Saudi Arabia ‘incredibly concerned’ about Red Sea, Gaza security, FM tells WEF

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan speaks next to Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Annalena Baerbock during a panel session at WEF, in Davos, Switzerland. (AP)
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan speaks next to Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Annalena Baerbock during a panel session at WEF, in Davos, Switzerland. (AP)
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Updated 17 January 2024
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Saudi Arabia ‘incredibly concerned’ about Red Sea, Gaza security, FM tells WEF

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan speaks next to Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany.
  • Prince Faisal bin Farhan: Peace between Israel, Palestinians ‘will resolve many of the challenges’ Mideast faces
  • Riyadh will continue to work with Washington ‘toward a much better future for the region’

LONDON: Saudi Arabia is “incredibly concerned” about regional security following Houthi attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea and the situation in Gaza, the Kingdom’s foreign minister said on Tuesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Prince Faisal bin Farhan told a panel titled “Securing an Insecure World” that de-escalation in the Red Sea is essential, and that Riyadh will continue to “engage with all stakeholders” after US and UK airstrikes against Houthi positions in Yemen last week.
While “clearly connected with the war in Gaza,” it is important that the conflict in the Palestinian enclave is addressed separately, he said.
“We need to focus on the war in Gaza not because of the Red Sea,” he told the panel. “We need to focus on the war in Gaza because of its impact on the Palestinians, first, but on regional security in general and on the risks it poses for further escalation.”
Prince Faisal said since Israel began military operations in Gaza, nearly 30,000 Palestinians have died and humanitarian aid is still being heavily restricted, but he has “not seen any real sign” that Tel Aviv is achieving its strategic objectives.
He praised parts of the international community for “moving more in the direction” of calling for a cease-fire, adding that peace between the two sides “will resolve many of the challenges that we have in the region.”
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called the war “a total disaster” and reiterated that the “only way out” of the ongoing situation is a two-state solution.
However, she said “a cease-fire, unfortunately, doesn’t fall from the sky” and can only be achieved if both sides “are ready.”

Baerbock said a “vicious circle” of blame is preventing a cease-fire from happening, but insisted that first and foremost, Hamas needs to lay down its weapons and release all remaining hostages in Gaza.
“The answer is there on the table,” she said. “But we can’t ignore that the majority of hostages are still (with) Hamas.”
US Sen. Christopher Coons said he is “optimistic” that peace can be achieved based on talks between American senators and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh in 2023, as well as meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv and Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi in Cairo.
However, Coons added that conditions in Gaza are worsening daily, and that Netanyahu has built a political career out of opposing a two-state solution.
Prince Faisal said he is heartened by the “concrete agreement” among major nations that the current situation is untenable, adding: “We need to translate that into action.”
He said Riyadh will continue to work with Washington “toward a much better future for the region,” and raised the possibility of future Saudi recognition of Israel if peace with the Palestinians could be reached.
Coons hinted that a series of elections in Western countries in 2024 could potentially affect the shape of the current set of Middle East crises.
He said Iran’s role in conflicts ranging from Yemen to Ukraine needs to be recognized, but talked down any possibility that a return to the White House for former President Donald Trump would lead to a US withdrawal from NATO. “The US rarely ratifies defense treaties, but when we do, we keep them,” Coons said.
Citing growing concerns about inter-regional conflicts, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: “What happens in Asia matters for Europe.”
He also noted that Iran is aiding Russia in Ukraine, selling Moscow military drones and helping it construct drone and munitions facilities in Tatarstan.
But he said there is cause for optimism for Ukrainians, noting Russia’s failure to make major progress following the early days of the invasion, and highlighting Kyiv’s success in opening up channels for the export of grain through the Black Sea.
Finnish Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen said nobody wants to live in a world “where only the strongest survive,” adding that her country had felt compelled to join NATO because of Russia’s aggression, highlighting Moscow’s use of “hybrid strategies” to push “third-party citizens” from other countries into Europe via Finland’s border.
Pointing to Finland’s right to security, Nigerian Foreign Minister Yussuf Tuggar said: “What the minister says could apply just as much to Palestine — they have the right.”
He said the world needs to see concrete changes in the makeup of global security institutions, bemoaning a decline in international diplomacy, and adding that a country such as Nigeria should have a place on the UN Security Council. The UNSC “needs to democratize,” Tuggar said. “Clearly it isn’t fit for purpose.”
He added: “Nigeria is a large country. It’s the most populous country on the continent of Africa. It has a population of 220 million people — it’s going to be 400 million by the year 2050. It belongs in the UN Security Council.”


