2017: U.S. Embassy In Riyadh Saudi Arabia Issued More Than 106,000 Visas

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

US Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Carl Risch reaffirmed on Tuesday that the United States and Saudi Arabia share strong and positive relations that have been going on for decades, especially when it comes to consular affairs.

He revealed that there are ongoing discussions to develop and strengthen them in the coming years.

Responding to Asharq Al-Awsat, Risch revealed that more than 106,000 visas, 70 percent of which were granted to Saudi citizens, were issued in 2017. He stressed that restless efforts are spent on developing visa mechanisms and providing timely and reliable services for the embassy.

Risch expressed pride over strong and positive relations shared with Riyadh.

About 70 percent of US visas issued in Riyadh, Dhahran and Jeddah were for Saudi nationals. Some 77,910 visas issued to Saudis included visitation, work, and study passes.

Risch is on a tour to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.

Meeting with counterparts, Risch will discuss a range of consular issues. While in the region, the diplomat also plans to review consular operations at US Embassies and Consulates in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, and Amman, and to meet with inter-agency partners.

Stressing that US national security is a priority when issuing visas, Risch said that a vetting system looks into applications, making sure the applicant is eligible.

On the time it takes to land a US visa, Risch said that some requests are completed quickly, while others take longer. “But we want to be a reliable source for those who want to get visas from our representations anywhere in the world.”

He pointed out that all types of US visas are issued to Saudi citizens, but the most common are tourist visas and work visas for attending meetings.

Requests to visit families or friends and visas issued to Saudi students stand to prove the long history between the two countries, Risch added.

Israel to Build Around Gaza World’s Longest Concrete Wall

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Israel to Build Around Gaza World’s Longest Concrete Wall

Sunday, 16 September, 2018 – 10:30
Palestinians walk near an opening in Israel’s security fence in East Jerusalem. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ramallah – Kifah Zaboun
A “protective” wall that Israel has been building for months along the border with the Gaza Strip will become “the world’s longest concrete wall” and will extend over 65 kilometers to reach the Strip’s land and maritime border, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported.

Israel decided to build the wall after the 2014 war, but its implementation began after three years of internal debate.

The wall is the third line Israel has constructed along the border to confront the Palestinians and prevent them from carrying out attacks.

Following the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s and after the disengagement from Gaza in 2005, Israel established buffer zones around Gaza and set up barbed wire, but these measures did not stop underground attacks.

The wall aims to provide underground and off-the-ground protection from infiltration through the coastal strip. It will also include physical barriers and sophisticated technological detection systems, according to the Israeli newspaper.

To date, Israel has used two million concrete blocks in the construction of the wall through five concrete factories that have been built along the border. The region employs 1,200 workers from different countries, including Romania and Brazil.

According to the newspaper, the land wall will include an underground barrier at a depth of tens of meters, equipped with sensors that can detect any drilling of tunnels by land or any movement of divers across the sea. The maritime wall includes intelligent waves for early warning.

The cost of building the concrete wall is 3 billion shekels, ($1=3.60 shekels).

Hamas uses military tunnels for various purposes, including carrying out operations and infiltrating into Israeli settlements.

Yemeni Government Adopts Currency-Reviving Economic Measures

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Yemeni Government Adopts Currency-Reviving Economic Measures

Monday, 10 September, 2018 – 11:00
An employee counts stacks of Yemeni currency at Yemen’s central bank in Sanaa. (AFP)
Aden – Asharq Al-Awsat
In an effort to save the war-torn nation’s faltering currency and to address a diminishing economy, the Yemeni government announced executive measures on reforms approved by the national Economic Committee.

The government said it will withhold docking permits for luxury cargo, while reassuring that licenses for fuel shipments and five food commodities – wheat, rice, sugar, milk and edible oil– and medicine will continue being issued.

As head of the legitimate government, President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi had ordered forming a national Economic Committee presided by presidential adviser and economic and financial expert Hafez Moayad.

Barring the entry of non-basic shipments comes in an effort to reduce hard currency depletion lost through the import of luxury goods.

