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Saudi tells Muslims to wait on Hajj plans amid coronavirus crisis

Saudi Arabia has asked Muslims to wait until there is more clarity about the coronavirus pandemic before planning to attend the annual Hajj pilgrimage, the Minister for Hajj and Umrah said on state TV on Tuesday. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage over fears of the new coronavirus spreading to Islam’s…

Saudi tells Muslims to wait on Hajj plans amid coronavirus crisis

Saudi Arabia has asked Muslims to wait until there is more clarity about the coronavirus pandemic before planning to attend the annual Hajj pilgrimage, the Minister for Hajj and Umrah said on state TV on Tuesday.
Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage over fears of the new coronavirus spreading to Islam’s holiest cities, an unprecedented move that raised uncertainty over the annual Hajj.
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Some 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world usually flock to Mecca and Medina cities for the week-long ritual scheduled to begin in late July. The pilgrimage is also a significant source of income for the kingdom.
“Saudi Arabia is fully ready to serve pilgrims and Umrah seekers,” Minister Mohammed Saleh Benten told the state-run Al-Ekhbariya television.
“But under the current circumstances, as we are talking about the global pandemic… the kingdom is keen to protect the health of Muslims and citizens and so we have asked our brother Muslims in all countries to wait before doing [Hajj] contracts until the situation is clear.”
Besides suspending Umrah pilgrimage, Saudi Arabia has also halted all international passenger flights indefinitely and last week blocked entry and exit to several cities, including Mecca and Medina.
Pilgrimage is big business for Saudi Arabia and the backbone of plans to expand visitor numbers under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious economic reform agenda.
Cancelling the Hajj would be unprecedented in modern times, but curbing attendance from high-risk areas has happened before, including in recent years during the Ebola outbreak.
To date, the kingdom has reported just over 1,500 confirmed coronavirus cases and 10 deaths. Globally, more than 825,000 people have been infected with over 40,000 deaths recorded.
Previous epidemics
Disease outbreaks have regularly been a concern surrounding the Hajj, required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their life, especially as pilgrims come from all over the world.
The earliest recorded outbreak came in 632 as pilgrims fought off malaria. A cholera outbreak in 1821 killed an estimated 20,000 pilgrims. Another cholera outbreak in 1865 killed 15,000 pilgrims and then spread worldwide.
More recently, Saudi Arabia faced danger from a related coronavirus that caused Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). A faltering response allowed the virus to kill several hundred people and spread across the region.
The kingdom increased its public health measures in 2012 and 2013, though no outbreak occurred.
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Saudi Arabia rebuked at UN over Jamal Khashoggi killing, abuses |NationalTribune.com

Dozens of nations condemned Saudi Arabia before the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday over serious violations and demanded accountability for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In a relatively rare rebuke of the oil-rich kingdom before the UN’s top rights body, Denmark’s Ambassador Carsten Staur read a statement on behalf of 29 states demanding…

Saudi Arabia rebuked at UN over Jamal Khashoggi killing, abuses |NationalTribune.com

Dozens of nations condemned Saudi Arabia before the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday over serious violations and demanded accountability for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In a relatively rare rebuke of the oil-rich kingdom before the UN’s top rights body, Denmark’s Ambassador Carsten Staur read a statement on behalf of 29 states demanding justice for Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 by an assassination team.
In the third joint statement to the council targeting Riyadh since the killing, the mainly European countries renewed a call for “transparency and holding all those responsible accountable”.

“We stress the need for full accountability and transparent prosecution of those involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi,” said Germany’s Ambassador Michael Freiherr von Ungern-Sternberg.
The Saudi journalist was lured into the Saudi consulate to handle marriage paperwork. Within minutes, the one-time royal insider turned critic was strangled and his body dismembered, according to Turkish and US officials.
A Saudi court this month handed lengthy jail terms to eight unnamed defendants and overturned five death sentences, in a ruling harshly condemned by Khashoggi’s fiancee and UN rights expert Agnes Callamard, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings.
Callamard, who like the CIA had previously linked Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to the killing, decried that top officials who allegedly ordered the murder walked free.
Torture, disappearances
Tuesday’s statement, which was hailed by several human rights groups, also highlighted a wide range of other serious rights violations in Saudi Arabia.
“We remain deeply concerned by reports of torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, and detainees being denied access to essential medical treatment and contact with their families,” it said.
Staur said the countries welcomed recent reforms such as restricting flogging and the death penalty against minors, but stressed journalists, activists, and others still face persecution, detention and intimidation.
The statement also echoed the criticism voiced by UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet over the “arbitrary detention” of a number of women human rights activists in the country.

She told the opening of the council session on Monday the detained women simply requested to “be empowered to make their own choices, as equals to men”, insisting “they should be released without delay”.
Saudi Arabia’s representative hit back on Tuesday insisting “the detention of any women has nothing to do with their right to exercise the freedom of expression, but for violations of the standing laws”.
“Their rights are fully respected as detainees,” he said, adding they were guaranteed a fair trial.
Tortured and sexually harassed
Saudi Arabia has detained and put on trial a dozen female activists who long campaigned for the right to drive, which was finally granted in the kingdom two years ago.
Some of the activists allege they were tortured and sexually harassed by interrogators. Staur highlighted that at least five women’s human rights defenders arrested in 2018 remain in detention.
“We reiterate our call for the release of all political detainees and are particularly concerned about the use of the counterterrorism law and other security provisions against individuals peacefully exercising their rights,” he said.

