Saudi Flynas Makes First Commercial Flight to Baghdad Since 1990

Saudi Arabia’s budget airliner flynas announced on Wednesday making the first commercial flight from Riyadh to Baghdad since 1990, as ties with neighboring Iraq improved over the last period.

National flag carrier Saudia, also known as Saudi Arabian Airlines, is also scheduled to operate a flight to Baghdad from Thursday.

“Our first flight took off today from Riyadh to Baghdad,” Flynas wrote on Twitter, posting pictures of the cabin crew and passengers.

According to AFP, Tickets for the maiden flight were advertised for as low as $7 (six euros) excluding taxes as flynas CEO Bandar al-Muhanna said the move to reopen the route would help “link the two sisterly countries”.

Flights between Iraq and Saudi Arabia were suspended some 27 years ago in August 1990 after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein ordered his troops into neighboring Kuwait.

After years of tense relations, ties between Saudi Arabia and Iraq have begun looking up in recent months.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir headed to Baghdad in February for talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on the first visit of its kind since 2003.

Abadi then visited Riyadh in June, followed the next month by influential Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, who led a militia that fought against the US occupation of Iraq.

Private carrier flynas, in which Saudi billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal holds a 34-percent stake, plans to expand its routes from Saudi airports to major cities across Iraq.

Public Investment Fund to Establish Recycling Sector Company

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) announced on Monday planning to establish the Saudi Recycling Company, a new waste management government enterprise aiming to support and operate the PIF’s investments in domestic recycling sector projects.

“Aligned with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goal to safeguard the country’s environment by improving recycling across the Kingdom, the new company will develop and operate projects designed to increase landfill diversion rates and recycle waste, creating alliances with private sector companies to achieve the highest international standards,”PIF said in a statement published on the Saudi state-owned press agency (SPA).

Preliminary studies have indicated that the Kingdom currently recycles around 10 percent of recyclable waste matter, with 90 percent disposed through landfill sites, causing damage to the environment, and not making full use of the potential of recyclable materials. More than 40 percent of recyclable materials in the Kingdom are produced in three major cities: Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam.

Recyclable materials in the Kingdom amount to 50 million tons, and the new plan offers the opportunity to recycle around 85 percent of this material, utilizing it as a source of alternative energy to be used in manufacturing.

The company will play a key role in achieving the strategic goals of Vision 2030 in preserving the environment and developing and protecting the natural resources by developing innovative solutions to preserve the quality of life within the Kingdom. The company’s scope of operations will cover all recyclable materials, as well as each stage of the value chain.

In addition to its core activities, the company will increase public awareness through campaigns and initiatives designed to introduce the concepts of recycling, its sustainability and importance.

Saudi Arabia Dismantles ISIS Cell

A damaged location is seen following a raid by Saudi security forces on an Islamic State cell in Riyadh,

Riyadh- Saudi Arabia said it had dismantled an ISIS cell in a pre-emptive security operation in Riyadh. Two were killed – one suicide bomber blew himself up – and five others were arrested in raids on three locations, the Presidency of State Security said in a statement.

Saudi security forces seized in the operation Kalashnikov rifles, live ammunition, and chemicals used in the manufacture of explosives. An official in the presidency of State Security revealed that the terrorist plot was to target two headquarters of the Ministry of Defense in Riyadh.

According to the statement, the raids targeted three sites belonging to the ISIS cell, one in the neighborhood of Al Rimal east of the city of Riyadh, where a factory to manufacture explosive belts and devices was found. When trapped in the area, a suicide bomber blew himself up with an explosive belt.

“The second location is a residential apartment located in the Nimar neighborhood, west of Riyadh. The security forces killed an armed terrorist in the apartment after he refused to surrender. The safety of all the residents and the armed forces were secured,” added the statement.

It continued, “The third location is a stable for horses located in the neighborhood of Al-Ghanamiya in the suburb of Al-Ha’ir, south of Riyadh. The cell used it for meetings and planning their terrorist activities. The names of the five members of the cell will not be disclosed at the present time. Containers of distilled water, inflammable liquids and heavy iron molds used to assemble explosives were also found.”

