Saudi senior source denies FT report of holding secret talks with Iran
- Unnamed sources said the first round of talks took place in Baghdad on April 9
DUBAI: A senior Saudi official has denied direct talks have been held with Iran, four years after the two countries cut off diplomatic ties, contradicting a Financial Times report claiming discussions were ongoing between the two major regional players.
The Financial Times report, citing unnamed sources said the first round of talks took place in Baghdad on April 9, which included discussions on attacks against Saudi Arabia by the Iran-backed Houthi militia.
The report said the talks were being facilitated by Iraqi prime minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, who held talks with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed in Riyadh last month.
Interestingly, not only did a Saudi source deny the story, but neither the Iranian and Iraqi governments provided the FT with a comment.
The report comes as major countries – China, Russia, France, Britain, Germany – engaged with Iran on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal have agreed to accelerate work on issues, including which sanctions on Tehran that the US would lift.
The nuclear deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, collapsed in 2018 when the US pulled out and then-president Donald Trump reimposed sanctions against Tehran.
Saudi police catch seven quarantine violators in Eastern Province
- Health Ministry reports 948 new cases, 775 recoveries, 9 deaths
JEDDAH: Eastern Province police on Saturday arrested seven people for violating isolation and quarantine instructions, after they were confirmed to be infected with COVID-19.
Regional police spokesman Lt. Col. Mohammed bin Shar Al-Shehri said they had been caught in Dammam, Abqaiq, Al-Ahsa and Alkhobar and that all preliminary legal procedures had been taken against them for their cases to be referred to Public Prosecution.
People who violate quarantine procedures in Saudi Arabia are fined up to SR200,000 ($53,333), jailed for up to two years or both.
If the violation is repeated, the penalty imposed from the previous incident is doubled.
COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise in Saudi Arabia, with 948 new infections reported on Saturday to bring the total to 404,054.
The country has 9,449 active cases and 1,018 of them are in critical condition.
Riyadh reported the highest number of cases with 419, followed by Makkah with 210 and the Eastern Province with 133. Three regions reported cases in the single digits: Najran with nine, Baha with eight and Jouf with seven cases.
There were 775 new recoveries, taking this total to 387,795, and a further nine deaths due to COVID-19 complications. The death toll is 6,810.
Saudi Arabia has administered more than 6.9 million COVID-19 vaccine doses so far. Approximately 20 percent of the Kingdom’s population has now received at least one jab.
There were 51,126 PCR tests carried out in the past 24 hours, raising the total number conducted in the Kingdom to more than 16.12 million.
Dozens of world’s finest carpets cover floor of Prophet’s Chamber in Madinah
- More than 23,000 liters of eco-friendly disinfectants have been used for sanitizing carpets at the Prophet’s Mosque and the Bab Al-Salam corridor over the past few months
- The channel reported that every carpet was fitted with an electronic chip containing data
JEDDAH: Dozens of the world’s finest carpets cover the floor of Rawdah Al-Sharifah (the Prophet’s Chamber) at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, as part of the Saudi government’s care for the Two Holy Mosques.
There are 50 carpets in the chamber and all are crafted from top-quality materials and woven to the highest standards.
Bandar Al-Husseini is head of the carpet department at the Services Affairs Administration of the General Presidency of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque. He said that the carpets had scheduled sweeping and cleaning programs that were carried out on a daily basis.
“In case a carpet is damaged it is immediately removed and replaced with another carpet,” he said. “The carpets are also subject to disinfection and sanitization processes around the clock.”
He told the Al-Ekhbariya channel that visitors were allowed to enter the chamber in groups, adding that all carpets were disinfected and sanitized after every group.
The channel reported that every carpet was fitted with an electronic chip containing data.
“These chips can give information about a certain carpet since it was made and information about the cleansing history of the carpet and its future cleaning schedule,” Al-Ekhbariya reported.
More than 23,000 liters of eco-friendly disinfectants have been used for sanitizing carpets at the Prophet’s Mosque and the Bab Al-Salam corridor over the past few months.
According to the Saudi Press Agency, this step is part of precautionary measures taken to ensure the safety of worshippers and visitors during the coronavirus pandemic.
It also said that fragrances were used more than 7,743 times to perfume the mosque during the same period.
Mosque committees have been changing 450 carpets, and replacing the ones used in the Prophet’s Chamber every 10 days.
The mosque has also been applying preventive measures by distancing people, using marks on the carpets to avoid congestion.
Saudi charity platform receives SR260 million in donations in 24 hours
- Ehsan acts as a safe and legal way of donating money to worthy causes, with people putting their money into trusted hands
JEDDAH: Charity platform Ehsan has received SR260 million (($69.3 million) in donations in the first 24 hours of its launch.
King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, philanthropists and companies are among those supporting Saudi Arabia’s latest national charity campaign.
Among the largest donations received are: SR40 million from Waqf Sulaiman Al-Rajhi; SR25 million from the late Sheikh Mohammed Abdulaziz Al-Rajhi’s charities Nama and Ataa; SR15 million from Saudi Aramco; SR10 million from Saudi Telecom Co.; SR7 million from Al-Rajhi Bank, and SR5 million each from Saudi Basic Industries Corp. and Saudi National Bank.
The donations, which continue to be made, will benefit hundreds of thousands of people.
Ehsan is designed to be easily accessible to all of the Kingdom’s residents, allowing them to donate to causes such as renovating and furnishing the homes of the needy, giving food baskets to families, providing care for the elderly, helping dialysis patients, and housing orphans.
Each cause has a set limit and users can select which area to donate to and follow the progress of their contributions.