Economic Committee Head Moayad, in an official statement, confirmed that the committee has devised a mechanism for import processes relevant to five main commodities (wheat, rice, sugar, milk and edible oil), as well as means to resolve the problem facing the oil derivatives market– both with domestic consumption and the export of surplus.

He said that the committee handed a detailed briefing to authorities on Saturday.

In the document, the committee recommended establishing a workshop with traders and concerned parties to discuss mechanisms to be implemented and clarify them to commercial sector parties.

The mechanisms are claimed to be able to stabilize the currency and keep it from collapsing.

Moayad revealed that the Economic Committee, which consists of seven members, including the Minister of Finance and the Governor of the Central Bank, has completed its research functions and will be ready to assume other duties.

He added that it will follow up with bodies responsible for implementation.

In the meantime, the Yemeni Ministry of Transport began implementing procedures prohibiting the import of luxury goods.

According to the ministry, the government decided to restrict imports to basic commodities and oil derivatives by means of appropriations, collections and remittances based on Economic Committee mechanisms.

The mechanisms took effect on Sunday.

The government had decided earlier to raise salaries of government employees by 30 percent and production capacity in oil and gas fields after providing security guarantees for the resumption of export.

Practices of Iran-backed Houthi coup militias in Yemen, such as looting and pillaging of Sanaa Central Bank assets, have played a huge part in the national currency’s collapse.

Saudi Forces Take Part in US-Led Military Exercises in Egypt

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Saudi Forces Take Part in US-Led Military Exercises in Egypt

Saturday, 8 September, 2018 – 19:00
The Bright Star 2018 military drills kick off in Egypt. (SPA)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Saudi forces took part in US-led military exercises in conducted in Egypt.

The US-Egyptian Bright Star 2018 exercise kicked off on Saturday with the participation of Greece, Britain, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Italy and France, in addition to observers from 16 countries.

Commanding officer of the participating Saudi force Colonel Nasser bin Hatlin al-Suhaimi said that their involvement is part of a pre-training curriculum prepared for the armed forces to engage in joint exercises, reported the Saudi Press Agency.

The exercise covers anti-terrorism operations and include training on combat, sea landing, diving, medical insurance and the use of live ammunition.

Saudi forces took part in this exercise with paratroopers and special security forces units, which have been assigned to carry out a number of major operational duties, especially combating terrorism and piracy.

Parliament Speaker Slams Demands for Algerian President’s Resignation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Parliament Speaker Slams Demands for Algerian President’s Resignation

Tuesday, 4 September, 2018 – 11:30
Algerian women passing the People’s National Assembly building in Algiers, Algeria. (AP)
Algiers – Boualem Goumrassa
Speaker of Algeria’s People’s National Assembly Said Bouhadja slammed opposition demands for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down over their claims that he is “physically incapacitated to perform his duties.”

Speaking at an ordinary assembly session, he said that “a new Algeria has emerged, which is confirmed when compared to the Algeria of 20 years ago,” hinting to the period before Bouteflika came to power in 1999.

He noted that this “new Algeria” is enough to provide irrefutable answers to anyone doubting or questioning the president.

He was referring to opposition parties critical of Bouteflika’s policies, especially on economic issues, namely the Islamist “Movement of the Society for Peace” and the liberal “Jil Jadid” parties.

Bouhadja said that “the time of transition periods is over in Algeria, which sacrificed tens of thousands of martyrs to save the political institutions.

He made his remarks in reference to parties calling for a “transition” period that paves the way for the post-Bouteflika phase.

Democracy “is firmly established in our country and reaching power takes place within the dates stipulated in the constitution and through the will of the people, who are indisputable in their sovereignty,” stressed the speaker.

Bouhadja said of Bouteflika: “The nation and history attest that he dedicated all of his life to defend the freedom, dignity and sovereignty of the Algerian people.”

He praised the president’s efforts to establish the Algerian Civil Concord Law in 2000, which granted amnesty to about 6,000 extremists, all of whom were reintegrated into the society after spending years in prison on terrorism charges.

