A commentary article in the Arabic daily Okaz slams the Ministry of Health for not knowing what it’s doing, or at least being incapable of explaining it to the public. The author notes that while the Minister of Health is saying that only two cases of MERS occurred in the prior two weeks, his ministry was reporting 54. Worse, the ministry is now consulting quacks to promise “natural, herbal cures” even though those same quacks had claimed an equally fatuous cure for HIV. The writer sees the ministry flailing about, lost and without direction.

Coronavirus: Confusion compounds
Khaled Al-Solaiman | Okaz

Our health officials never cease to astonish us. The health minister, in a press statement published on Sunday, said only two cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) were registered in the Kingdom during the past week.

This was a clear indication that the deadly virus was receding in the country and that people need not worry. But, statistics released by the ministry said as many as 34 confirmed cases of coronavirus were registered in the Kingdom during that very week!

Whom should we believe in this case: the minister or his ministry?

And on the MERS front, the count keep rising…

Six fresh MERS cases, two deaths in 48 hours

September:02:2015 - 06:43 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s beefing up its military presence on its border with Yemen has reduced the incidence of drug smuggling, Saudi Gazette reports, by almost 90%. The vast border with Yemen has been a primary route for drugs (and other contraband) to enter the KSA. Having thousands of troops, on active patrol, has cut into the business. I suspect there’s also been a drop in the transit of illicit arms as well as trafficking in people.

Decisive Storm curtails drug smuggling by 89%
Mishal Al-Otaibi | Saudi Gazette

RIYADH — There has been a sharp decline in the percentage of smuggling into the Kingdom from across the southern Yemeni border after the launch of the Decisive Storm military operation in March this year, said Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, security spokesman at the Ministry of Interior.

“The rate of smuggling fell by 89 percent during the first four months of the operation,” he said at a press conference at the Officers’ Club in Riyadh on Tuesday evening.

Al-Turki said that the Kingdom has been successful in foiling smuggling of drugs and this has been possible with the support of some Arab countries.

“We managed to carry out preemptive operation to prevent smuggling of drugs, thanks to the flawless coordination and cooperation with the authorities of some countries. The General Directorate of Narcotic Control managed to exchange information with their counterparts in five countries about involvement of some people in the manufacturing and trafficking of drugs which led to the foiling of smuggling attempts,” he said.

September:02:2015 - 06:36 | Comments Off | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat reports that coalition forces (no breakdown on the composition of the forces provided) have entered northern Yemen. The move is intended to attack the stronghold of the Houthis and is in preparation for a move to reclaim the Yemeni capital Sana’a.

Saudi-led coalition forces enter Houthis’ stronghold in northern Yemen
Arafat Madabish

Sana’a and Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat—Forces belonging to the anti-Houthi coalition led by Saudi Arabia have entered the Houthis’ northern stronghold Saada, according to Yemeni military sources.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the sources said ground troops from the ten-country-strong coalition were now present in tribal areas on the outskirts of Saada, which lies roughly 140 miles (230 kilometers) north of the capital Sana’a.

They said the assault comes as part of a three-pronged operation to liberate Sana’a, which along with other areas in the country has been under Houthi control since September 2014.

The operation will see coalition ground troops backed by air cover, the Yemeni army, and volunteer forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized government, surround and enter Sana’a via Saada to the north and the Al-Jawf and Ma’rib provinces—which lie roughly 75 miles (120 kilometers) northeast and 124 miles (200 kilometers) east of the capital respectively.

Once Saada, Al-Jawf, and Ma’rib are wrested from Houthi control, coalition, Yemeni volunteer, and Yemeni army forces will enter the capital, the sources said.

Coalition forces including those from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have had a presence in the southern port city of Aden since its liberation by government loyalists from the Houthis last month.

But there have been no ground operations by coalition forces until now, with the Saudi-led coalition only providing air and logistical support for pro-government Yemeni forces on the ground.

September:02:2015 - 06:31 | Comments Off | Permalink

Citing an unnamed source, Saudi Arabia’s pan-Arab Asharq Alawsat reports that the Saudis and coalition members are preparing to launch ground operations to retake Sana’a, Yemen’s capital. Here, “coalition members” seems to mean “primarily Egyptian” troops.

Ground operation “imminent” as coalition forces continue to arrive in central Yemen

Sana’a and Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—A coordinated ground operation including forces from the Saudi-led anti-Houthi coalition, the Yemeni army, and volunteers loyal to Yemen’s government will soon be launched to liberate areas of the country still under the control of the Iran-backed Houthi movement, a source close to the government said.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, the source, who requested anonymity, said coalition forces were meanwhile continuing to arrive in the central Ma’rib province in preparation for an “imminent” operation to retake the capital Sana’a from the Houthis.

