CAIRO: Saudi Arabia remains committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state, the Kingdom’s foreign minister said on Monday.
Prince Faisal bin Farhan told Arab League foreign ministers during an emergency meeting in Cairo that the Kingdom stands with the Palestinian people and firmly supports all efforts to reach a just and comprehensive solution. He added said that peace is a strategic option that would guarantee regional stability.
“We call on the international community to exert more efforts to revive the peace process to establish an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital,” he said.
The Arab League meeting took place as leaders from rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah held reconciliation talks in Egypt.
In their final statement, the ministers affirmed the “Arab rejection of any unilateral Israeli projects or steps that negatively affect the rights of the Palestinian people, violate international law and undermine the two-state solution, for which there is no alternative.”
They urged all international parties — including the UN and the other members of the Middle East Quartet: the US, the EU and Russia — to take all practical steps to launch credible negotiations that can address final-status issues and end the Israeli occupation. They stressed the importance of the Quartet’s role in achieving a peace agreement based on the two-state solution.
The ministers welcomed a ruling by the International Criminal Court on its territorial jurisdiction in Palestine, which concluded that it extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967: Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. They also praised the decision by the Palestinians to hold elections and the current reconciliation efforts.
During his opening address, Egyptian Foreign Minster Sameh Shoukry said Cairo is working to ensure this reconciliation process between the two sides succeeds, while supporting the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people in facing external challenges.
He added that regional stability will only be achieved when there is a “permanent and comprehensive peace based on a just settlement that fulfills the aspirations and hopes of the Palestinian people.”
Shoukry warned Israel against making any changes to the status of Jerusalem, and stressed the importance of Palestinian refugees’ right of return.
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the “Palestinian issue is the focus of Arab consensus,” and warned that Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem constitutes a serious obstacle to the two-state solution.
He called for the relaunch of negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, and renewed the league’s commitment to supporting Palestine until it achieves independence.
“The Palestinian position must be strengthened internally and externally,” he said, adding that while Israel continues to undermine the two-state solution, the Palestinian people are also losing confidence in that outcome.
Ayman Safadi, Jordan’s foreign minister, said the Palestinian issue is the key to stability in the region, and Amman is ready to engage with the new US administration as part of the efforts to achieve peace.
The Kingdom’s Prince Faisal also used his address to condemn attacks by the Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen against civilian targets, and hit out at Tehran’s destabilizing activities in the wider region.
“One of the most dangerous threats facing our region is the Iranian regime’s continuous violations of international laws, charters and norms by threatening the security and stability of our countries, interfering in their internal affairs and supporting armed militias that sow chaos, division and devastation in many Arab countries,” he said.
The Saudi foreign minister said the nations most affected by Iranian threats should be among the main participants in any international negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program and other activities that threaten regional security.
“We call on the international community to put an end to Iran’s violations and its threat to the region,” he added.
On the situation in Libya, he warned of the danger of regional interference and said the Kingdom supports the country’s unity and territorial integrity. He also said Saudi Arabia supports Iraq in its efforts to achieve stability at all levels and urged the international community to fulfill its responsibilities to ensure the security of the country.
Prince Faisal also held meetings with fellow foreign ministers Riyad Al-Maliki, from Palestine, Fuad Hussein, from Iraq, and Mohamed Taher Siala, from Libya, on the sidelines of the gathering.
Saudi Arabia remains committed to Palestinian state, foreign minister tells Arab League
Saudi Arabia remains committed to Palestinian state, foreign minister tells Arab League
- Prince Faisal bin Farhan used his address to condemn attacks by Yemen’s Houthi militia against civilian targets
- Aboul Gheit says Palestinian position must be strengthened internally and externally
CAIRO: Saudi Arabia remains committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state, the Kingdom’s foreign minister said on Monday.
More than 450,000 people apply to perform Hajj during first 24 hours of registration
- Of those registering, 60 percent were men and 40 percent were women
- No priority will be given to those who apply early and registration will be open till June 23
RIYADH: More than 450,000 people in Saudi Arabia applied to perform Hajj this year during the 24 hours since registration opened, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said on Tuesday.
Of those registering, 60 percent were men and 40 percent were women.
No priority will be given to those who apply early and registration will be open till June 23, the ministry added.
Vaccinated citizens and residents in the Kingdom between the ages of 18 and 65 who do not have chronic diseases and have not performed Hajj in the last five years are able to apply.