Egypt’s Hamas-Israel Peace Deal: Only If President Abbas Is A Total Idiot

 

Earlier today I read an article in the Times of Israel whose headline was about Egypt being upset with President Abbas because he was not in favor of the peace program they sculpted between Israel and Hamas. My commentary to you today on this issue will be a short one because the reality to the situation on the ground between Hamas and Fatah is short and un-sweet. I believe it was in 2007 when Hamas split with Fatah and by force took control of the Gaza Strip in south-west Israel. Israel if they had known that Hamas would rise up and take control of one of the two Conclaves they were going to give to the Palestinian People in the so called “land for peace” deal they would not have given up this land in the first place. My thoughts then and now is, how could the leaders of Israel at that time have been so naive as to believe that Hamas would not rise up against Fatah and take control of the Gaza Strip? A couple of years ago Mr. Abbas canceled elections that were suppose to unite Fatah and Hamas once again but when the leaders of Fatah realized that Hamas was going to easily win this election, they canceled the election.

 

Reality is this simple, any deal, no matter who brokers it, whether it be Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran or even Fatah themselves is a death sentence to Fatah and to Mr. Abbas. Hamas is only interested in one thing, total control, both of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and of all of modern-day Israel. Hamas does not play well with others, only an idiot or a fool does not realize this reality. Israel does know this now, this is why they are also against this Egyptian brokered plan. Israel’s leaders played the fool once, they are not going to play it again. Mr. Abbas has proven that he has learned from his experiences in his dealings with Hamas also and as the title of this letter to you states very plainly, only if Mr. Abbas is a total idiot would he ever go along with this Egyptian so-called peace plan. It does appear that the leaders of Egypt who brokered this plan have not learned this basic lesson.

More Than 1.6m Pilgrims Arrived in Saudi Arabia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

More Than 1.6m Pilgrims Arrived in Saudi Arabia

Friday, 17 August, 2018 – 08:30
Hajj pilgrims Perform Friday Prayers at Grand Mosque of Makkah, SPA
Jeddah, Makkah, Medina- Asmaa al-Ghaberi and Asharq Al Awsat
More than 1.68 million Hajj pilgrims from all over the world have arrived in the Kingdom to perform Hajj, the General Directorate of Passports announced on Thursday.

Maj. Gen. Sulaiman Al Yahya, director general of the Directorate General of Passports, told a press conference: “Up to this moment, our air, land and sea checkpoints have warmly received 1,684,629 pilgrims from different countries of the world.”

According to Yahya, 1,584,000 pilgrims have arrived by air, 85,000 entered the country via land crossings, and 16,163 came by sea.

He added that Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman were keen on facilitating easier and comfortable arrival of pilgrims from abroad.

He said that effective use of technology has given an edge to Saudi Passports department to assist pilgrims on arrival and departure.

Civil Aviation
The General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) has successfully completed its operation plan for the arrival phase of the pilgrims for the current Hajj season. The total number of flights reached 6,969: 3,939 via King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah and 3,030 via Prince Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Airport in Medina.

Civil Defense
General Sulaiman Al-Amro, Director of Civil Defense, said that he notified the interior ministry of the readiness of the civil defense forces to continue its mission in this Hajj season.

Municipal, Rural Affairs
The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs completed the maintenance of 58 tunnels in Makkah and Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah, within a detailed plan to operate and maintain municipal facilities.

Awareness Messages
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has launched its awareness campaign for Hajj pilgrims to cooperate with all sectors, officials, and organizers. Awareness messages will be sent through social media platforms to various local, regional and international media in several languages; Arabic, English, French, Russian, Chinese and Persian.

Greek Spat Exposes Putin’s Waning Clout in European Backyard

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT AND BLOOMBERG NEWS)

 

Greek Spat Exposes Putin’s Waning Clout in European Backyard

Monday, 13 August, 2018 – 08:30
When Greece, traditionally among Russia’s closest friends in Europe, expelled two Russian diplomats last month for trying to wreck a deal with the neighboring Republic of Macedonia, it exposed Moscow’s deepening frustration at President Vladimir Putin’s loss of influence in a key strategic region.

Russia’s being squeezed out of the Balkans by the expansion of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, leaving the Kremlin with diminishing clout in southeastern Europe. There’s little chance of reversing that trend, according to four people in Moscow familiar with its Balkans policy.