Ehsan has also integrated other charities’ services into its systems: Furijat, an Interior Ministry platform to help prisoners convicted of financial crimes, and the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center.
It also allows users to pay Zakat, a form of almsgiving treated as a religious obligation or tax that covers immediate needs such as food, water, shelter and medicine for those in need.
Ehsan CEO Abdulaziz Al-Hammadi told the Al-Ekhbariya news channel that the campaign’s initial results had been exceptional, demonstrating the extent of giving from members of the community as well as their social solidarity.
“More than 2 million visited the site in the first four hours of the launch of the website, with more than SR70 million donated by private citizens alone so far,” said Al-Hammadi. “Through the platform, more than 500,000 people have promptly benefitted from the donations and more than 300 causes have reached their goals.”
Ehsan acts as a safe and legal way of donating money to worthy causes, with people putting their money into trusted hands.
Jameel G., a 67-year-old retired businessman, has traveled to a number of East Asian countries during the past four decades and made strong bonds and connections in a number of Muslim provinces and regions.
He said that, through this network, acquaintances would ask for help to build water wells or mosques in poor communities.
Over time, and amid less frequent traveling, he observed that construction prices were increasing and so were the funding demands. Also, the final results of the projects were not what were initially agreed on.
“Though most of my contacts are good and trustworthy people, it’s the third parties that I found to be making these demands and something was off,” he told Arab News. “The moment I found (out) that the money I was sending was swindled was when two mosques were being built at the same time and the pictures that I received were one of the same, same surroundings, same white-washed exterior and details. This incident happened 10 years ago and that was the last time I did any kind of philanthropic work.
“As I’m not very tech-savvy, I’ve requested the help of my daughter to show me how I can use the Ehsan platform to donate and I’ve also encouraged many of those I know who would like to donate money to go through the system. Too many Saudis have lost money with the aim for it to go to a good cause. It isn’t right. It’s not the Muslim way. Ehsan relieves us from that burden.”
Ehsan was launched on Friday by the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence (SDAIA).
The platform aims to promote the values of charitable work in Saudi society by encouraging donations and developing the nonprofit sector, increasing its efficiency and reliability, and contributing to enhancing the reliability and transparency of charitable and development activities.
SDAIA president, Abdullah Al-Ghamdi, said Saudi Arabia had been a pioneer in the charity field since the nation was founded by King Abdul Aziz.
“The Ehsan platform was established to help donations reach their beneficiaries easily, conveniently and promptly,” he added. “It is considered the latest advanced technological initiative, with the highest professional standards that supports and organizes charitable work in the Kingdom.”
Saudi expats’ Ramadan agony as loved ones pray for end to flight curbs
- International flights suspended due to coronavirus travel restrictions will resume on May 17, Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation authority GACA said in a circular
RIYADH: While most families look forward to gatherings around the iftar table during the holy month of Ramadan, many expatriates in the Kingdom face an agonizing wait on relatives stranded in their homelands by flight suspensions.
Every Ramadan, with sunset nearing, families sit together during iftar to break their dawn-to-dusk fast, giving everyone a chance to catch up during the month-long festivity culminating in Eid Al-Fitr.
However, many expats are anxiously watching airline schedules as countries ease travel curbs, opening the way for family reunions.
International flights suspended due to coronavirus travel restrictions will resume on May 17, Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation authority GACA said in a circular.
Anwar Pasha Ansari, an Indian expatriate working in Jeddah, told Arab News that his daughter Heba Anwar is stranded in India.
“No father and mother should go through this agony,” he said.
Ansari said that his daughter left Jeddah to appear for her bachelor’s final exam in New Delhi, hoping to rejoin her family to celebrate Eid last year.
“But perhaps destiny was preparing another fate,” he said.
Ansari said that travel bans “brought the curtain down for all parents like us whose children were held up in India.”
He added: “To add insult to injury, all students were asked to vacate their hostel and make their own living arrangements, which was a nightmare for parents working overseas.”
With no end to travel restrictions in sight, Ansari’s daughter planned to travel to Saudi Arabia via the UAE after spending 14 days in Dubai.
Ansari said that when his daughter arrived in Dubai in January, they were elated at the prospect of reuniting with her.
But with only three days left of her quarantine, a temporary traveling restriction from Dubai to Saudi Arabia came into force and all hope was gone.
“Heba spent a substantial time hoping against hope that flights would be resumed and checking any news pertaining to flight resumption to Saudi Arabia,” said Anwar.
“She was only a couple of hours away from us.”
Finally, after all options were exhausted, Heba was forced to return to India, bravely telling her parents: “Papa and mummy, stay well, this phase will pass, too.”
Ansari’s story will be familiar to thousands separated from their children as the coronavirus pandemic challenges everyone’s patience, endurance and capacity to endure the hardships of separation.
Technology and video apps help, but are not enough to bridge the gap as families face even more time apart.
Raafat Aoun, a Lebanese expat working in the Kingdom, told Arab News: “The closure of flights has affected many expat families. My brother-in-law had to travel to Beirut to attend to an emergency. Now he finds himself in a very difficult situation as he is stuck there, and his wife and four young children are all alone in Jeddah.”
Aoun said that his brother-in-law had been stranded for more than three months.
“I am supporting them and extending them all the help I can. But this festive season is becoming very difficult for me, too. I hope and pray flights resume soon so that my brother-in-law can return to his family.”
Pakistani expatriate Syed Faiz Ahmad said that two of his relatives were stranded after traveling to Pakistan.
“One went to help his ailing father, leaving his family behind in Riyadh. But he got stuck. His wife and two children are all alone here and are desperately waiting for him to return, especially during this month of Ramadan.”