Saudi Arabia announced on Saturday that this year’s Hajj will be limited to 60,000 pilgrims from within the Kingdom due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Young winners of Saudi tech challenge receive awards from Makkah governor
- As part of the Makkah Region Projects Digital Exhibition, students were tasked with developing ideas for projects to support digital transformation in Kingdom and beyond
JEDDAH: Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, the governor of Makkah region, on Monday presented awards to six winners of the Makkah Days for Programming and Artificial Intelligence contest.
The two-day event, which began on Sunday, is one of the leading initiatives of the Makkah Cultural Forum’s current season. It brought together more than 90 male and female students in 30 teams from 11 universities and colleges in the region.
Saad Al-Qarni, CEO of the Saudi Data and AI Authority (SDAIA) Academy, said that in recognition of the winners’ abilities, and in an effort to encourage and promote young talent, the authority will offer them support, training and jobs.
He added that the SDAIA is proud to be a strategic partner of a competition that aims to motivate young people to enhance their knowledge and make the most of their studies by developing innovative ideas for projects that can serve their country.
Under the theme of how to set an example in the digital world, the students were tasked with developing ideas for applications and programs to support digital transformation in the Kingdom and beyond in the fields of Hajj and Umrah, tourism, entertainment and other services.
The contest was part of the week-long Makkah Region Projects Digital Exhibition which opened on June 9 at the Jeddah Super Dome. To help them develop their ideas, the teams of students took part in panel discussions and seminars with experts covering a variety of topics.
For example, the session E-commerce: From Idea to Implementation looked at ways to introduce and enhance e-commerce, and increase its use as part of the shift toward virtual shopping.
Another session offered an introduction to the use of the Python programming language, which has become a popular option because it is considered easier to learn and use than many other languages.
Jeddah-based studio making online gaming educational for children
- Hakawati offers alternatives inspired by Arab culture, history, and language
JEDDAH: Many parents worry over their children’s screen time and gaming habits, and debates over the damaging effects of video and online games on mental health, behavior and cognitive functioning have become a staple of social conversations.
The Jeddah-based game development studio Hakawati was set up to offer alternative educational games for Arab children inspired by their culture, history, and language, while also encouraging them to raise their aspirations.
“We cannot prevent children from playing games. Parents can no longer do that,” Hakawati founder Abdullah Ba Mashmos told Arab News. “So, offering a good alternative is the best solution.”
Ba Mashmos said that keeping children busy with games also offers parents time to relax. Trying to wean off children from playing games on their devices is impossible and tiresome.
As children’s experience with the world becomes increasingly virtual, the potential harm posed by violence in online games is a major concern for Ba Mashmos and his team.
“We oppose any manifestations of violence in games,” he said. “Entertainment does not need to be violent.”
Hundreds of media reports, posts, and videos calling on parents to pay attention to their children’s online gaming activities are circulating almost daily among parents across the region.
These warning messages invariably spike after a tragic story related to popular video games finds its way to the media.
One of the latest stories to go viral concerned a 12-year-old Egyptian boy who died from a heart attack while playing an online game known as PUBG for hours without rest.
However, many parents worry constantly about their children spending too much time playing games on screens.
We oppose any manifestations of violence in games.
Abdullah Ba Mashmos, Hakawati founder
Screen time is often seen as harmfully addictive, triggering concerns about children’s physical and social health, as well as youth suicide, family violence, and bullying.
With experience in teaching game development and programming, Ba Mashmos said that he has seen how easily online games can normalize aggressive language among children.
Hakawati Game, the fledgling studio’s first offering, is expected to be released by the end of 2021. However, a demo version is available for free.
The interactive storytelling game takes players on a series of adventures in a safe and culturally inspired environment alongside original Arabic-speaking characters.
Ba Mashmos said that the studio aims to educate, strengthen values and spark curiosity in the young by helping them develop their creativity, strategic thinking, problem-solving, and research skills.
“In this game, we focus on values, Arabic language, and science,” he said, “We want to promote science among children.”
Through stories narrated in Arabic within the game, Hakawati is bridging the scientific heritage of Arabic culture with the present by introducing influential Arab scientists from history, enhancing the player’s interaction with the Arabic language through the characters, their names, and their sophisticated backstories.
Ba Mashmos said that scientists used to be portrayed in films and cartoons as obsessive, introverted nerds who lacked social skills.
Hakawati wants to promote a more realistic and inspirational view of science among children. “We want them to understand that well-educated people are the ones who can do great things,” he said.
The game targets children aged between five and 11 and consists of four levels lasting 15 to 20 minutes each. Players can still play, interact with characters, and complete tasks after the game is over.
By creating an original game that matches children’s reality, Hakawati is encouraging children to explore their identity and learn new things about themselves and their culture.
“We are a community of scientists, ambitious and smart people, and we want to erase all kinds of negative stereotypes,” Ba Mashmos said.