Tuesday’s statement also urged dramatic improvements as Saudi Arabia strives to obtain a seat on the 47-member Human Rights Council.
“Council membership comes with an expectation of upholding the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights,” Staur said.
Germany, speaking on behalf of the European Union at the United Nations Human Rights Council, decried Saudi Arabia’s “prolonged detentions of women rights defenders”, including Loujain al-Hathloul.
John Fisher of Human Rights Watch denounced Saudi Arabia’s “brutal targeting of defenders and dissidents” and urged the release of the female activists and “others arbitrarily detained”.
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Saudi Arabia tells US it wants fair solution for Palestinians |NationalTribune.com

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz spoke to United State President Donald Trump on the phone, state media reported [File: Bandar Al-Jaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via [AFP Photo] Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz told United States President Donald Trump that the Gulf country wanted to see a fair and permanent solution for the Palestinians, which was…

Saudi Arabia tells US it wants fair solution for Palestinians |NationalTribune.com

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz spoke to United State President Donald Trump on the phone, state media reported [File: Bandar Al-Jaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via [AFP Photo]
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz told United States President Donald Trump that the Gulf country wanted to see a fair and permanent solution for the Palestinians, which was the starting point for its 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, the kingdom’s state news agency reported on Monday.
The two men spoke by phone following a US-brokered accord last month under which the United Arab Emirates agreed to become the third Arab state after Egypt and Jordan to normalise ties with Israel.
King Salman told Trump that he appreciated US efforts to support peace and that Saudi Arabia wanted to see a fair and permanent solution to the Palestinian issue based on its Arab Peace Initiative.
Under the proposal, Arab nations have offered Israel normalised ties in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and site of its holiest shrines, does not recognise Israel.

A history of Arab-Israeli normalisation

However, this month the kingdom said it would allow flights between UAE and Israel, including by Israeli aircraft, to use its airspace.
During the call, Trump told King Salman that he welcomed that decision, and that the two also discussed regional security, a White House spokesman said.
Palestinian issue
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is also a White House adviser, has said he hopes another Arab country normalises ties with within months.
No other Arab state has said so far it is considering following the UAE. Egypt and Jordan normalised ties decades ago.
King Salman’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Kushner discussed the need for the Palestinians and the Israelis to resume negotiations and reach a lasting peace after Kushner visited the UAE last month.
The UAE-Israel deal was met by overwhelming opposition among Palestinians who have condemned the move as a “stab in the back”.
On Sunday, leaders of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and the Palestinian Hamas group met to discuss the US push for diplomatic normalisation, the movement said.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniya and Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Iran-backed Shia Hezbollah movement, stressed the “stability” of the “axis of resistance” against Israel.

SOURCE:
News agencies

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Saudi king sacks commander of Yemen forces over corruption claims |NationalTribune.com

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has sacked two royals over corruption allegations and referred them to the anti-graft watchdog for an investigation, according to state media. In a royal decree issued early on Tuesday, King Salman removed Prince Fahd bin Turki bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as commander of joint forces in the Saudi-led coalition fighting in…

Saudi king sacks commander of Yemen forces over corruption claims |NationalTribune.com

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has sacked two royals over corruption allegations and referred them to the anti-graft watchdog for an investigation, according to state media.
In a royal decree issued early on Tuesday, King Salman removed Prince Fahd bin Turki bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as commander of joint forces in the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, and relieved his son Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahd of his post as deputy governor of al-Jouf region.
The decision was based on a missive from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to Nazaha, the anti-corruption committee, to investigate “suspicious financial transactions at the defence ministry”.
Four other military officers were also placed under investigation.
The announcement marks the latest government crackdown on what officials say is endemic corruption in the kingdom.
MBS, after becoming heir to the throne in 2017 in a palace coup, launched an anti-corruption campaign that saw scores of royals, ministers and businessmen detained in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel.
Most were released after reaching undisclosed settlements with the state.
While the crown prince has made fighting corruption a pillar of his reforms, critics say he is moving to sideline rivals to his eventual succession to the throne, take control of the country’s security apparatus and crack down on dissent.

Former Saudi spy accuses MBS hit squad of attempting to kill him (2:29)

Authorities wound down the Ritz campaign after 15 months but said the government would continue to go after graft by state employees.
In March, authorities arrested nearly 300 government officials, including military and security officers, on charges involving bribery and exploiting public office. Human Rights Watch voiced alarm over the arrests, warning of possible “unfair legal proceedings” in an opaque judicial system.
The crackdown coincided with the arrest of Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, a brother of King Salman, and the monarch’s nephew Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who was previously crown prince.
Family members of Saad al-Jabri, a former top intelligence agent and aide to bin Nayef, have also been swept up in the campaign. Al-Jabri, who lives in exile in Canada, recently filed a lawsuit in the United States accusing MBS of sending a hit squad in 2018 to assassinate him.
Prince Fahd, the royal sacked on Tuesday, was commander of the Royal Saudi Ground Forces, paratroopers units and special forces before he became commander of joint forces in the coalition, according to Saudi daily Arab News.
His father was a former deputy minister of defence.
The king’s decree said the crown prince designated Lieutenant General Mutlaq bin Salim bin Mutlaq al-Azima to replace Prince Fahd.
The coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement that ousted the Saudi-backed government from power in Sanaa. The conflict, seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has been in military stalemate for years.
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