The Shi’ite group, backed by Iran and forces loyal to Yemen’s ousted ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, took over the capital in September of 2014 and then spread to other areas of the country. The Houthis then launched a coup in February deposing Yemen’s internationally recognized President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and his government.

A Saudi-led air campaign was launched against the Houthis in March after Hadi requested Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies intervene in the country. Coalition ground forces have been arriving on the country since the liberation of the southern port city of Aden last month, but this would mark the first time a ground operation has been launched in the country since the conflict began.

So far, “thousands” of ground troops from the coalition, government loyalists, and the Yemeni army, as well as tanks, 30 military vehicles, and eight Apache helicopters have headed to Ma’rib in preparation for the assault on the capital, the source said.

Speaking in the Sudanese capital Khartoum during an official visit, President Hadi on Saturday said the war in Yemen was “based on stopping Iranian expansion in the region.”

Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin meanwhile visited Cairo on Saturday where he met with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shokri.

August:31:2015 - 08:41 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that there’s not exactly a stampede of women signing up to vote in the upcoming municipal elections in Saudi Arabia…

16 female voters in 3 Jazan governorates

Female voter registration centers in the governorates of Farasan Island, Al-Darb and Dhamad in Jazan region registered only 16 voters for municipal council elections. Shaha Muhammad Asiri, chairperson of the women’s election circuit in Al-Darb, said only five female voters registered during the past days due to difficult conditions and lack of awareness on elections among women. In Farasan Island, female voters registration center registered six voters and Dhamad governorate registered four female voters. — Muhammad Al-Kadawmi/Okaz/Saudi Gazette

A piece in Arab News on the topic points out that women are having a hard time even getting to voter registration locations.

Politically emancipated Saudi women are socially constrained
Molouk Y. Ba-Isa

Municipal elections will be held throughout Saudi Arabia on Dec. 12. In a historic first, Saudi women have been invited to participate as voters and candidates. This Arab News journalist went to register as a voter and discovered that for many Saudi women, making it to the polls won’t be easy.

The first voter registration center visited was No. 1061, located in a girls’ school on the outskirts of the Thuqbah District, Alkhobar. With the registration timing from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., a police car was parked at the door to the registration center, its vehicle lights on to illuminate the entrance. Inside the school there was an enthusiastic greeting from the center’s registration manager, Abeer Al Owirdi, and her team of three women.

August:30:2015 - 07:42 | Comments Off | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat runs two opinion pieces today discussing the Al-Khobar barracks bombing of 1996 and the recent arrest of one of the perpetrators. Though the first is not yet mounted at the paper’s website, it can be found at Al Arabiya TV. In both pieces — and we can take this as unofficial reflection of Saudi policy — Iran is lambasted for its support of the bombing, if not its planning. Both pieces rail against Iran’s historic and continued use of terrorism as part of its official statecraft.

In the first, Abdulrahman al-Rashed reviews the history of the attack as well as of Iran’s meddling in the region…

The significance of arresting the 1996 Khobar bomber
Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Who would have thought that the head of the terrorist cell that carried out the Khobar bombing in Saudi Arabia would be arrested after being on the run for 19 years? Arresting Ahmed al-Mughassil in Beirut and handing him over to Saudi authorities in Riyadh has turned the page on one of the most important and dangerous security and political cases. This is because the operation was plotted in Iran, the victims were from the U.S. and the crime was committed on Saudi territories. This case also involved other countries such as Canada, Syria and Lebanon because of the presence of the suspects on their territories.

It is said that the violent attack in the summer of 1996 was so big that the explosion was heard from Bahrain. The force of the bomb caused a10-meter crater in the ground and destroyed one side of the Khobar towers. Nineteen U.S. forces were dead and about 500 others were injured. Perhaps it would have ranked the worst terrorist operation in the world, in terms of injuries, if the perpetrators did not put the bomb in a water truck, which reduced the force of the explosion.