The game also promotes diversity and inclusivity.
“Diversity was another major focus when developing our characters. We brought characters from different backgrounds and races with a special focus on the Arab region,” he said. “We also made sure to represent disabilities.”
Hakawati (@HakawatiAR) is believed to be the only studio in the Kingdom focused on developing games solely for children.
Although game development is still in its infancy in Saudi Arabia, Ba Mashmos believes that his young and diverse team of different nationalities and backgrounds will help the studio prosper.
Hakawati’s developers, software engineers, designers, and artificial intelligence specialists are all based in Saudi Arabia, he said.
The studio relies mainly on and invests in Saudi-based talents, whether in building their team or allowing young members of the Saudi development, design, and animation community to take part in their work when needed.
Hakawati’s biggest goal is to be a Middle East pioneer in game development for children and also expand its audience around the world.
“Our biggest challenge is time — games and development take a lot of our time. At the same time challenges are also increasing quickly.”
Hakawati took part in MITEF Saudi Arabia this year, a program organized by MIT Enterprise Forum in collaboration with Bab Rizq Jameel, and was were among 15 semifinalists out of over 500 startup applicants.
The studio also among finalists competing at the TAQADAM Startup Accelerator staged by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.
Saudi Arabia allows women to register for Hajj without male guardian
- Ministry approves three packages’ prices range between $3,230 and $4,426
JEDDAH: Three packages have been approved for this year’s pilgrimage, with a government ministry saying that people could register online for Hajj including women without a mahram (male guardian).
Registration for this year’s Hajj opened at 1 p.m on Sunday after the government said it would limit this year’s cohort to citizens and residents of the Kingdom.
Registration is available until 10 p.m. on June 23. There is no priority for early applicants.
Costs for the three approved packages are SR16,560.50 ($4,426), SR14,381.95, and SR12,113.95. VAT will be added to the price of each package.
According to the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah’s website, people will be bussed to the holy sites and there will be a maximum of 20 pilgrims per vehicle.
They will be supplied with three daily meals in Mina and two meals (breakfast and lunch) in Arafat. They will be given dinner in Muzdalifah. Other food and beverage services will be available, but pilgrims are not allowed to bring food with them from outside Makkah.
Applications will go through five stages. These include a prospective pilgrim reviewing and acknowledging health information and providing personal details based on their official papers. After that, the system will verify the applicant’s eligibility for Hajj based on the data provided by the National Information Center.
Once an application is accepted, the applicant will be given a registration number for further inquiries. After ensuring an applicant’s COVID-19 status — fully immune, immune by the first dose, or immune after recovery — a text message with the payment details will be sent out.
The ministry said that registering for Hajj did not mean a final Hajj permit had been granted.
“A Hajj permit will only be issued after an application is found to meet all the mandatory health conditions and regulations,” it added. “The ministry has the right to reject a request at any time, in case it was found to be violating the organizing regulations.”
Before a Hajj permit request can be sent, all applicants must acknowledge that they have not performed Hajj in the last five years, they are not suffering from any chronic disease, and are not infected with COVID-19.
People must also acknowledge that they have not been admitted to a hospital due to chronic diseases or for dialysis treatment in the past six months.
On Saturday it was announced that 60,000 pilgrims would be allowed to perform this year’s Hajj, which begins mid-July.
Authorities also said that those wishing to perform Hajj must be free of any chronic diseases and be aged between 18 and 65.
The decision was “based on the Kingdom’s constant keenness to enable the guests and visitors at the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque to perform the rituals of Hajj and Umrah,” the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said. “The Kingdom puts human health and safety first.”
The “sorting” phase of the Hajj application process starts on June 25, according to an official ministry tweet, which also said that applicants should pay for their package within three hours of selecting it to avoid cancelation. Priority will be for registered applicants who have never performed Hajj, it added.
Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia doubling down on Diriyah Gate project, says DGDA CEO
- Jerry Inzerillo made the remarks on Frankly Speaking, a series of video conversations with leading Middle East decision-makers
- Project’s budget has been increased from $20 billion to $40 billion, and its scope increased significantly, he said
DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is doubling down on its landmark Diriyah Gate project to build a leisure and cultural zone in the historic heart of Riyadh.
Jerry Inzerillo, CEO of the authority that runs the landmark project, told Arab News that his budget has been increased from $20 billion to $40 billion, and its scope increased significantly.
“What has happened is that the master plans, (following further) research, have evolved into a broader vision to allow it to be a component (of the strategy to turn) Riyadh into one of the 10 great cities of the world,” he said.