The Presidency of State Security stressed that it will defy any terrorist plots with God’s help and with the cooperation of citizens and residents.

Top Scholars Say Terror Cells Target Saudi Youth

Security forces found arms, ammunition and cash from the possession of the two terrorists.

Riyadh- Chief of Senior Scholars in Saudi Arabia Fahad Al-Majid stressed that terrorist cells aim to target and deceive youth, adding that targeting national security is a crime of treason.

The nationwide condemnation by all sects of the Saudi society against these rings confirms the failure of these deviant groups and the rabble-rousing parties to harm national unity, said Majid.

He called on state institutions and civil society organizations to do more to raise awareness against the “gravity” of the threat these cells pose against the security of the Kingdom, the top scholar told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Saudi security forces are working around the clock to apprehend those affiliated with terror activities and extremism.

He stressed that targeting Saudi security and interests is among “the greatest evil practiced by terrorist groups, which have repeatedly tried to target the security of the country and carry out sabotage activities.”

Majid pointed out that establishing the Presidency of State Security and linking it to the King directly, as well as the Public Prosecutor’s Office had a great impact on the effective steps which see into protecting the homeland’s security, capabilities, and achievements.

The Presidency of State Security enabled the Interior Ministry to provide the best services to citizens and residents in all sectors. The new presidency will be able to focus on the fight against terrorism on the security and intelligence levels, as well as monitor its financing.

Moreover, the scholars’ Twitter account posted that a true Muslim is a part of the whole Muslim community, pointing out that harming the national faith (Islam), homeland security and national unity is a crime and cannot be accepted.

The State Security Presidency in Saudi Arabia announced in two separate statements detecting and thwarting ISIS-plotted terrorist attacks targeting two defense ministry headquarters in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia Thwarts ISIS Plot against Defense Ministry


The presidency of the Saudi Arabian state security agency revealed on Monday that it had thwarted a plot by the ISIS terrorist group against two Defense Ministry positions in the capital Riyadh.

It also announced the arrest of members of an “intelligence cell” that was working for “foreign sides” in order to “create strife” in Saudi society.

The discovery of the ISIS plot is the first security achievement that is declared by the recently activated state security agency.

Saudi authorities did not disclose the identity of the “foreign sides” that the conspirators were working for, but it did say that the suspects were Saudis and foreign nationals.

The ISIS cell meanwhile included two Yemenis, who possessed explosives belts. They have been identified as Ahmed Yasser al-Kaldi and Ammar Ali Mohammed. Two Saudis were also detained in connection to them. The security agency also released photographs of the detained suspects and the weapons it confiscated in their possession.

According to an official statement, the would-be suicide bombers were arrested as they were headed to their target. They were detained with guns, knives, explosives belts and nine home-made hand grenades in their possession. A training camp for the suicide bombers was also discovered in the Rimal neighborhood in Riyadh.

Investigations are ongoing with the suspects and more details about the case will be revealed at a later time.

A source from the state security agency revealed that the cell that was aimed at creating strife in the Kingdom had a long history in suspicious acts that are harmful to the country’s security and national unity.

The cell has been neutralized and its members have been arrested at various stages. Investigations are ongoing with them to reveal all of their activities and collaborators.

Information obtained so far indicated that the cell sought to directly or indirectly incite against Saudi Arabia and its official figures. Its members had frequently taken part in suspicious seminars and conferences where they had recruited youths for their hostile causes.

The source added that the cell had prior records in such suspicious activity and its members had been warned to cease them.

Syrian Opposition Fails to Form Unified Delegation to Geneva

Members of the Syrian High Negotiations Committee and the Cairo and Moscow groups meet in Riyadh on August 21, 2017

Beirut, Riyadh– Syrian opposition meetings in Riyadh ended on the first day without managing to form a unified delegation to participate in the Geneva negotiations.

The meetings in Riyadh, which were supposed to stretch over two or three days, saw an exchange of accusations between the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) and the “Moscow” platform over the failure to form a unified delegation, highlighting an almost impossible quest to overcome thorny disputes, especially those related to the power transition and the fate of dictator Bashar al-Assad.

