saudi closed joint-stock company, headquartered in Riyadh and specializing in financial technology.

It is a certified cooperative saving application provided for customers in Saudi Arabia under the supervision of the Saudi Central Bank, the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Investment.

Eligible members must have accounts documented through the national information center “Nafath,” have a fixed income and a Saudi bank account. Every subscriber must sign a claim in case of defaulting and to guarantee their rights.

Circlys offers different saving opportunities throughout the year with durations varying between six and 12 months. Monthly shares start at SR500. Subscribers can choose the month they would like to receive the sum they register to get, and payments from each subscriber are deducted based on their salary period. Amounts will be received within three days after the salary receiving date.

The idea of the saving platform is inspired by a common saving concept in the Arab region called “Jamea’a,” where a group of three or more individuals agrees on saving the same amount of money in turns, provided that each individual pays the agreed-upon amount in the specified time. It is not permissible to breach the deadline or evade payment.

With a 4.7 rating by users, the savings platform has more than 180,000 beneficiaries and 10,000 saving circles. The phone app is available in English and Arabic on Android and iOS. For more information, visit circlys.com


Algeria to review gas prices with all its clients

Algeria to review gas prices with all its clients
Updated 21 min 58 sec ago

Algeria to review gas prices with all its clients

Algeria to review gas prices with all its clients
  • Algeria’s oil and gas earnings are up 70 percent and have reached $21.5 billion in the five first months of 2022

ALGIERS: Algeria is negotiating with all its clients to review gas prices, state oil and gas producer Sonatrach’s CEO, Tewfik Hakkar, told reporters on Sunday.

Hakkar added that the review of the prices is not targeting a single company or country.

The statement comes almost a week after Spain began re-exporting gas to Morocco in reverse flow via the Gazoduc Maghreb-Europe pipeline, marking the first direct flow of piped gas from Europe to Africa.

Spain and Morocco agreed earlier this year to consider using the GME pipeline for reverse flow to the North African country with the gas to be sourced from the global LNG market.

On Nov. 1, Algeria, which has cut off diplomatic ties with Morocco, stopped supplying natural gas to its neighboring country through the GME pipeline.

Algeria is now supplying Spain using the Medgaz undersea pipeline with an annual capacity of 8 billion cubic meters, which does not go through Morocco.

Earnings up

Algeria’s oil and gas earnings are up 70 percent and have reached $21.5 billion in the five first months of 2022, compared to $12.6 billion in the same period last year, an executive at state oil and gas producer Sonatrach told reporters on Sunday.

Along with gas, Algeria is a large oil producer with 12.2 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. The country exports 540,000 barrels per day of its total production of about 1.1 million bpd. All proven oil reserves are held onshore, though offshore exploration is in the early stages.


Frankly Speaking: Kingdom facilitating Hajj for all pilgrims, ensuring their health and safety, says Saudi Hajj services deputy minister Hisham Saeed

Frankly Speaking: Kingdom facilitating Hajj for all pilgrims, ensuring their health and safety, says Saudi Hajj services deputy minister Hisham Saeed
Updated 11 sec ago

Frankly Speaking: Kingdom facilitating Hajj for all pilgrims, ensuring their health and safety, says Saudi Hajj services deputy minister Hisham Saeed

Frankly Speaking: Kingdom facilitating Hajj for all pilgrims, ensuring their health and safety, says Saudi Hajj services deputy minister Hisham Saeed
  • Arrangements include new online booking system for pilgrims, healthcare preparations and preparedness for emergencies
  • Deputy minister and official spokesman of Hajj and Umrah services made the comments during appearance on “Frankly Speaking”

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has made the full gamut of arrangements to ensure a smooth Hajj for those who will be performing the pilgrimage later this week, while taking their safety and health into account, according to Hisham Saeed, the deputy minister and official spokesman of Hajj and Umrah services.

The highlights of the arrangements are a new online booking system for pilgrims, healthcare preparations for the Hajj season amid a lingering COVID-19 pandemic, and preparedness for emergencies.

The elaborate arrangements made by Saudi Arabia to welcome pilgrims to the first open Hajj in two years since the advent of the pandemic were outlined by Saeed during an interview with Katie Jensen, host of “Frankly Speaking,” the Arab News talk show on which leading policymakers and business leaders appear.

The Hajj and Umrah services sector of Saudi Vision 2030, the reform program announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016, has three main goals, according to Saeed.

“The first goal is to ease and facilitate all the processes for the Hajjis, the pilgrims, and mutamirs to perform Hajj and Umrah inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The second goal is to lift up the level of quality of service and to ensure that we provide the highest and finest level of service,” he said.

The third goal “is to enrich the spiritual journey for them and give them beautiful memories when they are inside Saudi Arabia.”

For hundreds of thousands of Muslims around the world preparing to make their pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah, it is the trip of a lifetime. Just a few weeks ago, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj introduced an online booking system, known as Motawif, for pilgrims from Britain, the US, Australia and Europe.

