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Saudi Arabia announces successful completion of Hajj 2021

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Most of this year’s Hajj pilgrims had left Makkah by midday Thursday after performing the farewell circumambulation ritual at the Grand Mosque.

Security, Hajj and health officials have confirmed that all their plans were successfully carried out, and no serious health issues were recorded.

Saudi Minister of Health Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said that the health plan for this year’s Hajj was a success, with no COVID-19 infection cases identified.

“I would like to announce that this Hajj was successful, with neither coronavirus infection nor any other epidemic diseases reported,” he said.

Before the closing circumambulation of Al-Kaaba, the pilgrims threw pebbles at the three pillars in Mina, with agents representing all the government’s Hajj-related authorities monitoring the stoning process. Throughout the ritual, the pilgrims abided by the precautionary measures. To ensure their safety, the pilgrims performed their second-day ritual in organized groups.

Pilgrims normally spend three days in Mina for the Days of Tashreeq. However, it is permissible to stay for two days on the condition that a pilgrim leaves before the sunset of the second day.

This is called “Ta’ajol,” or hastened Hajj. Otherwise, they should remain in Mina for the third day, when they are required to repeat the stoning ritual.

Beyond the Kingdom’s impressive health and security efforts, some pilgrims were disappointed by the quality of food served by private companies that failed to meet customer expectations. The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said on Twitter that inspection tours uncovered a substandard food service in some Hajj camps.

The ministry assured it would impose severe penalties on companies found to be offering a second-rate service after conducting investigations in coordination with the Saudi Food and Drug Authority and the Makkah Municipality.

“We will also consider reevaluating these private companies. The service providing licenses of these contractors may also be withdrawn,” the ministry said

It added that the services provided by private companies should match the quality of the government authorities in their offer to pilgrim.

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Foreign ministers of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, meet on sidelines of GCC meeting

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The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iraq met on the sidelines of a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting for foreign ministers in Riyadh on Thursday.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan and Fuad Hussein reviewed Saudi-Iraqi relations and ways to support and enhance them.

The GCC reaffirmed its support for Iraq during the meeting and Hussein said that opportunities for the council’s countries to support the Iraqi economy were discussed.

Iraq’s foreign minister added that his country will work with the GCC to enhance security in the region and is playing a role in bringing the views of Gulf states and Iran closer.

Hussein also condemned Houthi attacks targeting Saudi Arabia.

The meeting’s final communiqué called on all parties to work toward making elections in Iraq a success.

It condemned Houthi attempts to attack the Kingdom and reiterated GCC support for Yemen’s legitimate government.

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Hezbollah-organized fuel arrives in crisis-hit Lebanon

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A convoy of tanker trucks carrying Iranian diesel crossed the border from Syria into Lebanon early Thursday, a delivery organized by the militant Hezbollah group to ease crippling fuel shortages in the crisis-hit country.

The delivery violates US sanctions imposed on Tehran after former President Donald Trump pulled America out of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers three years ago.

It was portrayed as a victory by Hezbollah, which stepped in to supply the fuel from its patron, Iran, while the cash-strapped government grappled with the fuel shortages for months.

“This is a very big and great thing for us because we broke the siege of America and foreign countries. … We are working with the help of God and our great mother Iran,” said Nabiha Idriss, a Hezbollah supporter who gathered with others to greet the tankers’ convoy as it passed through the eastern town of Al-Ain.

Hezbollah has portrayed the Lebanese economic meltdown, which began in October 2019, as partly caused by an informal siege imposed by America due to the militant group’s power and influence in Lebanon. The group has been sanctioned by consecutive US administrations.

Lebanon’s crisis is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the ruling class and a sectarian-based political system that thrives on patronage and nepotism. Severe shortages in fuel have paralyzed the country, resulting in crippling power cuts that have disrupted the work of hospitals and bakeries. Just to get gasoline, people must wait hours in line, commonly called, “queues of humiliation.”

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah had announced a month ago that Iran was sending fuel to Lebanon to help ease the crisis. The first Hezbollah-commissioned Iranian oil tanker arrived in the Syrian port of Baniyas on Sunday and the diesel was unloaded to Syrian storage places before it was brought overland to Lebanon on Thursday by tanker truck. The convoy went through an informal border crossing in Qusayr in Syria.

Nasrallah said in a televised speech earlier this week that the tanker did not offload its cargo directly in Lebanon to avoid embarrassing Lebanese authorities and risking sanctions on Lebanon.