“NATO membership of course is bad for us,” said Leonid Reshetnikov, a former head of Russian foreign intelligence who also served as an agent in Greece and the Balkans. “What can we do? They are clearing this territory” of rival influences, he said.

Russia’s deep historical and cultural ties to the Balkans made the region a preserve of pro-Moscow sentiment that ensured warmer relations than with much of the rest of Europe. Now Balkan states are becoming bound in with the West as they gravitate toward the EU and NATO.

Even amid divisions within the EU and questions raised by President Donald Trump about the US commitment to its NATO allies, the blocs still exert a strong pull in the region with their promises of rising trade and living standards, strengthened rule of law and security guarantees. Russia’s shrinking geopolitical reach is a historic setback for Putin, even as the Kremlin leader’s global power appears to be on the march, from Syria to meddling in US politics.

“Russia is acting pretty passively,’’ said Alexander Dugin, a nationalist thinker and one-time Kremlin adviser who promotes a vision of Russian dominance across Europe and Eurasia. “It needs a plan of action.”

Greek Expulsions

Greece expelled the Russian envoys after accusing them of bribing officials in an attempt to block the accord that settles a dispute over the Republic of Macedonia’s name and allows it to start talks on NATO membership. Russia’s foreign ministry accused Athens of joining in “dirty provocations,” prompting a Greek demand that “the constant disrespect for Greece must stop.”

Russia on Monday summoned the Greek ambassador to inform him that the foreign ministry was retaliating with reciprocal diplomatic measures in response to the expulsions.

Under the deal with Athens, the Republic of Macedonia will become the Republic of North Macedonia after Greece objected that the former Yugoslav republic’s title implied a territorial claim on its province with the same name.

‘Derail It’

Greece is “fully determined” to ratify the agreement, said Costas Douzinas, a member of the ruling Syriza party and head of the parliamentary committee on defense and foreign relations. “If the Russians continue to attempt to derail it, the reaction will be strong.”

Even the pro-Russian Independent Greeks party, the junior coalition partner in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government, accuses Moscow of meddling, even as it opposes the accord. There’s “first-hand information that there was Russian interference in Greek matters,” the party’s vice president, Panos Sgouridis, said by phone. “It’s crucial that Greece’s national sovereignty is protected.”

The Republic of Macedonia plans to hold a referendum on Sept. 30. The deal is opposed by President Gjorge Ivanov, while Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has accused unnamed Greek businessmen sympathetic to Russia of inciting protests against it.

Last month, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a consortium of investigative reporters, cited the Republic of Macedonia’s Interior Ministry documents as saying that Greek-Russian billionaire Ivan Savvidis paid 300,000 euros to opponents of the accord. A representative for Savvidis denied the claim.
‘Enemies of Russia’

The former Yugoslav republic “will be in NATO,” said Frants Klintsevich, a member of the defense and security committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament. Moscow views the expansion of the alliance as reinforcing “the circle of enemies around Russia,” he said.

The tensions follow accusations by Montenegro that Russia was behind a failed coup attempt during 2016 parliamentary elections in a bid to derail its entry into the U.S.-led military alliance last year. Two Russian intelligence officers are among 14 people charged with the plot by Montenegrin prosecutors. Russia denies any involvement.

Konstantin Malofeev, a wealthy Russian businessman and Putin ally, who’s been sanctioned by the EU for backing insurgents in eastern Ukraine and has cultivated links to far-right parties in Europe, warned ominously of a backlash in Greece. A June opinion poll in Greece showed almost 70 percent of Greeks opposed the agreement with the Republic of Macedonia.
Serbia Shift

Russia’s sometimes heavy-handed efforts to stem the West’s growing influence have provoked alarm, particularly after the 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine. Moscow’s fear is that it may be left without partners in the region.

Albania and Croatia are NATO members, while Bosnia and Herzegovina says it wants to join, though Bosnian Serbs with ties to Russia threaten to block any attempt. Even Russia’s closest regional ally, Serbia, has joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace cooperation program. Meanwhile, the EU has dangled the prospect of membership as early as 2025 for Serbia and five other Balkans states.

