Six sweets that make Eid Al-Fitr so special 

The traditional warm, sweet vermicelli milk known as sevia. (Supplied)
Updated 15 June 2018
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Six sweets that make Eid Al-Fitr so special 

As Ramadan comes to an end, Muslims across the world will celebrate Eid Al-Fitr with a host of traditional sweet treats.

Eid biscuits

An essential during the “Sweet Eid” celebrations that most Arabs in Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon prepare, Eid cookies are baked in a variety of styles. Palestinians bake a form called graybeh, stuffed with either pine nuts or almonds.  In Syria and Lebanon, a form of Eid biscuits is made stuffed with dates or walnuts. The same Eid biscuit are known in Iraq as klaicha.

In Egypt, they are known as kahk — the delicate exterior is powdered with sugar, while common fillings include walnuts or even nothing at all.

Sevia

The traditional warm, sweet vermicelli milk known as sevia (pronounced “sev-ay-a”) is popular during Eid in countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The treat is made of vermicelli noodles in a dish of boiled, sweetened milk spiced with cardamom and saffron before chopped up dates or pistachios are added for texture.

Aseeda 

This jelly dessert known as aseeda is made up of a cooked wheat flour lump of dough. It is enjoyed in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Sudan and Libya. It is primarily made from wheat and honey and is on served during religious festivities.  

Laasida 

Moroccans start off their Eid celebrations with a sweet dish called laasida. It is similar to rice pudding, but consists of couscous, butter, honey and seasoning. 

Debyazah 

A traditional sweet dish that forms an essential part of the Eid breakfast in Saudi Arabia. Cooking debyazah can begin up to three days before Eid. The sweet dish is made of fresh nuts, including almonds, pistachios and pine nuts. Dried fruits are also added, including figs, apricots, dates and raisins.

Baklava

This crunchy dessert is loved across the Arab world and is made of layers of filo pastry laced with butter and chopped pistachios mixed with other nuts. The pastries are soaked in a rose flavored sugar syrup and offered up on tables across the Middle East, if not the world.


Saudi Arabia spending big for a place on the gaming map

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Saudi Arabia spending big for a place on the gaming map

TOKYO: Saudi Arabia is moving aggressively with its investments in more gaming companies, the Canadian industry veteran steering the kingdom’s push to become a global hub for the sector told AFP Friday.
The kingdom has already been spending heavily with a $38-billion push into gaming under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 program, part of a plan to diversify the economy away from oil.
Campaigners say the gaming push — accompanied by similar drives in football and other areas — belies a dire rights record where dissidents are imprisoned and executions are common.
“We don’t pause. We don’t do neutral,” Savvy Games CEO Brian Ward said in a joint interview in Japan with Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud, chair of the Saudi eSports Federation.
“It’s a good time to be in the market, looking for good teams in studios,” said Ward, a former executive at “Call of Duty” maker Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts and Microsoft.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has bought stakes in “Resident Evil” maker Capcom and Japanese giant Nintendo, as well as in Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts.
Savvy, a PIF subsidiary, in 2022 bought a $1.1-billion stake in Sweden’s Embracer in 2022 and bought Scopely, the US mobile games company behind “Monopoly Go!,” for $4.9 billion last year.
“There’s a lot we want to do to get it done and to reach our targets at 2030,” said Prince Faisal, who is also Savvy vice-chairman.
“But we also want to make sure that we are taking the time to study things, to look at things. And make sure we’re making the right steps and not just throwing cash out there to see what hits,” he said.


In eSports, Savvy also bought tournament organizer ESL Gaming and the platform FaceIt. Riyadh will also host the eSports World Cup in July and August, when 2,500 gamers will battle for $60 million in prize money.
Prince Faisal, who credits video games for giving him insights into real-life history, said the tournament would help put Saudi Arabia on the global gaming map.
“A gaming industry is something you can start now and you’ll see the results in five to 10 years. And so to start momentum going, to start a conversation, esports is a great entry point,” he said.
Saudi Arabia aims to create 250 gaming companies and studios on its soil, 39,000 game-related jobs, be in the top three of professional gamers per capita and to produce a blockbuster “AAA” game by 2030.
The objective at the same time is for gaming to account for one percent of gross domestic product, something which Prince Faisal admits “keeps me up most at night.”
“One of the amazing things is we have a long history of storytelling in our region. It’s typical Bedouin culture is sitting around a fire telling the story,” he said.
“The tools are there... I think we can come up with not just the next great game, but the next great story.”


In 2020, “League of Legends” maker Riot Games backed out of a sponsorship deal with NEOM, a $500-billion futuristic Saudi city, after criticism from fans about doing business with a country where homosexuality is illegal.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions about Saudi and who we are as Saudis,” Prince Faisal said.
“And the best way that I can say to answer that is to come and see and what you’ll see on the ground is very different than the conception that’s out there.”
Ward said he had been assured that Saudi Arabia’s gaming drive would be “consistent with the values and culture of our industry.”
“We have been given carte blanche to operate like a true games company. We don’t do anything different at Savvy being based in Riyadh than we would if we were in New York, Los Angeles, or Berlin.”

