Saudi Arabia unveils SR120bn business support war chest to fight virus pandemic

Saudi Arabia has suspended domestic flights, trains, buses and taxis for 14 days in a heightened effort to stop the spread of the COVID-19. (AFP)
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Updated 21 March 2020
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Saudi Arabia unveils SR120bn business support war chest to fight virus pandemic

  • Immediate steps to ensure the safety of its citizens and residents
  • The Kingdom would do whatever required to tackle the crisis, say health minister

JEDDAH: Saudi government ministers on Friday announced a war chest of more than SR120 billion ($32 billion) to fight the “unprecedented” health and economic challenges facing the country as a result of the killer coronavirus pandemic.

During a press conference in Riyadh, finance minister and acting minister of economy and planning, Mohammed Al-Jadaan, unveiled a SR70 billion stimulus package to support the private sector, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and businesses worst-hit by the virus outbreak.

And the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) has also sidelined SR50 billion to help the Kingdom’s banking sector, financial institutions and SMEs.

Al-Jadaan said the government had introduced tough measures to protect the country’s citizens while immediately putting in place a financial safety net. He added that the Kingdom was moving decisively to address the global COVID-19 disease crisis and cushion the financial and economic impact of the outbreak on the country.

The SR70 billion package of initiatives revealed by the minister will include exemptions and postponement of some government dues to help provide liquidity for private-sector companies.

Minister of Health Dr. Tawfig Al-Rabiah noted the raft of precautionary measures that had been introduced by the Kingdom in cooperation with the private sector and government agencies to combat the spread of the coronavirus, highlighting the important contribution of the data communication services sector.

He reassured the Saudi public that the Kingdom would continue to do whatever was required to tackle the crisis.

“This pandemic has a lot of challenges. It’s difficult to make presumptions at this moment as we’ve seen; many developed countries did not expect the rate of transmission of this virus.

“We see that the reality of the situation is different from what many expected. The virus is still being studied and though we know the means of transmission, it is transmitted at a very fast rate, having spread to many countries faster than expected.

“We see that many countries have not taken the strong precautionary measures from the beginning of the crisis which led to the vast spread of the virus in these countries,” Al-Rabiah said.

He pointed out that social distancing would help slow the spread.

Al-Jadaan said the Saudi government had the financial and economic capacity to deal with the situation. “We have large reserves and large investments, but we do not want to withdraw from the reserves more than what was already announced in the budget. We do not want to liquidate any of the government’s investments so we will borrow.

“We have approval from the government after the finance committee raised its recommendations to increase the proportion of the domestic product borrowing from 30 percent to 50 percent. We do not expect to exceed 50 percent from now until the end of 2022,” he added.

The government would use all the tools available to it to finance the private sector, especially SMEs, and ensure its ongoing stability.

The finance minister said that at this stage it was difficult to predict the economic impact of the pandemic on the private sector, but he emphasized that international coordination, most notably through G20 countries and health organizations, was ongoing.

On recorded cases of the COVID-19 disease in the Kingdom, Al-Rabiah said: “Many of the confirmed cases are without symptoms, this is due to the precautionary measures being considered.

“As soon as a case is confirmed, we contact and examine anyone who was in direct contact with the patient. This epidemiological investigation, is conducted on a large scale to investigate any case that was in contact with the patient.”

Al-Jadaan also announced the formation of a committee made up of the ministers of finance, economy and planning, commerce, and industry and mineral resources, along with the vice chairman of the board of the Saudi National Development Fund, and its governor.

The committee will be responsible for identifying and reviewing incentives, facilities, and other initiatives led by the fund.

Committees had also been established, said Al-Jadaan, to study the impact and repercussions of the coronavirus crisis on all sectors and regions, and look at ways of overcoming them through subsidies or stimulus packages.

 
 


Black cloth covering Kaaba in Makkah raised ahead of Hajj

Updated 23 May 2024
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Black cloth covering Kaaba in Makkah raised ahead of Hajj

  • Procedure meant to keep the cover, Kiswa, free from getting soiled and tampered
  • 36 specialized technical personnel carried out procedure with aid of 10 cranes

RIYADH: In keeping with the annual tradition, officials raised the lower part of the kiswa — the elaborately designed black cloth covering the Kaaba — in Makkah on Wednesday ahead of this year’s Hajj pilgrimage.
As approved by the General Authority for the Care of the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, the exposed part was covered with a white cotton fabric, two-and-a-half meters wide and 54 meters long on all four sides, according to the Saudi Press Agency.
Carrying out the procedure were 36 specialized technical personnel with the aid of 10 cranes.

