No normalization with Israel without Palestinian state, Saudi ambassador to UK says

Saudi Arabia will not normalize ties with Israel at the expense of Palestinian statehood, the Kingdom’s ambassador to the UK said on Thursday. (X/@ChathamHouse)
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Updated 21 June 2024

No normalization with Israel without Palestinian state, Saudi ambassador to UK says

  • Prince Khalid bin Bandar was speaking at Chatham House’s London Conference
  • Said Kingdom’s position on Arab-Israeli conflict has never changed

LONDON: Saudi Arabia will not normalize ties with Israel at the expense of Palestinian statehood, the Kingdom’s ambassador to the UK said on Thursday.

Speaking at Chatham House’s London Conference, Prince Khalid bin Bandar said that normalization remained important to Saudi Arabia and other nations in the region because it would ensure peace, stability and security.
He admitted that “compromises would have to be made” to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, which he said affected the world in a way other conflicts did not.

“If what is happening (in Gaza) keeps happening, we are going to go down a path that is irreversible,” Prince Khalid said. 

“The further we get away from finding a solution, the more people lose hope, the more we’re at that point, it’s going to spread to a regional conflict. It’s important for everyone to recognisze the danger of what lies ahead. The conflict will not remain regional, it will become international very quickly,” he said.

But Prince Khalid said that normalization would be “irrelevant” until the plight of Palestinians was resolved.

“We believe in the creation of a Palestinian state and a solution to the conflict,” he said. “If it was easy, we’d have done it by now but without that, normalization is irrelevant. There is no point having normalization because we would still have conflict and conflict is the problem, not normalization.

“There is no point in discussing everything else until we find a solution. Once we do that, everything is on the table.”

Prince Khalid said that the Kingdom was “one of the most important countries in the region,” which had “leverage” in opening up the Arab and Muslim world to Israel and for it not to play a role in brokering a solution would be “silly.” 

But he added for that to happen, Israel “needs to play ball as well,” adding that the price for finding a solution was an independent Palestinian state.

The ambassador bemoaned how little global coverage the Saudi position on the crisis received, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent Hajj address, in which he reiterated calls for an immediate halt to attacks in Gaza.

“It’s important to recognize our position, which has never changed, despite people never listening to us,” Prince Khalid said.

“The crown prince’s positon, Saudi Arabia’s position, his majesty (King Salman)’s position, the government’s position and the will of almost every Saudi I know is we need a Palestinian state.

“The offer was made in the Arab Peace Initiative; on 1967 borders, a Palestinian state, a two-state solution and everyone lives happily ever after. It goes back to 1982, King Fahd presented the same offer, it has not been taken up, I find it mystifying.

“The crown prince stated very clearly, we need a ceasefire, an irreversible solution for the Palestinians and then there’s peace everywhere, it wasn’t even reported.

“It’s annoying and frustrating for us because the world assumes something totally different and that’s not helping the situation,” he said.

Saudi Arabia's coastal reforestation program on track 

Updated 10 sec ago

Saudi Arabia's coastal reforestation program on track 

  • Some 13 million mangrove seedlings had been planted so far since the launch of the ambitious coastal forest cover program a year ago
  • The program aims to plant 100 million mangrove trees along the Kingdom's Red Sea and Arabian Gulf coasts by 2030

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is on track to reach its target to plant 100 million mangrove trees by 2030, in line with the Saudi Green Initiative and Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.

Some 13 million mangrove seedlings had been planted so far since the launch of the ambitious coastal forest cover program a year ago, said a progress report of the National Center for Vegetation Cover Development and Combating Desertification (NCVC) carried by the Saudi Press Agency.

Mangroves work in concert with coral reefs and seagrass beds to keep coastal zones healthy, say marine scientists. (SPA)

Most of the projects are currently being carried out along the Kingdom's Red Sea coast, with Jazan province topping the list at 5.5 million seedlings. Makkah province followed with 2.4 million seedlings; Madinah, 2 million; Tabuk, 1.5 million; and Asir, 1 million. 

In the Kingdom's Arabian Gulf coast, the Eastern Province has planted 500,000 so far, according to the report. But before the formal launch of the project along the Arabian Gulf, the center noted that 700,000 seedlings had already been planted, including 200,000 on Ras Abu Ali Island, in Jubail governorate, and 500,000 in Al-Wajh governorate. 

"The project includes fencing and caring for the seedlings, to protect them from algae and seaweed, and protecting the sites from grazing and encroachment," the SPA reported.

In the western province of Asir, the NVCV and the Asir Region Development Authority (ASDA) launched on Wednesday the campaign “Mangrove Restoration” on the province's coasts as part of the activities of the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem, which is observed annually on July 26.