While the HNC held the Moscow platform responsible for the interruption of the Riyadh talks by rejecting any text referring to Assad’s departure, the Committee’s spokesman, Riad Naasan Agha told Asharq al-Awsat: “We have reached understandings without making an agreement.”

“Today the ball is in the court of the United Nations and the international envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura,” HNC member Yehia al-Aridi said, adding: “If a unified delegation is established at a later stage, it will be only formal.”

Sources who attended the Riyadh meetings on Tuesday told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Moscow platform has stressed its adherence to UN Security Council Resolution 2254 as the sole and fundamental reference point in the negotiations, while the HNC has underlined its commitment to the outcome of Geneva 1 and all international resolutions, including UNSCR 2118, 2254 and General Assembly Resolution 60/262.

On the other hand, the head of the “Moscow” platform, Kadri Jamil, denied his group’s adherence to Assad’s maintaining power, and said: “We are not calling for him to remain in power, but we reject any preconditions on his departure, and we want this matter to be discussed on the negotiation table.”

He noted that the “Moscow” platform would rather not discuss Assad’s fate at the present time, but focus instead on “common denominators”, a proposal which was strongly rejected by Aridi.

“How can I negotiate with the representative of Assad on the departure of the President?” Aridi asked.

“His departure is an essential part of the political transition and cannot be ignored,” he added.

Syrian Opposition Meetings in Riyadh Start with Limited Hopes for Consensus


Beirut, Riyadh – The Syrian opposition kicked off on Monday its meetings in Riyadh, amid little hope over the possibility to reach consensus over disputed issues, in particular the transitional phase and the fate of Syrian regime head Bashar al-Assad.

Well-informed sources in the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) said they expected the talks to end with the formation of a single opposition delegation with divergent views, in wake of each party’s adherence to its own stances.

While the meetings were held on Monday with much secrecy, the HNC issued a statement saying that the opposition had convened in a morning session, which brought together 23 representatives from the HNC and the “Cairo” and “Moscow” platforms, to discuss the transitional governance phase and Assad’s fate.

The statement added that the representatives met with Saudi undersecretary for foreign affairs Adel al-Mardud for an hour and a half, during which they discussed the importance of reaching a single vision that represents the Syrian opposition and preparing for the second round of Riyadh talks.

“Based on the meetings of the first day, we can say that the rate of optimism does not exceed 40 percent. It is likely that the HNC and the Moscow and Cairo platforms will head to the Geneva negotiations in one delegation, while recognizing that it is impossible to agree on a unified vision regarding the transition and the fate of Assad,” the HNC sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Meanwhile, a source in the Syrian opposition told Asharq Al-Awsat that real efforts were being exerted by the opposition parties in Riyadh to unite their ranks and agree on the principles of a political solution, pointing out that the current divergence of views was mainly about the time left for Assad in power and the transitional rule.

The HNC stressed its rejection of Assad in power even for an interim period, while the Cairo platform had expressed its refusal to any role for the regime and its leader in Syria’s future.

On the other hand, the head of the Moscow platform, Qadri Jamil, proposed a solution to keep Assad in power and appoint five deputies, who would represent him in parliament, a proposal strongly rejected by the other opposition parties.

Riyadh Establishes American-Gulf Center for Combatting Terror Funding

Riyadh- Saudi Arabia announced establishing an anti-terror center in Riyadh based on a joint effort with the United States. The center is part of the May signed agreement with US President Donald Trump.

Abdulaziz Hamad Aluwaisheq, GCC assistant secretary general for political affairs and negotiations, said that the American-Gulf agreement on combatting the funding of terrorism will need to undergo a number of legal proceedings in each of the GCC countries.

The official stressed that the GCC secretariat is highly concerned with implementing all items of the agreement.

It is anticipated that meetings between GCC officials and experts on countering terror financing will be held in the upcoming days.

Meetings will tackle the US-Gulf agreement signed at the Gulf-American summit held in Riyadh recently.

The third summit held last May was aimed at limiting funds reaching terror organizations and members.

Aluwaisheq believes that since the Gulf-US on curbing and fighting the funding of terrorism must go through legal procedures in every country, this means that the time is still early to activate all agreement stipulations with 100 percent efficiency.