In this handout photograph, taken and released by Saudi Press Agency, specialized technicians are seen at work at the Kaaba in Makkah on May 23, 2024, raising the special cover to keep it from being soiled and damaged ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (SPA)

As described in the SPA report, the kiswa is lifted in several stages: It starts with unscrewing the bottom of the cover from all sides, separating the corners, then untying the bottom rope and removing it from the fixing rings, after which the cloth is rolled upward. The lanterns are then dismantled and the white cloth are put in place, after which the lanterns are reinstalled over the white cloth until the final stage.
The procedure is repeated every year to protect the kiswa from getting soiled and damaged as pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba.

In this handout photograph, taken and released by Saudi Press Agency, specialized technicians are seen at work at the Kaaba in Makkah on May 23, 2024, raising the special cover to keep it from being soiled and damaged ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (SPA)

The annual Hajj in Saudi Arabia is considered the world’s largest human gathering, with year 2012 marking the biggest number of participants at 3.16 million.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Saudi authorities allowed only a symbolic observance of Hajj with just a thousand pilgrims. The numbers were gradually raised as the health crisis was placed under control worldwide. Last year, almost 1.84 million pilgrims performed the “once in a lifetime” journey and the figure is expected to go higher this year.
Every year, on the ninth day of the Islamic month of Dul Hijjah, the black silk cloth is removed and a new kiswa is draped in its place.


Saudi Arabia welcomes move by Norway, Ireland and Spain to formally recognize Palestinian state

Updated 23 May 2024
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Saudi Arabia welcomes move by Norway, Ireland and Spain to formally recognize Palestinian state

  • Palestinian Authority and its rival group Hamas both welcomed the recognition
  • Israel recalls envoys to Spain, Ireland and Norway for consultations

RIYADH/COPENHAGEN: Saudi Arabia said Wednesday it welcomed the “positive” decision taken by Norway, Spain, and Ireland to recognize a Palestinian state. 
The Kingdom said it appreciated this decision “which confirms the international consensus on the inherent right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” in a foreign ministry statement. 

The kingdom also called on more countries to swiftly take the same stance, “which would contribute to finding a reliable and irreversible path to achieve a just and lasting peace that fulfills the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Leaders of Norway, Spain and Ireland said on Wednesday they were formally going to recognize Palestine as a state.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said: “There cannot be peace in the Middle East if there is no recognition.”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez also announced that the country’s council of ministers would recognize an independent Palestinian state on Tuesday May 28.

“Next Tuesday, May 28, Spain’s cabinet will approve the recognition of the Palestinian state,” he said, adding that his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu was putting the two state solution in “danger” with his policy of “pain and destruction” in the Gaza Strip.

Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris said it was a move coordinated with Spain and Norway, marking “an historic and important day for Ireland and for Palestine.”

The Palestinian Authority and its rival group Hamas both welcomed the recognition of a Palestinian state by Ireland, Spain and Norway.

The Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank territory while Hamas runs Gaza.

Jordan hailed the coordinated move as an “important and essential step towards Palestinian statehood.”

“We value this decision and consider it an important and essential step towards a two-state solution that embodies an independent, sovereign Palestinian state along the July 1967 borders,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told a press conference.

Qatar’s foreign ministry welcomed the announcement as an “important step in support of a two-state solution,” expressing hope that other countries would follow suit.

The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council also spoke out in support of the European countries’ move, with secretary general Jasem Mohamed Albudaiwi saying it represented “a pivotal and strategic step towards achieving the two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a statement said.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, based in the Saudi city of Jeddah, similarly welcomed the move as an “important historic step”.

Several European Union countries have in the past weeks indicated that they plan to make the recognition, arguing a two-state solution is essential for lasting peace in the region.

Israel recalled envoys to Spain, Ireland and Norway over their moves to recognize a Palestinian state.

“Today, I am sending a sharp message to Ireland and Norway: Israel will not go over this in silence. I have just ordered the return of the Israeli ambassadors from Dublin and Oslo to Israel for further consultations in Jerusalem,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in a statement.