Saudi deputy environment minister says desertification among ‘most pressing environmental challenges of our time’

Saudi deputy environment minister says desertification among ‘most pressing environmental challenges of our time’
Updated 19 June 2024
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Saudi deputy environment minister says desertification among ‘most pressing environmental challenges of our time’

Saudi deputy environment minister says desertification among ‘most pressing environmental challenges of our time’
  • Saudi Arabia has been at the forefront of driving global efforts to combat land degradation and drought
  • The 30th Desertification and Drought Day was hosted by Germany and concluded this week

RIYADH: Desertification and drought are among the most pressing environmental challenges faced by the world, Saudi Deputy Minister of Environment, Water and Agriculture Osama Faqeeha has said.

In a statement marking the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, the minister said land degradation affected up to 40 percent of the world’s land area, resulting in the annual loss of 100 million hectares of healthy land, Saudi Press Agency reported.

Emphasizing the Kingdom’s commitment to sustainable land management, Faqeeha said: “Desertification, land degradation and drought are among the most pressing environmental challenges of our time. This year’s 30th anniversary of the UNCCD coincides with COP16, which is expected to be a pivotal moment for land restoration and sustainable management. Together, we can turn the tide and restore our land. Our future depends on our ability to manage our land sustainably.”

He added that land degradation meant the world lost an area of healthy land equivalent to four football fields every second.

“Healthy land is essential for our future. Let’s unite for sustainable land management,” he said.

Saudi Arabia has been at the forefront of driving global efforts to combat land degradation and drought. Programs such as the Saudi Green Initiative and various land restoration projects were highlighted as models for sustainable development.

The minister said the initiatives not only contributed to environmental sustainability, but also aimed to create economic opportunities and improve the quality of life for communities.

The 30th Desertification and Drought Day was hosted by Germany and concluded this week.

UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw said: “This year, we focus on sharing the wisdom of our ancestors with future generations. More than a billion young people under the age of 25 in developing countries depend on land and natural resources. They are key to transforming their communities and driving innovation in sustainable land management”.

Key highlights of the event included a presentation of the new cohort of UNCCD Land Heroes and the unveiling of the UNCCD Youth Engagement Strategy and the Land Youth Negotiators Program.

These initiatives empower young people to transform land management practices and engage in policy-making processes, especially ahead of the upcoming UNCCD COP16 negotiations which will take place in Riyadh from Dec. 2 to 13.


KSrelief distributes sacrificial meat to people in Yemen

KSrelief distributes sacrificial meat to people in Yemen
Updated 19 June 2024
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KSrelief distributes sacrificial meat to people in Yemen

KSrelief distributes sacrificial meat to people in Yemen
  • The distribution in Hadramout and Marib on Tuesday was part of a project being carried out by KSrelief in several Yemeni governorates this year

RIYADH: Saudi aid agency KSrelief distributed the meat from 480 animal carcasses to 6,720 people in Yemen, reported Saudi Press Agency.

The distribution in Hadramout and Marib on Tuesday was part of a project being carried out by KSrelief in several Yemeni governorates this year.

Muslims traditionally sacrifice animals for the Eid feast, with some of the meat given as a gift to those who are less fortunate.

The project aims to provide 2,330 animals for slaughter to benefit 32,620 people in the governorates of Aden, Hadramout, Al-Mahra, Marib, and Lahj and is part of ongoing relief and humanitarian efforts by the Kingdom.

It is hoped the initiative will bring happiness and help support those in need during the Eid Al-Hadha holiday.


Could AI one day perform all of Hajj social services?

The amount of tech integrated into Hajj has been growing year on year. (SPA)
The amount of tech integrated into Hajj has been growing year on year. (SPA)
Updated 19 June 2024
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Could AI one day perform all of Hajj social services?

The amount of tech integrated into Hajj has been growing year on year. (SPA)
  • This year’s Hajj will likely exceed two million pilgrims, more than last year’s 1.8 million
  • Many AI-driven technologies have been introduced to streamline the Hajj process

RIYADH: Like every Dul Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar, millions of Muslims from all over the world have gathered in Saudi Arabia to take part in the ritual of Hajj, one of the world’s largest annual congregations.