Point-of-sale spending in Saudi Arabia hits record $16bn, SAMA reveals

Updated 7 min 46 sec ago
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Point-of-sale spending in Saudi Arabia hits record $16bn, SAMA reveals

RIYADH: Food and beverages transactions helped drive point-of-sale payments in Saudi Arabia to a record SR59.68 billion ($15.91 billion) in March, official data has revealed.

Figures released by the Saudi Central Bank, also known as SAMA, show an 8 percent annual increase in spending across all sectors, with outlays during the holy month of Ramadan likely responsible for driving the uptick, alongside an expanding market with flexible payment options.

Spending on food and beverages in March made up the largest portion, accounting for 17 percent of total payments for the month. 

Expenditures on restaurants and cafes, along with miscellaneous goods and services, each represented 12 percent of overall spending.

In February, Redseer Strategy Consultants predicted a heightened eagerness among consumers in Saudi Arabia to explore new attractions and destinations during Ramadan.

Their survey, probing changes in shopping behavior for Ramadan 2024 compared to the previous year, revealed that 62 percent of Saudi respondents planned to increase their spending, surpassing the 48 percent of respondents from the UAE.

The report highlighted that this surge is driven by factors related to platforms and experiences, particularly flexible payment options and the launch of exclusive products of high quality.

The research showed that in the UAE, where the market has matured, consumers are placing a growing emphasis on affordability, prioritizing products with the lowest prices.

Factors such as product variety, fast delivery, and quality no longer serve as significant brand differentiators, as the market has leveled the playing field.

Conversely, in Saudi Arabia, a market experiencing growth, there is a notable focus on platform and experience-related aspects. Flexible payment options and strong customer support are becoming increasingly important, indicating a shift in consumer preferences.

According to data from SAMA, the primary drivers of growth during this period were increased spending on miscellaneous goods and services, which include personal care supplies and cleaning products.

This category represented the second-highest share of March spending at 12 percent, having grown by 28 percent to reach SR7.06 billion. This growth accounted for 36 percent of the overall annual increase in POS spending.

The second-highest contributor to the rise is clothing and footwear, with an increase that contributed 26 percent to the overall growth, reaching SR5.8 billion in March. This was followed by food and beverages, contributing 13 percent, with spending reaching around SR10 billion, marking a 6 percent increase from the same month last year.

Research from Redseer indicated a strong inclination among Saudi respondents towards purchasing groceries, fashion, and beauty or personal care products during the month of Ramadan.

According to the survey, 93 percent of respondents were open to buying groceries, 84 percent to buying fashion, and 72 percent to buying beauty and personal care products.

This period is often associated with heightened social engagements, hospitality, and generosity, leading to increased consumer spending on food, gifts, and charitable donations. Additionally, businesses often offer special promotions and discounts during Ramadan, further stimulating consumer spending.

In Saudi Arabia, there has been a notable shift towards online payments and digitalization, driven by the country’s commitment to providing cutting-edge technologies for its tech-savvy population.

With the rise of e-commerce accessibility and the increasing convenience of online shopping platforms, consumers are opting for digital transactions more than ever before. This trend is not only reshaping the retail landscape but also significantly impacting consumer behavior.

The ease of comparing prices and product options online has empowered consumers, fostering increased competition among retailers and ultimately driving down expenses.

As a result, the adoption of digital payment methods continues to grow rapidly, reflecting a fundamental shift in how transactions are conducted in Saudi Arabia’s dynamic and rapidly evolving marketplace.

One challenge that arises with this growth is the proliferation of fraudulent sites and platforms attempting to deceive interested users. During Ramadan and Eid Fitr, the increase in retail and online transactions provides more opportunities for cybercriminals.

These fraudulent entities have targeted major Saudi platforms by creating fake websites designed to intercept two-factor authentication or one-time passcode codes.

According to Cyber Security News, this sophisticated phishing tactic aims to bypass security measures and gain unauthorized access to victims’ accounts.

Consumers are therefore strongly advised to avoid sharing personal and payment information on questionable sites or with individuals posing as bank or government employees.

Reporting suspicious resources to local law enforcement and designated contacts within these organizations is crucial in helping to mitigate potential fraud risks.