Hezbollah, which is often accused by its opponents of operating a state-within-a-state and has been taking part in Syria’s civil war alongside government forces, has its own crossing points along the Lebanon-Syria border away from formal border crossings.

There was no immediate comment from Lebanese or US officials on the Iranian fuel delivery Thursday.

“Don’t forget this day,” tweeted Laury Haytayan, a Lebanese oil and gas expert and activist, describing it as the day Hezbollah won over the Lebanese state.

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV called it “the tanker truck convoys to break the American siege” adding that 20 tanker trucks each carrying 50,000 liters (13,210 gallons) crossed the border Thursday and were on their way to the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek where Hezbollah will start distributing the fuel.

The tanker trucks crossed from Syria’s central province of Homs into Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and were welcomed by residents who gathered on the sides of the main road. Hezbollah’s yellow flags and banners praising the Iran-backed group and Syria’s President Bashar Assad decorated the streets. A few women showered the trucks with rice and flowers as they drove past.

The arrival of the Iranian diesel comes nearly a week after a new government was formed ending a 13-month deadlock. Lebanon’s new Prime Minister Najib Mikati has not commented on the deal to import fuel from Iran.

Nasrallah said earlier this week that the diesel will be donated for a period of one month to institutions including public hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages, water stations and the Lebanese Red Cross. Nasrallah added that others who will get fuel at low prices are private hospitals, medicine and serum factories, bakeries and cooperatives that sell food products.

Nasrallah said three other tankers carrying diesel and one carrying gasoline will arrive in the coming weeks.

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Syrian humanitarian crisis in a ‘downward spiral,’ warns UN aid official

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The humanitarian situation in Syria is worsening rapidly and the needs of the Syrian people are greater than ever, the UN’s aid chief said on Wednesday.

Martin Griffiths, UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, told a meeting of the UN Security Council’s 15 members that “humanitarian needs in Syria are greater than ever, even though we may read about it less on the front pages of newspapers.”

He told delegates, including Turkish, Iranian and Syrian representatives, that despite billions of dollars in donations by the international community, humanitarian needs “tragically outstrip available resources.”

Griffiths said that at least 13.4 million people across Syria are now in need of emergency aid — a jump of more than 20 percent from the same time last year, and the highest figure since 2017.

Among the most pressing issues is access to clean water.

“The lack of access to safe water is disproportionately affecting the general health and reproductive health of women and girls,” he added.

Access to education, food and other basic human needs was in serious decline across the country, Griffiths said.

“Syria is caught in a downward spiral. The country will continue to be a place of tragedy so long as the conflict continues. Need and suffering will continue to grow in the near term,” the UN official said.

UK representative Barbara Woodward placed the blame for this crisis squarely at the feet of the Syrian regime and its benefactors — but stopped short of naming Iran specifically.

“Airstrikes and artillery bombardment, which violate the cease-fire agreement, have become the new normal in southern Idlib, with around 10 to 20 airstrikes currently recorded every day — directly affecting civilians and humanitarian workers,” she said.

“In recent weeks, eight civilians, including two women and one child, have been killed, including in heavy artillery shelling on residential areas of Idlib city by the regime and its allies.”

Woodward also highlighted the heavy price that humanitarian aid workers have paid for their attempts to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people.

“Since March 2021, 19 humanitarian workers have been killed and 36 injured in the violence. We urge all parties to respect the cease-fire agreement and comply with the obligations to protect civilians and humanitarian workers.”

Amany Qaddour, regional director for Syria Relief and Development, told the Security Council meeting that aid workers in Syria had been providing lifesaving services in “a context akin to hell.”

As hostilities in the northwest of the country, one of the last remaining rebel strongholds, have escalated, so too has the humanitarian crisis, she said.

“In terms of some of the most vulnerable groups, what we’re seeing is increased violence — for women, for example, in terms of intimate partner violence. We’ve also seen an increase in rape cases, and other forms of sexual violence, in children and adolescents, in particular,” Qaddour said.

Children also have been forced into work, including heavy labor such as mining, to help their families survive.

Qaddour said that there has also been a recorded increase in suicides among children and young people. “The atmosphere is palpable with helplessness and despair,” she said.

In a powerful speech to delegates, she explained that the global pandemic has only served to exacerbate the suffering of the Syrian people.

Less than 1.5 percent of the population is vaccinated against the virus, and in some areas nobody has been inoculated. Instead, the government has relied on localized lockdowns to prevent the spread.

But in a context where the economy has crumbled, food is scarce and people rely on a daily wage, “lockdowns are essentially a death sentence,” Qaddour said.

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