Though this massive influx of pilgrims poses a challenge to the limits of the infrastructure and social services of the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, the Kingdom was well prepared to handle this year’s Hajj.

Social workers whose job it is to make the Hajj experience better for visitors, are a staple of the pilgrimage. (SPA)

As Saudi Arabia’s technological capabilities steadily expand, the country’s authorities have taken to using robotic social workers to make this spiritual experience of a lifetime unforgettable.

An estimated 1,845,045 pilgrims, 90 percent of whom came from outside the country, participated in Hajj last year, according to the Saudi General Authority for Statistics.

FASTFACT

Saudi Arabia has extensive experience with the use of tech during Hajj, particularly during the challenging post-COVID-19 seasons.

Social workers whose job it is to help make the Hajj experience better for visitors have long been a staple of the pilgrimage at every relevant location in Makkah and Madinah.

The amount of tech integrated into Hajj has been growing year on year. (SPA)

They play a vital role in supporting and assisting a pilgrim’s needs. However, the sheer scale of the event has some wondering whether artificial intelligence could complement, and even replace, certain social work functions.

Saudi Arabia has extensive experience with the use of technology during Hajj, particularly during the challenging post-COVID-19 seasons. Last year, the Kingdom’s Tourism Authority launched the Nusuk platform to streamline planning and booking for the entire Hajj experience.

The amount of tech integrated into Hajj has been growing year on year. (SPA)

Smart robots have been used for several years, working in the fields of disinfection and sterilization and the distribution of Zamzam water.

Last year’s Hajj also saw the use of AI-enabled robots which communicated with pilgrims in 11 languages to guide them through the performance of religious rituals and offer assistance. A number of advanced technologies have already been introduced this Hajj season.

The amount of tech integrated into Hajj has been growing year on year. (SPA)

On June 12, several officials from the Saudi Ministry of Transport and Logistic Services and the General Authority of Civil Aviation witnessed the launch of a self-driving — or, rather, self-flying — aerial taxi service in Makkah.

The Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence has also deployed AI technology to improve the entry process for pilgrims, equipping more than a dozen entry points in the country.

Pilgrims arriving to take part in the ritual of Hajj, one of the world’s largest annual congregations. (File/@haramainrailway)

Drones have been monitoring the flow of pilgrims in Makkah around the clock to ensure a smooth experience, and field monitors wearing augmented reality glasses are overseeing transportation and traffic patterns.

For the elderly and those with disabilities, the new technologies are a welcome improvement. Smart golf carts and electric scooters for those with mobility issues can be reserved by pilgrims; their use has improved the flow of traffic in the holy cities.

Last year, Saudi Arabia welcomed more than 1.8 million pilgrims — some 90 percent of them from overseas. (@HajMinistry)

Saudi technology to benefit pilgrims has expanded even outside of the typical social services. For instance, this season an elderly Chinese pilgrim received a lifesaving, highly advanced wireless pacemaker at the King Abdullah Medical City in Makkah after experiencing arrhythmia.

AI-powered systems can optimize the scheduling and flow of pilgrims, manage crowd control, and ensure efficient distribution of resources.

With the amount of technology integrated into Hajj growing year after year, some may wonder what is in store for the use of AI during the pilgrimage. As in previous years, the Kingdom has continued to ensure that social services are readily available to all pilgrims.

The amount of tech integrated into Hajj has been growing year on year. (SPA)

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development announced this year the launch of Ajeer Al-Hajj, a service that enables businesses to hire seasonal workers specifically for the Hajj period.

The service allows facilities working during the Hajj season to cover the number of workers needed and contributes to serving pilgrims.

The amount of tech integrated into Hajj has been growing year on year. (SPA)

Social workers are entrusted with a variety of duties including helping pilgrims navigate their religious journey, assisting in emergency help with medical staff such as giving medical and psychological support to people at sites, reuniting separated or lost family members, and guiding pilgrims through crowded places.

These tasks require organization skills, language proficiency, cultural sensitivity, and quick responses to orders — all of which AI has the potential to excel at.