CIA chief Burns to visit Paris to revive talks on Gaza: Western source

Updated 5 min 36 sec ago
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CIA chief Burns to visit Paris to revive talks on Gaza: Western source

  • Visit of the CIA chief to the French capital, expected on Friday or Saturday, comes after Israel gave the green light to the resumption of negotiations
  • It was not immediately clear if representatives of Qatar or Egypt would be present at the Paris talks

WASHINGTON: US intelligence chief Bill Burns is expected to hold talks in Paris with representatives of Israel in a bid to relaunch talks aimed at finding a truce in Gaza, a Western source close to the issue said Friday.
The visit of the CIA chief to the French capital, expected on Friday or Saturday, comes after Israel gave the green light to the resumption of negotiations for the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza in exchange for a ceasefire.
Previous talks in Cairo and Doha attended by Qatar and Egypt as mediators for Hamas broke up earlier this month with both Israel and the Palestinian militant group unhappy with the conditions of the other side.
It was not immediately clear if representatives of Qatar or Egypt would be present at the Paris talks.
The New York Times said Burns would meet his Israeli counterpart David Barnea, the head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency.
The US-based Axios news website quoted a source as saying Burns would also meet Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Abdul Rahman Al-Thani as well as Barnea.
The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s unprecedented attack on October 7 resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,800 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Axios said Israeli negotiators developed in recent days a “new proposal” to renew the hostage talks which includes “some compromises” in Israel’s position compared to the last round of negotiations in Cairo.


US, European powers divided over confronting Iran at IAEA, diplomats say

Updated 10 min 5 sec ago
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US, European powers divided over confronting Iran at IAEA, diplomats say

VIENNA: The US and its three top European allies are divided over whether to confront Iran at the UN nuclear watchdog by seeking a resolution against it and thereby risk further escalation, with the Europeans in favor, diplomats say.
It is 18 months since the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors last passed a resolution against Iran, ordering it to cooperate urgently with a years-long IAEA investigation into uranium particles found at three undeclared sites.
While the number of sites in question has been narrowed to two, Iran still has not explained the traces, and the number of other problems in Iran has risen including Tehran barring many of the IAEA’s top uranium-enrichment experts on the inspection team.
A quarterly Board of Governors meeting begins in 10 days.
“It’s extremely difficult with Iran and the level of violations is unprecedented ... There is no slowing down of its program and there is no real goodwill by Iran to cooperate with the IAEA,” a senior European diplomat said.
“All our indicators are flashing red.”
Concern about Iran’s atomic activities has been high for some time. It has been enriching uranium to 60 percent purity, close to the roughly 90 percent that is weapons-grade, for three years. It has enough material enriched to that level, if refined further, for three nuclear bombs, according to an IAEA yardstick.
Western powers say there is no credible civilian energy purpose in enriching to that level, and the IAEA says no other country has done so without making a nuclear weapon. Iran says its objectives are entirely peaceful.
The United States, however, has not wanted to seek another resolution against Iran at recent IAEA board meetings. Before the last one, in March, the European powers — France, Britain and Germany, known as the “E3” — disagreed with Washington on whether to seek a resolution but then backed down.
Officials often cite the US presidential election as a reason for the Biden administration’s reluctance.
But the main argument US officials make is to avoid giving Iran a pretext to respond by escalating its nuclear activities, as it has done in the past.
Tensions in the Middle East are running particularly high with Israel continuing its military campaign in Gaza in response to Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack. Israel and Iran carried out direct strikes on each other for the first time last month, and Israel has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s death in a helicopter crash on Sunday has complicated the situation. In talks aimed at improving Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA, Tehran told the Vienna-based agency this week it would not engage with it until Raisi’s successor is elected on June 28, two diplomats said.
“A resolution has been prepared,” another senior European diplomat said. Others confirmed the E3 had prepared a draft but not circulated it to Board members.
“Our analysis is the death of Raisi changes nothing. We have to move forward with this resolution ... The Americans are the difficulty, and in our conversations we continue to do everything to convince them.”
It was unclear when a decision on whether to seek a resolution would be reached. The next quarterly IAEA reports on Iran are due early next week. Draft resolutions tend to refer to those reports’ findings.


British neonatal nurse convicted of killing 7 babies loses her bid to appeal

Updated 12 min 28 sec ago
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British neonatal nurse convicted of killing 7 babies loses her bid to appeal

  • Lucy Letby, 34, had asked for permission to challenge the verdict after she was convicted and sentenced to life in prison

LONDON: A British neonatal nurse who was convicted of murdering seven babies and the attempted murder of six others has lost her bid to appeal.
Lucy Letby, 34, had asked for permission to challenge the verdict after she was convicted and sentenced to life in prison last year. A three-judge panel of Britain’s Court of Appeal heard the case in April and released its decision on Friday.
“Having heard her application, we have decided to refuse leave to appeal on all grounds and refuse all associated applications,″ Judge Victoria Sharp said. “A full judgment will be handed down in due course.”
A jury at Manchester Crown Court had found her guilty of the crimes, which took place between June 2015 and June 2016 at the neonatal unit at the Countess of Chester Hospital in northwestern England.
Most defendants in British court cases don’t have an automatic right to appeal. They must seek permission to appeal on a set of narrowly defined legal issues.