Inzerillo, a veteran of the global tourism business who was appointed to the top job at the Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA) in 2018, revealed the project’s new ambitions in an interview with “Frankly Speaking,” the series of video conversations with leading business and political leaders.
During the interview, he also spoke of the DGDA’s prime place within the Vision 2030 giga-projects, the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Kingdom’s tourism industry, and its far-reaching plans to rival such global attractions as the pyramids in Egypt and the Colosseum in Rome.
The move to increase the project’s budget and scope was the brainchild of Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, Inzerillo said.
“It’s not just that we were given some more money. It’s a result of a change in vision. He (the crown prince) studies plans meticulously. As the smartest guy in the room, his visual acuity is amazing,” he said.
"So, the same way Paris was master-planned and laid out, the same way Berlin was laid out, the same way Manhattan was laid out — this is how the crown prince looks at all the cities and that’s why we’ve grown.”
Diriyah, the site of the first Saudi Kingdom in the 18th century, is regarded as the centerpiece of the Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the economy and provide more leisure and cultural facilities for Saudi citizens, as well as attracting foreign tourists.
“There’s only one Diriyah. We’re the first born, we’re the favorite son. My fellow CEOs can come on the show and say, ‘No, we’re great.’ They’re all great, we love them, but there’s only one Diriyah,” Inzerillo said.
He insisted that Diriyah Gate and the other mega-projects are on time and have not been unduly delayed by the economic effects of the pandemic.
The budgets of the other big leisure projects — such as the Red Sea Development and AlUla — have not been cut back, he said.
“We executed our exact strategy all of 2020; we didn’t cut back. He (the crown prince) was brave,” Inzerillo added. “So now as a result of it, the major giga-projects in the Kingdom are on time and on budget.”
Some of the big projects will “need another budget cycle” to determine the right mix of equity and new investment required, but he is confident that the overall investment will be met by government funds, investment from the Saudi private sector and foreign investment.
Some tourism experts have questioned the overall strategy, which seeks to attract 100 million visits by the end of the decade to a variety of new leisure and cultural attractions, but Inzerillo said the projects are not in competition. “They’re very intelligently crafted to complement each other,” he added.
The reason for the big number of new tourism projects, he said, is that Saudi Arabia is trying to compete with other recognized global travel centers — such as Singapore and European countries — within a short space of time.
Inzerillo conceded that there has been an effect on the number of people visiting Saudi Arabia because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, but he estimated that it has been proportionately less than other big tourist destinations such as France and the US. “We’re coming off a low base,” he said.
In line with the new budget, the DGDA has lifted the estimate for the number of visitors it hopes to attract. It now expects 27 million visits and 100,000 residents by 2030.
Inzerillo said these estimates are achievable, and he took encouragement from the number of people applying for the new tourism visa — 55,000 per week — before the COVID-19 restrictions came into effect.
Diriyah is aimed at both Saudi domestic visitors and foreign tourists, seeking to capitalize on the rich historical legacy of the region.
Inzerillo is convinced that it can take its place among the other great cultural attractions of the world.
“It is to Saudi Arabia what the Acropolis is to the Greeks, what the Colosseum is to Rome, what Machu Picchu is to Peruvians,” he said.
“So when people come to the Gulf, they’re going to want to see where it all started — the home of the House of Saud.”
Inzerillo, who trained in Las Vegas and went on to international projects in South Africa, the UAE and elsewhere, believes that the absence of alcohol in Saudi Arabia will make little difference to its attractiveness to tourists.
When global focus groups were asked about their priorities for tourism in the Kingdom, the non-availability of alcohol in the food and beverage mix was not in the top five concerns, he said.
“People were astonished by the beauty of the Kingdom, and by the warmth of the Saudi people,” he added.
Originally from Brooklyn in New York City, Inzerillo is enthusiastic about the quality of life in Saudi Arabia for him and other Western expatriates, who make up about 20 percent of the DGDA workforce.
“But the No. 1 thing that people like is civility — the fact that you’re treated warmly and kindly, and the great thing about the Kingdom right now as a society — it’s optimistic, it’s positive,” he said.
Inzerillo also gave some insight into the decision-making style of the crown prince, whom he described as a “supercharged CEO.”
Inzerillo said: “He’s very methodical, asking, ‘What’s your process? How did you study this issue? Who did you study it with? Did you study it with the world’s best? What did you learn, and what options are you bringing to me?’
“So when you leave a meeting with an approval, he doesn’t stop. One day, two days, five days later, you’ll get a call from him. ‘If you connect that with that, doesn’t it make Diriyah better?’ ‘Yes sir, we didn’t see that’.”
• Twitter: @frankkanedubai