“Before (the introduction of) Motawif, the only way for eligible Hajjis to perform Hajj was to visit one of the agencies in the other countries and to perform all the practices manually,” Saeed said.

“We launched this platform on June 9. We have a full campaign, an awareness campaign on how to use this platform. We have a call center 24/7 to answer any queries from these customers or pilgrims.

“We still have plenty of time for the applicant to register and view all the different packages for them and to make their own personal choice of the suitable package for them.”

Saeed explained that there are three packages — silver, gold and platinum — that pilgrims can choose from according to their own preferences. Packages start from £6,000 (SR 27,253), which he added is 40 percent cheaper than those offered by traditional travel agencies.

Basic packages include hotel accommodation, transportation inside the Kingdom, food and beverages, and ground services agents to assist and follow up with pilgrims when they arrive.

The more expensive packages, which reach £9,000, include five-star hotels, accommodation that is closer to the Holy Mosque in Makkah or the Holy Mosque in Madinah, a longer stay in the Kingdom, first-class meals, and VIP bus transportation.

However, the system has already faced complaints. Applicants have said that the site is faulty, which makes booking their pilgrimage difficult, and some pilgrims have even been left stranded at airports and unable to attend Hajj after spending their life savings for the climactic religious experience.

Spokesman for the Ministry of Hajj discussed the new online booking system for pilgrims, Motwatif, with Frankly Speaking. (AN Photo)

Thousands of pilgrims took to social media to complain that the trip they had waited years for was ruined.

“We are very sad to hear that, but what happened, it’s on a very limited number of people, consuming about two percent of the total traffic,” said Saeed.

According to him, some people were late in paying for their services, which led to delays, some failed to submit their required documents, and others falsely selected packages that did not include airline tickets.

Some critics argued that the platform should have been delayed until next year’s Hajj, but Saeed disagrees. “The platform is very, very easy to use, and we have awareness campaigns and direct contact with the customers,” he said.

According to Saeed, now is the proper time for the launch of the platform, as it ensures that pilgrims are under the 65-year age limit for Hajj and have proof of both their COVID-19 vaccinations and a negative PCR test within 72 hours of coming to the Kingdom.

With all of these new requirements, “how can we do it manually?” he said.

“We don’t want to blame the pilgrims, because it’s a new platform. There are (inevitably) some challenges when you launch any new platform and any new e-system. But our role here is to help them and facilitate the process for them.”

For pilgrims who have paid for their packages up front but have not received a permit to attend Hajj, Motawif has a solution. Eligible pilgrims who have paid through the platform can follow a cancellation process and receive refunds.

He added: “I assure you that all these problems or difficulties facing these pilgrims, Motawif will face it, and we are now dealing with this.”

Despite the roadblocks of the online booking system, this year’s Hajj is set to be one of the largest undertakings by Saudi Arabia in two years.

The Kingdom recently lifted many of its COVID-19-related restrictions, including the wearing of face masks in public in most areas.

The Hajj and Umrah services sector of Saudi Vision 2030, the reform program announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016, has three main goals, according to Saeed. (AN Photo)

The 2020 and 2021 Hajj seasons were limited to only 10,000 and 60,000 pilgrims respectively due to these restrictions, and 2022 will be the first time in two years in which far more people will be allowed to enter the Kingdom for Hajj.

“We have decided to have 1 million Hajjis from offshore and from inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Eighty-five percent of 1 million, which means 850,000, will be designated for the Hajjis (coming from) worldwide. And 150,000 Hajjis from inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, divided between the citizens and the residents in Saudi Arabia.

“This year we have a decision to go for 1 million, because the pandemic still exists, it’s not over yet, and we are not running the full capacity for this year.”

Saeed elaborated on the way that new technology will streamline the Hajj experience for pilgrims. Mobile applications will give them a smart ID, enabling them to access services and allowing the Hajj ministry to contact pilgrims via SMS. Pilgrims can also use the applications to contact workers if they are lost or require other assistance in the holy sites.

With COVID-19 restrictions still fresh in the minds of Saudis and pilgrims alike, some worry that the emerging monkeypox virus could threaten a safe and healthy pilgrimage. Others recall crushes and stampedes which have led to the tragic deaths of pilgrims in past Hajj seasons.

In this context, Saeed said that some restrictions are still in place, such as the mandatory wearing of face masks in the holy sites of Muzdalifah, Mina and Arafat.

The Ministry of Hajj has also equipped a medical team of more than 30,000 doctors and nurses, and 185 hospitals in the Kingdom can accommodate pilgrims who may fall ill, he said.

“We are ready to handle any case, any scenario. We have rehearsal, and we have trained,” Saeed said, sounding a note of reassurance.

“In case, God forbid, we face any emergency, we have the contingency plan to deal with it.”