JEDDAH — As many as 35 scholars and journalists from the west African country of Benin arrived in Jeddah Wednesday on their way to Makkah to perform Umrah. They form the fourth group of pilgrims who came to perform Umrah as the guests of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman. The group will also visit the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. Meanwhile, another group of 100 Umrah pilgrims arrived in Madinah on Thursday as the King’s guests. They include 50 Nigerians, 40 Ghanaians and 10 Mozambicans. The guest pilgrim program was launched 20 years ago to invite leading Islamic personalities around the world to perform Haj at the King’s personal expense. The program was later expanded to include the Umrah pilgrimage. Some 24,000 people from 150 countries have so far benefitted from the program, which is supervised by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance.
30 hotels in holy city without water
MAKKAH — The National Water Company (NWC) has cut water supplies to 30 hotels in Makkah for failing to pay outstanding bills. The owner of one of the hotels said he had accumulated a bill of SR330,000. Hoteliers say after the NWC raised its tariffs, they are really in hot waters because of existing contracts with Umrah companies to host their pilgrims. They say NWC’s new rate of SR9 per cubic meter is extremely high. The owner of a restaurant said his outstanding bill was SR18,000. “This is the first time I saw such an unbelievably huge bill,” he said. Minister of Water and Electricity Abdullah Al-Hussayen has said the rate, which many citizens consider to be exorbitant, does not cover the cost of printing and distributing the bills. Those with reasonable water consumption will not feel the heat, he added.
40 states join Islamic Military Alliance
RIYADH — The membership of the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism, which is led by Saudi Arabia, has risen to 40, according to Brig. Ahmed Hassan Asiri, military adviser to the minister of defense. He said when the formation of the alliance was announced on Dec. 15, 2015, it comprised only 34 countries. “The alliance has been growing ever since,” he added. Asiri also said preparations were currently under way to hold the fist meeting of the alliance in Riyadh shortly.
Spy trial: Judge to look at lawyers’ motives
RIYADH — The criminal court judge who is presiding the trial of 32 people accused of spying for Iran has said he will look at the intentions of lawyers who had agreed to defend the accused but have been absent from court hearings since the trial started in early February. The defendants, consisting of 30 Saudis, an Iranian and an Afghan, have assigned three lawyers with experience in handling terrorism cases to defend them. The suspects failed to provide the court with written replies to the charges brought against them by the prosecution on the pretext that they were not able to meet with their lawyers. The judge gave the defendants about a month and a half to prepare their replies and warned them that after the deadline the court would proceed with the trial regardless of their response.
Saudi woman elected to IPU post
JEDDAH — Huda Bint Abdul Rahman Al-Hilaisi, a Shoura Council member, has been elected deputy chairperson of the coordination committee of women parliamentarians in the International Parliamentary Union (IPU). She was the first Saudi woman to hold a high post in the IPU. The election was held during a recent meeting of the IPU general assembly in Lusaka, Zambia. Al-Hilaisi expressed her pride in representing not only Saudi women, but also Arab women as a whole in the international body. She said the union, comprising 70 countries, has an observer status at the United Nations and will hold its next meeting in Geneva in October.