Sanchez said in March that Spain and Ireland, along with Slovenia and Malta, had agreed to take their first steps toward Palestinian recognition, seeing a two-state solution as essential for lasting peace.

The efforts come as a mounting death toll in Gaza from Israel’s offensive to rout Hamas prompts calls globally for a ceasefire and lasting solution for peace in the region.

Norway, which is not a member of the European Union but mirror its moves, has been an ardent supporter of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

“The terror has been committed by Hamas and militant groups who are not supporters of a two-state solution and the state of Israel,” the Norwegian government leader said.

“Palestine has a fundamental right to an independent state,” Gahr Store told a press conference.

The move comes as Israeli forces have led assaults on the northern and southern edges of the Gaza Strip in May, causing a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of people, and sharply restricted the flow of aid, raising the risk of famine.

The Scandinavian country “will therefore regard Palestine as an independent state with all the rights and obligations that entails,” Gahr Store said.

Norway’s recognition of a Palestine state comes more than 30 years after the first Oslo agreement was signed in 1993.

Since then, “the Palestinians have taken important steps toward a two-state solution,” the Norwegian government said.

It said that the World Bank determined that Palestine had met key criteria to function as a state in 2011, that national institutions have been built up to provide the population with important services.

“The war in Gaza and the constant expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank still mean that the situation in Palestine is more difficult than it has been in decades,” the Norwegian government said.


Black cloth covering Kaaba in Makkah raised ahead of Hajj

Updated 23 May 2024
Follow

Black cloth covering Kaaba in Makkah raised ahead of Hajj

  • The procedure is meant to keep the cover, known as kiswa, free from getting soiled and tampered with as pilgrims performing Hajj circumabulate the Kaaba

RIYADH: In keeping with the annual tradition, officials raised the lower part of the kiswa — the elaborately designed black cloth covering the Kaaba — in Makkah on Wednesday ahead of this year's Hajj pilgrimage.

As approved by the General Authority for the Care of the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, the exposed part was covered with a white cotton fabric, two-and-a-half meters wide and 54 meters long on all four sides, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

Carrying out the procedure were 36 specialized technical personnel with the aid of 10 cranes.

As described in the SPA report, the kiswa is lifted in several stages: It starts with unscrewing the bottom of the cover from all sides, separating the corners, then untying the bottom rope and removing it from the fixing rings, after which the cloth is rolled upward. The lanterns are then dismantled and the white cloth are put in place, after which the lanterns are reinstalled over the white cloth until the final stage.

The procedure is repeated every year to protect the kiswa from getting soiled and damaged as pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba.

The annual Hajj in Saudi Arabia is considered the world's largest human gathering, with year 2012 marking the biggest number of participants at 3.16 million.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Saudi authorities allowed only a symbolic observance of Hajj with just a thousand pilgrims. The numbers were gradually raised as the health crisis was placed under control worldwide. Last year, almost 1.84 million pilgrims performed the "once in a lifetime" journey and the figure is expected to go higher this year.

Every year, on the ninth day of the Islamic month of Dul Hijjah, the black silk cloth is removed and a new kiswa is draped in its place.


Saudi authorities limit entry to Makkah to Hajj visa holders

Updated 23 May 2024
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Saudi authorities limit entry to Makkah to Hajj visa holders

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior announced that visit visa holders are not allowed to enter or stay in Makkah during May 23-June 21 as access to the city will be limited to Hajj visa holders.

The ministry stressed that all types of visit visa are not a permit to perform Hajj, adding that violators will be subject to penalties according to Saudi laws and regulations.


Saudi FM in Tehran conveys king, crown prince condolences for Iran president death

Updated 23 May 2024
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Saudi FM in Tehran conveys king, crown prince condolences for Iran president death

RIYADH: Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, conveyed the condolences of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to top Iranian officials in Tehran on Wednesday on the death of President Ebrahim Raisi and his companions.

Prince Mansour bin Muteb bin Abdulaziz, Adviser to King Salman and Minister of State, and Prince Faisal were received by Deputy Chief of Staff for Political Affairs to Iran President Mohammad Jamshidi and Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani.

Saudi ambassador to Iran Abdullah Al-Enazi attended the reception.