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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

Angered by Arab-Israel ties, Palestine quits chairing Arab League sessions

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Riyad al-Maliki
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki is seen during preparatory meeting for the GCC, Arab and Islamic summits in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

RAMALLAH, West Bank/GAZA: Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal relations with Israel.

Palestinians see the accords that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed with Israel in Washington a week ago as a betrayal of their cause and a blow to their quest for an independent state in Israeli-occupied territory.

Earlier this month, the Palestinians failed to persuade the Arab League to condemn member nations breaking ranks and normalising ties with Israel.

Palestine was supposed to chair Arab League meetings for the next six months, but Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah that it no longer wanted the position.

“Palestine has decided to concede its right to chair the League’s council (of foreign ministers) at its current session. There is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency,” Maliki said.

After initial remarks, Maliki read from a letter he said he sent to Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit informing him of the Palestinian move and criticising the UAE and Bahrain, both Gulf Arab nations that share Israeli concerns about Iran.

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The UAE’s deal with Israel “created a deep crisis in the Arab League” and the accord was followed “by a similar collapse by the Kingdom of Bahrain”, Maliki said, quoting from the letter.

In a new move addressing internal Palestinian divisions, officials from West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Islamist Hamas movement were due to hold reconciliation talks in Turkey on Tuesday.

Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 from Fatah forces during a brief round of fighting. Differences over power-sharing have delayed implementation of unity deals agreed since then.

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India

450 jobless Indian workers forced to begin Saudi, shifted to detention centres

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the situation of the economy of many countries has worsened. The effect can be seen in Saudi Arabia as well. As there are no jobs 450 Indian workers have no other choice but to beg for survival.

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jobless Indian workers in Saudi

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the situation of the economy of many countries has worsened. The effect can be seen in Saudi Arabia as well. As there are no jobs 450 Indian workers have no other choice but to beg for survival.

The workers are mainly from the states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, Delhi, Rajasthan and Karnataka. The work permits of these workers have now expired and thus they have to beg as their situation is worse.

These workers are now being shifted to detention centres. Videos have gone viral where the workers are being taken to the Shumaisi detention centre in Jeddah. Among the workers 39 belong to the state of Uttar Pradesh, 10 belong to Bihar, 5 are from Telangana and four each from the state of J and K, Maharashtra and Karnataka.

Workers said that they have not committed any crime but had to beg as they had lost their jobs and were helpless.

Social worker and MBT leader Amjed Khan told TOI that the workers with an expired work permit were taken to detention centres .

A total of 2.4 lakh Indians were reported to return to the country but only 40,000 have made it so far.

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Middle East

Iran and Saudi Arabia: China’s new launch pads in the Middle East

Two years ago, the Washington Post had reported, based on analysis of satellite pictures, that Saudi Arabia was making a missile factory near the central Saudi town of Al-Watah.

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Iran & Saudi Arabia

New Delhi, Sep 18 : China has flagged Iran and Saudi Arabia as its bridgeheads for expanding its influence in the Middle East, taking advantage of Tehrans international isolation and Riyadhs focus on nuclear energy.

Faced with renewed pressure from the United States, which has attempted to disrupt Iran’s economic lifelines, including critically important oil and gas exports, and much more, Iran has reached out to China for support.

China, in turn, has grabbed the strategic opening, keeping in mind, its larger ambition of drawing the Middle East in its orbit of influence.

In June, Iran approved a quarter century blue print of strategic collaboration with China, with bold economic and security dimensions, worth around $600 billion. Under the pact, energy hungry China will buy Iranian oil, Tehran’s primary export, for 25 years, at highly concessional rates. In return for assured energy supplies, China will revive Iran’s moribund economy, which would be integrated in a China-centred ecosystem, covering trade, finance, investments, and market access. China would also cyber-network Iran, piloted by the telecom giant Huawei, especially in the 5G domain.

Specific infrastructure projects, the foundations of Iran’s new economy, would include airports, high-speed railways and subways. China would also develop free-trade zones in Maku, in north western Iran; in Abadan, where the Shatt al-Arab river flows into the Persian Gulf, and on the gulf island Qeshm, the New York Times reported.

China plans to establish a joint commission for developing weapons and tap Iranian talent for scientific research, including cyberwarfare. This initiative is expected to anchor China’s military presence in the Middle East, bolstered by an unprecedented ability to gather intelligence in the region. In going ahead with the deal, China, for the first time, would become a frontline player seated in the Middle East cockpit, empowered to seriously influence the region, which includes Israel, Iran’s arch-foe.

China’s military ambitions in the Middle East also stood out with its participation in 2019, in a trilateral naval exercise in the Indian Ocean, with Iran and Russia as partners.

China’s massive outreach to Iran, fully recognizes Tehran as a geopolitical pivot — a country whose importance is derived by its sensitive geographical location. Iran sits on the doorstep of South Asia, Central Asia and Europe. Its external orientation has a major spill over impact, across a large geographical space, across contiguous regions.

China views Iran as a launch pad for spreading the Beijing centred Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive transcontinental connectivity project, meant to launch China’s rise as an unrivalled great power.

China wants to extend the $62 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a part of BRI in more than one direction. In the north, it has already announced its intent to stretch CPEC to resource rich Afghanistan, which has massive reserves of lithium, the feedstock for the electric car revolution that China wants to lead. Already, the Afghan Taliban are in deep conversation with the Chinese for projects that can be kick-started after a new government takes over in Kabul, following the ongoing US brokered reconciliation talks between Taliban and the Afghan government.

In case Iran agrees, CPEC can also be extended westwards from Pakistan’s contiguous Baluchistan province through which a large section of the corridor passes. In case that happens, Tehran will inch closer to being co-opted in the rapidly expanding Chinese political orbit.

China has also gate-crashed into the inner core of Iran’s rival-in-chief, Saudi Arabia, by agreeing to partner with Riyadh in the nuclear arena — a zone where most countries are reluctant to enter. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohamed bin Salman has been quoted as saying in 2018 that in case Iran develops a nuclear bomb, Riyadh will also follow suit.

Blinded by its ambition to bulldoze into the Middle East, China is reported to have shared technology to enrich uranium — the feedstock for a bomb. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with China’s help , has built a facility for the extraction of uranium yellowcake, a potential precursor to fuel a nuclear reactor. The plant is located near the remote desert city of Al Ula, the daily reported. The presence of the site, which has not been publicly acknowledged has raised serious concerns that Saudi Arabia, engaged in a seething and violent geopolitical rivalry with Iran, in several regional theatres including Yemen, Lebanon and Syria, may be engaging in the nuclear weapons programme with the support of China.

Uranium when lowly enriched is used in electricity generation, but when refined to purity above 90 per cent, it can be used to making the core of an atomic bomb.

The Saudi Energy Ministry has “categorically” denied to the Wall Street Journal that the Kingdom has built a uranium ore milling facility. But he acknowledged that Chinese companies have been contracted for the exploration of uranium within Saudi Arabia.

The recent interaction between China and Saudi Arabia can be traced to a 2012 agreement for the peaceful development of atomic energy. Subsequently, Riyadh has signed agreements with China National Nuclear Corp and China Nuclear Engineering Group Corp.

China and Saudi Arabia have been partners in beneath- the- radar covert collaboration in the past. In 1988, Saudi Arabia bought Chinese DF-3 Silkworm ballistic missiles, which have been reportedly embedded with the Kingdom’s Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF).

Two years ago, the Washington Post had reported, based on analysis of satellite pictures, that Saudi Arabia was making a missile factory near the central Saudi town of Al-Watah.

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