Second Deputy Premier Prince Naif inspects preparations to receive pilgrims

Prince Naif: We cooperation with Yemen, trust its leadership, hope it can uproot al-Qaeda

U.S. expert: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques has made active change in war on terror

Palestinians call on UNSC to intervene to stop settlements

Obama acknowledges Mideast peace facing obstacles

Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz Al Saud congratulated the pilgrims on arriving at the holy sites and stressed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's provision of all capabilities to them to perform their ritual in ease and comfort under the directives of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Prince Naif prayed to Allah Almighty to accept their Hajj and reward them for their deeds.

During the annual Hajj press conference he held at the end of his tour of preparations by Hajj concerned authorities participating in the implementation of the general plan of this year's Hajj, Prince Naif said that under directives by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the kingdom has provided all capabilities to serve the pilgrims, protect their health and enable them to perform their Hajj in ease and comfort.

He added that all this will be implemented in all fields concerning the service of pilgrims namely in the fields of health, security and safety and other services provided on this great and holy Hajj occasion.

Prince Naif expressed confidence that all pilgrims will respect this great ritual and this time and place which is the holies place created by Allah near His sacred house; will respect all that should be respected; and will cooperate with all authorities concerned with their service, safety and comfort in performing the ritual.

Prince Naif said, 'We cannot be complacent in any matter related to the pilgrims, and we - thank God - do not differentiate among the pilgrims, they all are equal and would enjoy all services and acts that will enable them to perform their pilgrimage smoothly, God willing, as well as visitors of the Mosque of the Prophet peace be upon him and return to their home countries safely, God willing.'

After that, Prince Naif answered a question from the media about the willingness of the security men to deal with any act that may be detrimental to the safety and security of the pilgrims, saying: 'God willing, we will not need to use the security forces, but it is known that we do not accept compromise of the security of pilgrims and we will prevent this with the help of God Almighty, then with the capabilities of the Security brave men.'

Answering a question on the nature of information on the parcel bombs provided by the Kingdom to Washington, Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz made clear that the issue is the security cooperation between Saudi Arabia and all world's countries, stressing that the Kingdom is against terrorism anywhere and against the abuse of Islam.

He also said that 'The saying that 'those are Muslims' or defending Islam is not true, for they are far from Islam, in fact they are working for the abuse of Islam.

'Islam does not allow the killing of innocent human beings as it doesn't permit killing any human being treacherously whoever is, and we thank God Who honored the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to be a country of Islam and its Constitution is the Holy Quran and the His Prophet' Sunnah (Peace and blessings be upon him)', Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz Al Saud added.

He stressed that 'The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is in fact one of the most targeted countries by those who claim to be Muslims, but If they were truly Muslims, they should have worked for the interest of the kingdom not against it, but we thank God Who supported the security men in the kingdom to foil all of these operations targeting the kingdom'.

On a proposal of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on the setting up of an International Center for Combating Terrorism, Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz Al Saud asserted that this issue was raised at the conference held in 1424 A.H (2003 A.D), adding that it is up to the United Nations.

Responding to a question about a possibility that Al-Qaeda may stage an act of sabotage, he said 'I think it is untrustworthy, we do not rule out any attempt to disturb the security of pilgrims, but as I said we are, God willing, ready for countering anything like that may targeting those Muslim pilgrims who came from all over the world to perform their Hajj rituals'.

'The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is, God willing, capable of foiling such operations, countering and deterring them forcefully and decisively, without any hesitation', Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz Al Saud stressed.

The foreign and local media taking part in covering Hajj rituals lauded the services rendered by the Kingdom to pilgrims.

Prince Naif said this year the number of pilgrims increased by nearly 20 %, noting that this is the trend of Hajj build-up which is expected to proceed for the years ahead.

He vowed that Saudi authorities concerned would be ready to meet this year's and future increases.

He confirmed that the government managed to punish any agency that falls short of fulfilling its job during Hajj season.

He attributed the high altitude of Makkah Watch, clicking over the holy Haram, to its location among tall buildings, making it the world's tallest.

Prince Naif gave an account on the work of Hajj central committee.

In response to a question, he said Omrah and visit are open in terms of number and time while Hajj quotas were fixed by the Organization of Islamic Conference for the once a year ritual.

He said Saudi Hajj authority exceptionally agreed to increase the quotas of some countries who had submitted pleas in this matter, noting that there are more than 1.4 billion Muslims in the world today.

He urged Muslim countries to show more cooperation with the Kingdom in teaching their would-be pilgrims about the instructions of Hajj before starting their journey to the holy places.

He confirmed that the Kingdom managed to conduct relevant studies on all matters regarding the development of services for pilgrims.

He expressed readiness of all Saudi authorities to cooperate with Muslim delegations coming to the Kingdom to discuss Hajj-related matters well before Hajj starts. In particular, the Ministry of Health pays great attention to the health situation and epidemic combat during and before and after Hajj, he explained.

On the security situation at the border with the Kingdom, the Minister of Interior said cooperation between the two countries is in its best shape ever, reaffirming the Saudi confidence in the security command in Yemen, led by President Ali Abdullah Saleh of the Republic of Yemen, his government and people.

He vowed that the Kingdom puts its capabilities under the disposal of Yemen in the fight to uproot Al-Qaeda elements in Yemen who are found or would-be found in Yemen.

He said Saudi Arabia shares the concern with Yemen as regards the war against outlaws and terrorists.

He expressed hope that this year's Hajj would pass unhampered, thanks to the care of Allah Almighty and the Saudi security preparedness.