Ranged against Russia are the US and its European allies.

US Vice President Mike Pence spoke by phone to Tsipras and Zaev on July 5. He later tweeted that “successful implementation’’ of the agreement “will open the door to European integration’’ for the Republic of Macedonia. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said July 30 that it’s in the EU’s “strategic interest” to expand into the western Balkans.

“It will be a very big blow” for Russia if Serbia, which NATO forces bombed in 1999 during the Kosovo crisis, eventually joins the alliance, said Nikita Bondarev, a Balkans expert from the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, which advises the Kremlin. “We will become almost friendless in southeastern Europe.”

(Bloomberg)

ISIS Spreads Influence through Libyan Mosques

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

ISIS Spreads Influence through Libyan Mosques

Saturday, 28 July, 2018 – 09:15
Libyan police guard a checkpoint in Tripoli (AFP Photo/Mahmud Turkia)
Cairo – Waleed Abdul Rahman
Libyan mosques have fallen victim to the ISIS terrorist group which has turned them into centers for the recruitment of militants, an Egyptian study said.

“The organization has worked on recruiting some imams” so that they lure young men into the fight alongside the extremist group in Syria and Iraq, it said.

An imam has been recently arrested in the Libyan capital Tripoli on such charges.

The report, headlined “How ISIS Took Advantage of Mosques in Libya,” said that since chaos spread in the country in 2011, extremist groups have taken control over several regions, which has resulted in mosques being run by such organizations.

The researchers said that ISIS began influencing the minds of young men, mainly in the eastern city of Derna, which is seen as the stronghold of extremist groups.

The main aim of the organization was not just to recruit fighters locally, but also to send them to Syria, they said.

ISIS also resorted to the distribution of fliers in areas that fell under their control to inform residents on the importance of mosques in encouraging and facilitating the travel of young men to Syria.

The report quoted a woman as saying that ISIS sought to recruit her sons through one of Libya’s mosques.

She told the researchers that she had sent her children to the mosque to learn the Quran because schools had shut down due to the deteriorating security situation in Derna. But her sons ended up being recruited by the organization.

The report made some suggestions on how to limit ISIS’ influence through mosques, saying the authorities should raise awareness among the people on the dangers of extremist practices.

It also said that the Libyan government should have full supervision over mosques.

Chinese President Meets UAE Leaders in Abu Dhabi

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Chinese President Meets UAE Leaders in Abu Dhabi

Friday, 20 July, 2018 – 09:15
Chinese President Xi-Jinping arrives in the UAE on an official visit (WAM)
Abu Dhabi – Asharq Al-Awsat
Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in the UAE on Thursday for a three-day visit during which he will hold talks with UAE leaders.

The Chinese leader and his wife were welcomed at the airport by UAE Vice President and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, as well as other senior officials.

The two UAE leaders hoped that the visit would contribute to establishing a new phase of cooperation and joint action to meet the aspirations of the two countries and their peoples.

The two sides exchanged cordial talks on issues of common interest, historical ties and the continuous development of relations, WAM news agency reported.  They also pointed to the important role assumed by China in regional and international economic and political files.

For his part, the Chinese President expressed his happiness to visit the UAE, which he said shared with China friendly relations and a common vision on many issues, and wished the Emirates further growth, progress and prosperity.

On the occasion of Xi Jinping’s visit, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed Al Maktoum said: “The historic visit of the Chinese president to the UAE establishes a new phase of strategic partnership that has brought the two countries together for decades.”

“We are delighted to welcome President Xi Jinping to the UAE on this important visit which we view as a cornerstone of wider prospects for prosperous cooperation between the two friendly countries,” he added.

He also underlined the strong economic relations and trade exchanges between the two countries, pointing out that the UAE trade with China represented about a quarter of the total volume of Arab-Chinese trade during 2017, which amounted to nearly 200 billion dirhams ($54.4 billion).

He emphasized the “active tourism movement”, saying that more than one million Chinese people visited the UAE last year alone. He added that economic cooperation extended to include many sectors such as oil and gas, renewable energy, infrastructure and advanced technology.