Mangrove planting in Asir region's Al-Barak governorate. (SPA)

The campaign started by planting 500 mangrove seedlings on the beaches of Al-Barak governorate, with Al-Barak Gov. Abdullah bin Ali bin Muhya and Mayor Nasser Saeed Al-Shahrani leading the event.
"The initiative is intended to raise awareness about the importance of planting and protecting mangrove forests, educate society about the importance of mangroves and their positive impact on the environment, highlight the role of these trees in the climate change crisis and in mitigating global warming...," said the report.

Mangroves, working in concert with seagrass beds and coral reefs, keep coastal zones healthy, say marine scientists. 

They have been found to provide essential habitat for thousands of species, stabilize shorelines, prevent erosion and protect communities from waves and storms.

"An estimated 75 percent of commercially caught fish spend some time in the mangroves or depend on food webs that can be traced back to these coastal forests," according the American Museum of Natural History.

Many countries suffering from severe mangrove destruction, are suffering from continuing decline in their fish catch.

Saudi electric car consumer base growing as Kingdom aims to become a hub for the technology

Updated 24 July 2024

Saudi electric car consumer base growing as Kingdom aims to become a hub for the technology

RIYADH: Hamed Al-Rafidain, who works in HR, drives a fuel-guzzling 4 X 4, as many in Saudi Arabia do — but his other car is electric.

Al-Rafidain, 39, is part of a small but growing electric vehicle consumer base in the Kingdom, which aims to become a hub for the technology.

“What drove me to buy electric was financial considerations,” said Rafidain, who spends up to SR2,000 ($530) a month on fuel for his off-road vehicle. “Maintenance costs are also lower compared to a conventional vehicle, with no oil changes.”

For a little over $53,300, he bought a BYD mostly for short trips within the capital. Driving outside Riyadh was a “gamble, especially since the infrastructure is still underdeveloped,” Rafidain said.

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the PIF, owns 60 percent of electric car maker Lucid and South Korea’s Hyundai plans a factory in the Kingdom. The Saudi brand CEER, launched in 2022, expects to start production in 2025. Eventually Saudi Arabia aims to produce 300,000 electric cars a year.

Meanwhile Chinese giant BYD is expected to dominate the Saudi market, since its global rival Tesla has no dealerships in the Kingdom.
Electric car sales tripled last year to nearly 800 and salesman Hassan Mohammed expects more this year. “More than one car brand has opened its doors in the Kingdom and now offers after-sales service, which has encouraged consumers,” he said.

Saudi leaders offer condolences to Kuwait after passing of Sheikh Jaber Al-Ibrahim Al-Sabah 

Updated 24 July 2024

Saudi leaders offer condolences to Kuwait after passing of Sheikh Jaber Al-Ibrahim Al-Sabah 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent letters of condolences to Kuwait’s Emir Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah over the death of Sheikh Jaber Duaij Al-Ibrahim Al-Sabah, the Saudi Press Agency said Wednesday.

The Crown Prince also sent a separate letter to Kuwait’s Crown Prince Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah.

Sheikh Jaber died at the age of 71 and will be buried after Thursday’s Maghrib (Sunset) prayer, Kuwait’s news agency said.

Looking sharp: Prickly pear cactus takes over Baha

Updated 24 July 2024

Looking sharp: Prickly pear cactus takes over Baha

BAHA: In the heart of Saudi Arabia’s Baha region, a humble cactus is sparking an agricultural revolution. The prickly pear, known locally as Al-Barshumi, has blossomed from a niche crop into a burgeoning industry.

Once confined to private farms, prickly pear cultivation has spurred scientific research and yielded an array of food, medical and cosmetic products.

The fruit’s triumph is evident in the vibrant tapestry of green, yellow and red hues that now adorn Baha’s mountains, terraces, valleys and plains — a spectacle amplified by the region’s regular rainfall.

Fahd Al-Zahrani, director general of the Baha branch of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, spoke about the government’s commitment to this agricultural renaissance.

“We have established a dedicated production line and oil press benefiting all regional farmers,” he said.

He also hinted at plans for a more comprehensive production line and the creation of an integrated prickly pear city, developed in partnership with the region’s Prickly Pear Association.

The initiative’s architect, Faeq Al-Ghamdi, recounted its humble beginnings. He said that what started as 80 tangled seedlings on a single farm had flourished into a network of 26 cooperating farms, collectively producing 40-70 tonnes annually.

By 2021, the farms had more than 400 seedlings of premium varieties, including “Gimoncaryo” and “Marez.” This growth has enabled a diversification beyond simple fruit production, with the range of innovative products, including prickly pear juice, ice cream and soap.

