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Saudi king inaugurates Mecca-Medina high speed train line

The 450 km Haramain rail line connects Mecca, Jeddah, King Abdulaziz International Airport, King Abdullah Economic City in Rabigh and Medina.

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Makkah to Madinah New High speed train

Riyadh, Sep 26 : The Saudi king inaugurated a high-speed rail line connecting the holy cities of Mecca and Medina on Tuesday.

King Salman bin Abdulaziz declared, in a ceremony held in the Saudi city of Jeddah, that the service has formally begun and boarded one of the new trains for the inaugural trip between Jeddah and Medina, a spokesman for the construction consortium told Efe news agency.

“We thank Allah for the growth and prosperity in all fields in our country, and we thank Allah Almighty for His grace. Thank you,” the king said, according to the Saudi official news agency SPA.

Initially, the routes of the line will be limited and eight daily trips will be offered between Mecca and Medina for four days a week (Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday).

The 450 km Haramain rail line connects Mecca, Jeddah, King Abdulaziz International Airport, King Abdullah Economic City in Rabigh and Medina.

A consortium including 12 Spanish firms along with two Saudi firms has been tasked with building the second phase of the project.

“This inauguration is a milestone for Spanish engineering, which has demonstrated the ability of our companies and engineers to build a high-speed train under extreme weather conditions,” Iranzo said, according to a statement from the consortium.

The inauguration was attended by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and other Saudi officials, as well as by Spain’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Alvaro Iranzo, and the president of the High Speed Spanish Consortium, Jorge Segrelles, among others.

Bashar Al Malik, executive director of the Saudi railway company, told EFE that the actual start of service will begin on October 4.

He pointed out that the commercial operation of the line will begin within nine days, but without giving more details.

Al Malik said he expects the high speed line to overcome the difficulties and obstacles that have caused its delay, mainly due to sandstorms.

The Spanish consortium said in a statement that tickets will be able to be reserved “in the coming weeks.”

Regular trains will start operating on the line from next month between the stations of Makkah Al Mukarramah, Madinah, Sulaymaniyah in Jeddah and King Abdullah Economic City, while trains to Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport will begin around mid-2019.

The line is aimed at doubling the number of visitors and pilgrims to the holy cities and is in line with Saudi Arabia’s development plan, Vision 2030, which aims to expand the economy and reduce its dependence on oil.

With a fleet of 35 trains, carrying up to 417 people each, the service is expected to ferry around 60 million passengers yearly.

The trains will cover the distance between Mecca and Medina in under two hours, less than half the time that it takes to cover the same distance by road.

Middle East

Suicide attack suspects will be brought to justice, vows Rouhani

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Tehran, Feb 14 (IANS) Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Thursday that the masterminds behind the deadly suicide bomb attack against the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that claimed 27 lives will be brought to justice.

At least 13 others were injured when a suicide bomber targeted a bus carrying IRGC members on a highway near the city of Zahedan, located close to the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan in Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan province, on Wednesday.

According to the semi-official news agency Fars, Jeish al-Adl, a Sunni extremist group, claimed responsibility for the attack.

“Without a doubt, all perpetrators and those who ordered this vicious, flagrant act will be punished soon with the hard work of powerful security forces,” Rouhani said in a statement from the presidential office.

“This crime is another shame in the dark history of the main sponsors of terrorism at the White House, Tel Aviv and their regional agents who are making ridiculous, airy attempts for promoting Iranophobia and claiming to be fighting terrorism and creating security for the Middle East,” Rouhani added.

He offered his condolences to the relatives of the victims and wished the wounded a speedy recovery, Efe news reported.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif linked the attack to the US-organized Middle East summit in the Polish capital Warsaw.

“Is it no coincidence that Iran is hit by terror on the very day that Warsaw Circus begins… the US seems to always make the same wrong choices, but expect different results,” Zarif tweeted.

The region of Sistan-Balochistan is predominantly populated by the Baloch ethnic group, who are also present in the adjacent regions of Pakistan.

A previous attack by gunmen disguised as soldiers on a military parade in the Iranian city of Ahvaz last September killed at least 29 people, including 12 members of the IRGC.

That attack was claimed by the Islamic State terror organization.

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Middle East

Saudis don’t know where Khashoggi’s body is: Minister

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journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Washington, Feb 11 (IANS) Saudi Arabia does not know where murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s body is, the Kingdom’s Foreign Affairs Minister Adel al-Jubeir has said, despite having in custody the Saudi team that killed him.

In an interview to US’ CBS’ “Face the Nation” show that was broadcast on Sunday, Al-Jubeir said: “The death of Jamal Khashoggi was a mass-massive tragedy. It was a mistake…. committed by officials of the Saudi government acting outside their scope of authority.”

He said that 11 individuals have been charged with the crime and the trials have begun. “We have said we will investigate. We will hold those accountable- those responsible accountable and we will punish them.”

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and a supporter-turned-critic of Saudi Prince Mohammad bin Salman, was murdered inside the Kingdom’s consulate in Turkey’s Istanbul on October 2 and his body was reportedly dismembered with a bone saw. His remains are yet to be found.

Al-Jubeir told the US programme that “we don’t know” where is Khashoggi’s body and that the public prosecutor responsible for the case had sought evidence from Turkey but had received no response.

“We are still waiting to receive any evidence they (Turkey) may have.”

On being asked why those in detention can’t reveal where Khashoggi’s body was, Al-Jubeir said: “We are still investigating. We have now a number of possibilities and we’re asking them what they did with the body.

“… I think this investigation is ongoing, and I would expect that eventually we will find the truth.”

The minister again denied the Crown Prince’s involvement in the murder. “Nobody in Saudi Arabia knew about the murder except the people who did it.”

He also dismissed the New York Times’ report detailing how US intelligence intercepted communications of Bin Salman telling a top aide in 2017 that he would “use a bullet” on the journalist if he did not return to the Kingdom.

“This was not a government sanctioned operation. We have an investigation and we have a trial. And many things have been put out that turned out to be incorrect.”

The US’ Central Intelligence Agency has, however, concluded the Saudi operation was likely directed by the Crown Prince.

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Middle East

Egypt court sentences 8 to death for attempting to kill al-Sisi

The court has referred the sentences to the country’s grand mufti for his non-binding opinion, as required by Egyptian law, official Ahram Online news website reported.

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Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

Cairo, Feb 5 (IANS) An Egyptian military court has issued preliminary death sentences against eight people convicted of attempting to assassinate President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabia’s former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in 2014.

The court has referred the sentences to the country’s grand mufti for his non-binding opinion, as required by Egyptian law, official Ahram Online news website reported.

The court designated a session on March 6 to pronounce the preliminary verdicts for all 292 defendants in the case, Xinhua news agency reported on Monday.

The defendants were accused of assassinating three judges in North Sinai in May 2016, and attacking the residence of judges supervising Egypt’s parliamentary elections inside a North Sinai hotel, killing two judges, two policemen and a citizen.

They were also accused of staging a multi-pronged attack on the headquarters of the Army Battalion 101 in Arish city in North Sinai in January 2015, which killed 30 military personnel.

In November 2016, the state security prosecution referred 292 alleged members of Islamic State extremist group to a military court on charges of plotting to assassinate Sisi and launching terrorist attacks in the country.

According to investigations carried out by the state security prosecution, the first assassination attempt against the Egyptian president occurred in 2014 as he performed a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

The attempt, which also targeted then Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, involved members from terrorist cells in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

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