In the second piece, Salman Aldosary asks the whereabouts of others involved in the attack. He again points to Iran…

Where are the other three Khobar Towers suspects?
Salman Aldosary

All the 19 years he spent living in hiding, under assumed identities, did not protect Ahmed Al-Mughassil from being eventually caught. Mughassil, who thought he had escaped from justice, was caught by the Saudi authorities in a complex intelligence operation this month. It is not surprising that Mughassil was living in Iran, using forged Iranian ID cards all along. What would have been really surprising is if the scenario was different: that Iran had no hand in the terrorist bombing that killed 19 US airmen and injured 372 others and that it did not provide the perpetrators with shelter over the past two decades. Following the discovery and arrest of Mughassil, three out of the 14 suspects remain at large. Where are they? Who operates their movements and hides their identities?

Guesswork aside, the other three suspects presumably live in Iran, the country accused of standing behind the terrorist bombing. Even if they were not there, they must have received orders from Tehran to return immediately since Mughassil’s arrest. There is no country in the whole world capable of defying the United States and the international community, sheltering fugitives and terrorists, but Iran. It previously did that with Al-Qaeda members—something which could be supported with evidence. It cannot be imagined that the suspects—Ali Al-Houri, Ibrahim Al-Yacoub and Abdel karim Al-Nasser—who are also members of the so-called Hezbollah Al-Hejaz, an Iran-allied group, have escaped the Interpol’s clutches without some country providing them with shelter and legal cover.

August:29:2015 - 08:33 | Comments Off | Permalink

Leaders of some 20 Islamic states have declared that it is an Islamic duty to come to terms with climate change. This includes moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, Saudi Gazette reports. The report does not present any sort of action plan or timeline, but only that something must be done.

Islamic leaders take a stance to tackle Global Warming
Saudi Gazette report

Islamic leaders from 20 countries launched a bold Climate Change Declaration to engage the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims on this urgent issue.

Adopted by the 60 participants at the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium held early last week in Istanbul, the Declaration urges governments to deliver a strong, new international climate agreement in Paris this December that will signal the end of the road for polluting fossil fuels. The Declaration can give us a chance to limit global warming levels by 2 or preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Declaration presents the moral case, based on Islamic teachings, for Muslims and people of all faiths worldwide to take urgent climate action. It was drafted by a large, diverse team of international Islamic scholars from around the world following a lengthy consultation period prior to the symposium.

The Declaration calls for a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels and a switch to 100% renewable energy as well as increased support for vulnerable communities who are already suffering from the impact of climate change. People from all walks of life are calling on governments to scale up the transition away from fossil fuels. Wealthy and oil-producing nations are urged to phase out all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. All people, leaders and businesses are invited to commit to 100% renewable energy in order to tackle climate change, reduce poverty, and achieve sustainable development.

August:28:2015 - 08:55 | Comments Off | Permalink

Al Arabiya TV reports that Saudi Arabia has extradited from Lebanon a prime suspect with responsibility for the 1996 bombing of a US barrack in Al-Khobar. Ahmed al-Mughassil, who has also been indicted by the United States, was captured in Beirut and transferred to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia holding main suspect in 1996 Khobar bombing

Saudi Arabia is holding the main suspect in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers residence at a U.S. military base in the country, pan Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported Wednesday.

The newspaper said Ahmed al-Mughassil, leader of the Hezbollah al-Hejaz who had been indicted by a U.S. court for the attack that killed 19 U.S. service personnel and wounded almost 500 people, had been captured in the Lebanese capital Beirut and transferred to Riyadh.

Both Saudi Arabia and the United States have accused Iran of being behind the truck-bomb attack, although Iran has denied any responsibility.

Asharq al-Awsat quoted official Saudi sources as saying the country’s security service had received information on al-Mughassil’s presence in Beirut.

“The discovery of Mughassil and his arrest in Lebanon and his subsequent transfer to Saudi Arabia is a qualitative achievement, for the man had been in disguise in a way that made it hard to identify him,” Asharq al-Awsat said, without elaborating on when he was captured and who captured him.

August:26:2015 - 07:09 | Comments Off | Permalink

The plunge in the Chinese stock market hammered stock markets around the world. Saudi Arabia wasn’t spared. The Saudi market, Tadawal, dropped 5.88% with most of the damage coming to oil futures, Arab News reports. China, now the largest importer of Saudi oil, is seen to be facing a contraction and thus lower demand for oil. This is driving oil prices down around the world. The Gulf, already facing economic pressure from lower oil prices since last year, is going to be squeezed a bit more.

Tadawul slips to 29-month low
Khalil Hanware

JEDDAH: The Saudi stock market (Tadawul) had a steep fall as crude oil futures fell sharply on Monday.

The plunge was a 29-month low, which erased more than SR375 billion ($100 billion) of market value.