Al-Ghamdi’s original farm now has 3,000 seedlings, including imported varieties, with an annual yield of 3-5 tonnes.

“In just four years, we’ve developed 20 products, with some already registered and others in various stages of registration and research,” he said, adding that more innovations, including a perfume extract, were in the pipeline.

The project, known as the Al-Sarah Al-Barshumi Initiative, has also spawned seven scientific studies aimed at sustainable development of the prickly pear plant.

Al-Ghamdi’s vision extends beyond cultivation toward establishing Baha as a regional leader in prickly pear production, achieving domestic self-sufficiency and tapping into export markets. The project is working to double the current acreage dedicated to cultivation, establishing model agricultural cities, creating a specialized processing industry and marketing 30 prickly pear products.

“The cultivation process begins with what we call pads or stems,” he said. “These parts are carefully separated from the mother plant and we then expose these cuttings to sunlight for a period of seven to 10 days due to the high fluid content of the pads, allowing them to dry and prepare for planting. Once cured, we carefully select the planting formation.”

Beyond its economic impact, the prickly pear boom promises significant health benefits, according to Dr. Nadia Al-Zahrani, a nutrition specialist at Al-Baha University.

“Prickly pears come in a spectrum of colors, ranging from green to red, with the red variety being notably the sweetest,” she said.

Noting their rich content of fiber, vitamins E, C, and K, and various minerals she said: “These components contribute to weight management and blood sugar and lipid levels regulation.”

Al-Zahrani said another use of the prickly pear fruit was in skin care.

“The rich vitamin and mineral content of the cactus play a crucial role in enhancing skin appearance and health,” she said.

A number of farmers in the region are cultivating prickly pears, capitalizing on the area’s unique environmental assets, leveraging the region’s fertile soil and abundant water resources.

They have embraced modern cultivation techniques and begun introducing new varieties of fruits and trees, many of which were previously unknown in the region.

Like father, like son: 10-year-old walks 150 km to Abha

Updated 24 July 2024

Like father, like son: 10-year-old walks 150 km to Abha

  • Sultan Al-Bariqi’s trek promotes tourism in Asir, health benefits of walking

MAKKAH: In a remarkable feat of grit, Sultan Al-Bariqi, a 10-year-old Saudi, has become the country’s youngest person to complete a 150-km journey on foot from Al-Namas to Abha in southern Saudi Arabia.

Accompanied by his father, who is also an adventure enthusiast, Sultan finished the five-day trek last Thursday.

Sultan’s father, Mohammed Al-Bariqi, told Arab News that the walk aimed to promote tourism in Asir, showcasing the region’s cool climate, dense vegetation and towering mountains.

The route offers visitors the chance to experience lush green landscapes and enjoy the natural environment. 

“We chose Al-Namas as our starting point, passing through Balasmar, Billahmer, Tanomah, and Shaar en route to Abha,” he said. He highlighted the region’s significance as a hub for domestic tourism, attracting thousands of visitors annually. 

“July typically sees high temperatures, but Asir enjoys a moderate, cool climate perfect for hiking and exploration,” he said.

Despite initial concerns about Sultan’s age, Al-Bariqi was impressed by his son’s enthusiasm for walking and experiencing nature first-hand.

Sultan, he added, was inquisitive about every stop throughout the five-day journey; the trip was filled with excitement for the young adventurer. He reported that the trip sparked joy in Sultan, keeping him motivated and eager from beginning to end.

The journey was also filled with encouragement from passersby, who offered drinks and motivational words. Sultan maintained high spirits and fitness throughout the trek, fueled by light meals and energy-boosting fruits, Al-Bariqi said.

With Abha as its final stop, the trek not only marked a spirited achievement for the young boy, but also highlighted environmental consciousness and long-distance walking’s therapeutic benefits.

Al-Bariqi, 52, is no stranger to long-distance walks, having previously journeyed from Asir to Makkah for Hajj in 16 days and to Madinah in 27 days.

He advocates walking as a holistic health practice, urging people to reduce dependency on cars and travel by foot, which he believes offers a comprehensive regimen for health and wellness. He also finds genuine pleasure in walking to explore tourist areas. 

The younger Al-Bariqi, initially apprehensive, found the experience life-changing. “I was afraid I could not complete the first stage, but my father’s encouragement motivated me,” he said.

The 10-year-old now aspires to make long-distance walking a regular part of his life and is encouraging his peers to embrace physical activity. 

He highlighted the universal importance of exercise, saying that it was not exclusive to any particular youth group. He also advocated for community-wide support and encouragement to foster a healthier, more active society.

Sultan eagerly anticipates recounting his adventure to schoolmates post-holiday, aiming to share the many benefits he discovered during his journey.