The GCC continues to implement all the agreements agreed upon in this file until all the ratifications of the six states is completed.

In his remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, Aluwaisheq stated that Saudi Arabia has already started the process of establishing the Counter Terrorism Financing Center, pointing out that the GCC Secretariat is seeking to arrange meetings with the founders of the Center to consider completing the remaining requirements of this cooperation.

Syrian Opposition to Negotiate under ‘One Delegation but Different Visions’

Beirut- UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura announced on Thursday delaying next week’s intra-Syrian talks in Geneva to next fall, calling on Russia and Iran to use their powers for convincing the Syrian regime to attend.

“Regarding the (Syrian) government, we are counting very much on Russia, on Iran, on anyone who has got major influence, and on the government of Syria to be ready finally to initiate when they are invited to Geneva, a genuine, direct negotiation with whatever (opposition) platform comes out,” he said.

De Mistura also hoped that the Syrian crisis could witness significant changes starting next month.

The delay announced on Thursday came as the Syrian opposition heads towards forming a single delegation with different visions to attend a meeting scheduled next Sunday in Riyadh ahead of holding the “Riyadh 2” conference in October. 

The delegation would include members of the High Negotiation Committee (HNC) and the two platforms of Moscow and Cairo.

The Cairo platform already announced it would participate in Sunday’s meeting.

Meanwhile, leader of the Moscow platform Qadri Jamil told Asharq Al-Awsat on Thursday that the opposition group would also attend the meeting and that it sent its response to the HNC on Thursday.

Member of the Cairo Platform Jamal Suleiman told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Riyadh conference aims at restarting talks between the three platforms and would mainly focus on unifying the opposition and on discussing the government, the constitution, elections and a common understanding of international resolutions, ahead of reaching positive outcomes.

Sources warned Moscow on Thursday from trying to circumvent the Geneva talks and enforce new decisions, such as forming a new expanded government in Syria.

Although sources from the opposition Syrian National Coalition saw the possible dispatch of one delegation to the meeting, they said this decision does not mean that the Syrian opposition would also have a unified position vis-à-vis the events in Syria, particularly the fate of Bashar Assad.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Thursday the US military will remain in northern Syria long after the militants are defeated, predicting enduring ties with the Kurdish-dominated region.

“They have a strategy policy for decades to come. There will be military, economic and political agreements in the long term between the leadership of the northern areas (of Syria) … and the US administration,” SDF spokesman Talal Silo told Reuters.

Saudi-Iraqi Relations Take a ‘Quantum Leap’


Riyadh- A joint Saudi-Iraqi statement announced on Tuesday that both countries have agreed to establish a coordinative council in a move to upgrade strategic ties.

Cooperation is expected to encompass a broad selection of domains, whether it is politics, security, economics, commerce, investment, tourism or culture.

“The countries agreed to establish a coordination council to upgrade relations to the hoped for strategic level and open new horizons for cooperation in different fields,” said the statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

It said the two countries had achieved a “quantum leap” in bilateral relations and stressed the importance of further official visits.

More so, the statement cited meetings with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, then Deputy Crown Prince, and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi during which both parties appreciated the upgrade in relations, and highlighting the importance to keeping regular visits among both countries’ officials.

Rising regional issues and political and security challenges facing Arab and Islamic nations were discussed at the bilateral meetings held.

Both Iraq and Saudi Arabia agreed to intensify joint action on confronting these challenges, particularly combating extremism and fighting terrorism in all its forms, in an emphasis to the importance of drying up sources funding terrorism.

The two countries expressed their determination to carry on combating terrorist organizations, particularly terror group ISIS.

In the joint statement, they also condemned all actions affecting the security and stability of the two countries and the region, stressing the need to reject hate, violence, and sectarian strife and discrimination.

For his part, PM Abadi expressed the Iraqi government’s appreciation of Saudi support in efforts exerted in Iraq’s infrastructure.

Abadi also commended the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the Saudi government for their services to the world’s Muslim pilgrims, Umrah performers and visitors.

He also expressed his thanks and appreciation for the warm reception and generous hospitality accorded to both him and his accompanying delegation.