Travel fares, Umrah package prices soar amid Ramadan rush

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has received US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jeddah, the Saudi Press Agency said early Thursday, as the US diplomat makes his sixth tour of the region.

The meeting discussed “Developments in the Gaza Strip, and efforts made to stop military operations and deal with their security and humanitarian repercussions,” the SPA added.

The pair “reviewed bilateral relations and areas of joint cooperation, in addition to the latest regional and International developments.”

Blinken landed in Jeddah earlier on Wednesday on the first leg of a regional tour that was extended to include Israel.

Earlier, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and Blinken discussed the “importance of an immediate ceasefire” in Gaza.

Speaking to Al-Hadath, Blinken said the US is “pressing for an immediate ceasefire tied to the release of hostages. That would bring immediate relief to so many people who are suffering in Gaza”.

The US has backed Israel with weapons and diplomatic cover in its five-month war in the enclave to extract hostages taken by Hamas on Oct. 7. But Israel’s methods have drawn global outrage, prompting a genocide case against it at the International Court of Justice.

The visit comes amid strained ties between US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as Washington has become increasingly frustrated by its ally’s failure to curb civilian deaths or allow the delivery of vital aid.

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Another major area of concern for the US has been the fate of Rafah in the far south of the Gaza Strip. Biden has put pressure on Netanyahu to pull back from a full-scale ground offensive on the tiny area, where up to 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering after being driven from their homes elsewhere.

“President Biden has been very clear – that we cannot support a major ground operation, military operation in Rafah,” Blinken said.

But Netanyahu told US senators on Wednesday that Israel will continue its operation to defeat Hamas.

Regional players as well as the US have been trying to get the two warring sides to agree to a truce that would include hostage swaps and an increase in aid to the enclave, but an agreement has been elusive.

Blinken said that he is “more than hopeful” that an agreement between Israel and Hamas is possible, and that it can be reached.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza has been called dire and an international report said on Tuesday that “famine is imminent”.


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Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, said Israel was provoking famine and was using starvation as a weapon of war. Israel rejected the accusation.

Blinken said that a maritime corridor to deliver aid to Gaza, which was announced by Biden last week, will be operational “in a matter of weeks.”

He added that the corridor is “not a substitute for what’s even more important, which is getting assistance through over land, and that means that Israel needs to open up more access points to Gaza.”

Listing previous Hamas attacks on Israel, Blinken said the situation was not sustainable and was the greatest impediment to lasting peace and security, including a Palestinian state, “which is the only way in our judgment to have something that’s genuinely enduring and that can bring lasting security for Palestinians, for Israelis, and for the region.”

On the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, the diplomat said that Washington “would like to see Iran exert the influence that it has, because it’s the primary supplier to the Houthis of weapons, of information, of technology.  We would like to see them tell the Houthis to stop.”

Secretary Antony Blinken speaks to Al-Hadath’s Christiane Baissary. (Al-Hadath)

As the secretary of state arrived in Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom’s main aid agency KSrelief donated $40 million to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, which has faced massive funding cuts and calls for its abolition spearheaded by Israel.

The new funds would “provide food for more than 250,000 people and tents for 20,000 families,” KSrelief said.

In Gaza, Israeli forces continued their rampage with tanks and troops through Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, the fourth such attack since the war began. The Israeli military claimed to have killed 90 Hamas fighters and arrested 160.

On Thursday, Blinken is due to travel on to Egypt, which neighbors Gaza and whose envoys have been involved in previous mediation efforts.

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