The Tadawul All-Share Index dropped 5.88 percent to 7,024.6 points, breaking major technical support on its December low of 7,226 points.

The value of traded shares reached SR7.83 billion on Monday despite big drops in petrochemical, industrial investment and real estate sectors.

The Tadawul index, which plunged 6.9 percent on Sunday, has now lost 23 percent in August, erasing more than $100 billion of market value, Reuters reported.

James Reeve, deputy chief economist and assistant general manager at Samba Financial Group, told Arab News that most global stock markets have been oversold and there will be some bounce back, especially in the United States and Europe.

August:25:2015 - 06:34 | Comments Off | Permalink

The slaughter of animals, primarily sheep but also camels, is a part of Eid Al-Adha which marks the end of Haj. This year, due to the presences of MERS in Saudi Arabia, the sacrifice of camels will be banned. While the exact route of transmission of the disease is still not perfectly known, it is known that camels play some role. So, in the interest of safety, they’re not going to be available this year. The ban will have economic consequences for Egypt, Sudan, and Somalia, traditional sources of camels brought into Saudi Arabia. Antibodies to the MERS virus have been found in at least some camels across the Middle East though the disease is more prevalent in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States.

No camel slaughter during this Haj

RIYADH: In a major step toward preventing the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) among pilgrims, the Kingdom will impose a ban on sacrificing camels as part of the Haj rituals this year.

As part of the pilgrimage, each person must sacrifice or pay for part of the sacrifice of a sheep, goat, cow or camel. The cooked meat is then shared with the poor.

Camels are thought to harbor the virus, and health officials suspect that sporadic zoonotic transmission plays a role in fueling MERS-CoV transmission in the Middle East, especially in the Kingdom, the hardest-hit country.

During the past 48 hours, the Ministry of Health (MoH) has reported three deaths and 15 new MERS cases.

August:22:2015 - 07:38 | Comments Off | Permalink

There’s a constant battle being fought — usually out of sight, but not always — over the name of the body of water that lies between Iran and the Arab states that comprise the GCC. Arabs call it the “Arabian Gulf” while Iranians insist on “Persian Gulf.” Each side chooses its evidence and tries to find the earliest historical precedent that supports its argument.

Arab News reports that a late-17th C. globe shows the gulf being named “Al-Ahsa Gulf.”

Arabian Gulf formerly named ‘Al-Ahsa Gulf’

AL-AHSA: An ancient map drawn up by Italian sailors in Venice in 1693 had once named the Arabian Gulf as the ‘Al-Ahsa Gulf.’

This is according to Sami Al-Maghlouth, a historian and map specialist. “After strenuous attempts to read the titles printed on the old map using a magnifying lens,

I found that the existing Arabian Gulf was labeled ‘Al-Ahsa Gulf’ in the Italian language,” he said.

Al-Maghlouth said the body of water had various other names in the past, determined by those who controlled the area. The names Hajr, Qatif and Basra were also used, he said.

He said Islamic maps had documented the area as the ‘Bahrain Gulf.’ The ‘Gulf of Basra’ was used under the Ottoman Empire. It was renamed the Arabian Gulf after the end of the British occupation.

Al-Maghlouth said that during the Renaissance, which saw a flowering of arts and culture in Europe in the 16th century, the Italians excelled at cartography.

August:20:2015 - 05:43 | Comments Off | Permalink

After many years’ delay, Saudi women are finally able to vote. Their political franchise was promised years ago, then delayed because Saudi custom required an elaborate piece of theater to ensure that unrelated members of the opposite sex didn’t meet at the polling stations. But now, Saudi Gazette reports, women are finally registering to vote in the municipal elections to be held later this year.

KSA sees first female voter registrations
Saudi Gazette report

MADINAH — They don’t know each other, and are separated by about 450km, but Jamal Al-Saadi and Safinaz Abu Al-Shamat became the first two women to register as voters for the upcoming third municipal elections in Madinah and Makkah respectively.

“The participation of the Saudi women in the municipal elections as voters and candidates was a dream for us,” Saadi said. “The move will enable Saudi women to have a say in the process of the decision-making.”

Voter registration began in the Two Holy Cities on Sunday, a week earlier than the rest of the Kingdom. Both women said they had thoroughly prepared all the documents they would need so that nothing would stop them from participating in elections for the first time.

“I was quite ready for this day,” Saadi said. “I have prepared all the documents needed to obtain a voter’s card. This is a nice experience to go through. We are just at the beginning of the road.”

August:18:2015 - 08:20 | Comments Off | Permalink
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