One of the services the Kingdom has been providing for decades for its visitors during this religious holiday is social service. At every location, there are social workers to ensure that pilgrims receive safe and best quality experience during Hajj. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Abeer Alomrani, a Saudi AI consultant, says that while it has the potential to significantly support and enhance the efficiency of operations during Hajj, AI cannot replace human creativity, complex moral judgment and deep cultural sensitivity.

“AI can excel in tasks that require data management and logistical planning. For instance, AI-powered systems can optimize the scheduling and flow of pilgrims, manage crowd control, and ensure efficient distribution of resources,” she said.

The amount of tech integrated into Hajj has been growing year on year. (SPA)

“These systems can analyze real-time data to adjust plans dynamically, helping to prevent bottlenecks and manage emergency situations efficiently.”

AI and virtual assistants have already been used to help pilgrims with accessing information and assist in locating missing people. Computer vision and natural language processing algorithms could also help with communication to serve pilgrims who may not speak the local language.

“AI-powered translation tools and natural language processing systems are highly adept at breaking down language barriers. These tools can provide real-time translation services to assist pilgrims from diverse linguistic backgrounds, ensuring that communication is clear and effective,” Alomrani said.

However, there have been concerns regarding AI and whether it can compare with humans in terms of creating genuine experiences for pilgrims. After all, computers cannot offer the empathy or emotional support that human social workers can provide.

Dr. Amal Salamah, a family medicine consultant, explained to Arab News the necessity of human interactions to solve health problems between patients and doctors.

“Some medical rules cannot be replaced, especially the ones that have direct contact with patients,” she said. “Empathy can’t be provided by robots. In our career, one plus one does not necessarily equal two. You might need to provide more. We always need to work by equity.”

Others believe that a hybrid approach, where AI can perform routine tasks and process large amounts of data while social workers focus on complex duties that require emotional intelligence, could be a promising way forward for the future of Hajj.

Alomrani strongly supports the use of a hybrid model and describes it as “the best approach.”

Through a hybrid method, social workers would feel comfortable and would have the time to “focus on the personal, empathetic interactions and decision-making that require a human touch,” she said.

“This synergy could ensure that the spiritual and logistical elements of Hajj are both honored and efficiently managed.”

As technology advances, AI will undoubtedly play a larger role in social services during Hajj season in the future.

Special care is needed to ensure that the new technologies being introduced operate with suitable cultural and religious context for the religious ritual.

While AI may never be able to replace human workers, it can contribute to Saudi Arabia’s ultimate goal of improving the quality of services and offering exceptional experiences to the millions of Hajj pilgrims every year.

 


Saudi authorities thwart drug smuggling across KSA

Saudi authorities thwart drug smuggling across KSA
Updated 19 June 2024
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Saudi authorities thwart drug smuggling across KSA

Saudi authorities thwart drug smuggling across KSA
  • Saudi security authorities urged people to report any activities related to drug smuggling or promotion by calling 911 in the Makkah, Riyadh and Eastern Province regions, and 999 in the rest of Saudi Arabia’s regions

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s drug control authority arrested several people involved in smuggling, and seized large quantities of narcotics after operations across Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Press Agency reported Tuesday.

Border Guard land patrols in Rabwa, Asir province, arrested 15 violators, Ethiopians and Yemenis, for smuggling 300 kg of khat.

Additionally, security patrols in Jazan region have arrested two Yemenis and four Saudis after finding them in possession of 196 kg of hashish and 7,227 amphetamine tablets.

Another raid by Border Guards in Al-Dair, Jazan province, thwarted smuggling of 450 kg of khat.

Saudi security authorities urged people to report any activities related to drug smuggling or promotion by calling 911 in the Makkah, Riyadh and Eastern Province regions, and 999 in the rest of Saudi Arabia’s regions.

Alternatively, information can be emailed to [email protected]. All reports are treated confidentially.

 


Saudi crown prince, Canadian prime minister discuss relations during call

Saudi crown prince, Canadian prime minister discuss relations during call
Updated 18 June 2024
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Saudi crown prince, Canadian prime minister discuss relations during call

Saudi crown prince, Canadian prime minister discuss relations during call
  • Number of regional and international issues and recent repercussions also reviewed

JEDDAH: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau spoke on the phone on Tuesday, Saudi Press Agency reported.

During the call, the development of relations between the two countries and ways to enhance them in various fields were reviewed.

A number of regional and international issues and their recent repercussions, as well as international efforts made regarding achieving security and stability, were also discussed.