On the preparedness of Saudi authorities for any future development, he reassured that the authorities start reviewing their plans once Hajj is over, citing the decision to install this year's train service in Hajj was taken many years ago.

He also cited the giant expansions of the Makkah-based grand mosque and the Madinah-based prophet's mosque, the improvement of road and transport services and the Makkah-Madinah train service which is expected to take place soon.

He thanked the media representatives who participate in the coverage of this year's Hajj, noting that the Ministry of Culture and Information is ready to help them carry out their duties in ease and comfort. We prefer being faced with the truth and deal with it, he stated.

The press conference was attended by Prince Khalid Al-Faisal bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Makkah Region, who is also Chairman of Hajj Central Committee; Prince Miqren bin Abdulaziz, Chief of General Intelligence; Prince Dr. Mansour bin Mite'b bin Abdulaziz, Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs; Prince Dr. Khalid bin Faisal bin Turki Al Saud, Undersecretary of the National Guard for the Western Sector; Prince Abdulaziz bin Majed bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Al-Madinah Al-Munawarah Region; Prince Nawaf bin Naif bin Abdulaziz; ministers; members of Hajj Central Committee; and a number of civil and military officials.

Meanwhile, U.S. expert Rob Sobhani of The Hill newspaper, specialized in the U.S. Congress affairs, said in a report that the recently foiled terror plot that uncovered two bombs aboard airplanes headed for Chicago underscores al-Qaeda’s ongoing determination to strike at American targets. How the plot was discovered reflects an equally important reality: Saudi Arabia has emerged as one of Washington’s most important allies in the war on terror, a vital player in the worldwide fight against Islamic extremists.

Saudi Arabia provided the key intelligence that unraveled the plot – from the intent of the bombers to the tracking numbers on the packages. Were it not for that vital Saudi tip, Americans may have experienced the most devastating terrorist attack on its soil since the 9/11 tragedy.

John Brennan, a top advisor on homeland security and counter-terrorism to President Obama, said the United States is “grateful” to Saudi Arabia “for their assistance in developing information that helped underscore the imminence of the threat emanating from Yemen.” Other American officials have noted bluntly that without the Saudi tip-off, the bombs would likely have found their way aboard cargo flights bound for Chicago – and potentially detonated midair.

The vital role Saudi Arabia played in saving American lives brings us full circle, one year before the 10th anniversary of the horrific Sept. 11 terrorist attack. On that day, 15 of the 19 hijackers hailed from Saudi Arabia, and the kingdom’s security and intelligence apparatus was not hard-wired to adequately deal with al-Qaeda or the rising tide of jihadi terrorism that threatened the kingdom just as much as it did Americans.

Since then, Saudi Arabia has developed one of the most widely admired jihadist rehabilitation programs in the Muslim world, rolled back al-Qaeda in its own borders, and developed wide-ranging sources to disrupt al-Qaeda activity in neighboring Yemen. It has been dangerous work – many Saudi national guardsmen and police officers have lost their lives in this battle.

Meanwhile, the highly regarded deputy Interior Minister, Prince Mohammad bin Naif, whose work in fighting al-Qaeda has been lauded by a slew of western officials, averted an assassination attempt simply because a suicide bomber’s explosives detonated too early.

But in addition to the hard intelligence work – the hardware of the war on terror -- the reform-minded King Abdullah has been quietly transforming the “software” within the kingdom and in the broader Muslim world that had, for too long, created an environment conducive to radicalism. This “software” transformation will be even more important, in the long run, than the “hardware” intelligence battles.

The king has re-oriented the Saudi education system away from the religious excesses of the past, sponsored global religious dialogue conferences that include Jews and Christians, and spoken out dramatically against the religious “deviancy” that produces terrorists. His five year rule has been marked by new openings in the media, civil society, and women’s rights.

The king’s signature initiatives – from wide-ranging domestic and international dialogue conferences to the creation of new universities for women to the launch of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology earlier this year – have all revolved around themes of tolerance, dialogue, and education. While it is true that the king’s lofty ambitions are often not matched by realities on the ground, his goals and actions have indubitably moved the heavy Saudi ship of state in a new direction.

The Saudi king’s influence does not end within his own borders. As custodian of the two holiest mosques in the Muslim world, in Mecca and Medina, and as the home of the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia casts a long shadow on Muslim world affairs and holds a unique place in the views of world’s Muslims.

For far too long, Saudi Arabia either shirked its responsibility to build a more moderate Muslim world, or actively supported radical elements outside its borders as part of its geopolitical strategies. That has changed under King Abdullah. After all, a Saudi king who shakes hands with a rabbi in a conference on dialogue and pushes all other Arab states to come to peace terms with Israel and is described as “a remarkable leader” by Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres is certainly a new kind of Saudi king.

While the news of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence cooperation wins plaudits from U.S. policy-makers, we also ought to be aware of the “software” transformation engineered by King Abdullah within his own borders and beyond. Those policies, too, will go a long way toward keeping us safe from the scourge of terrorism.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority will begin negotiations with members of the United Nations Security Council on a draft resolution demanding that Israel halt West Bank settlement activity, its envoy to the world body said.

Palestinian Authority Ambassador Riyad Mansour met in New York with Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant of the U.K., which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month, to inform him of the plan to meet with the representatives of the panel’s 15 member governments. Mansour said he hoped the council would take action before the end of November.

“With the intensification of the settlement activity, particularly in Jerusalem, we are coming to the Security Council to request action to bring Israel into compliance with international law,” Mansour told reporters after the meeting.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas asked Mansour to seek a Security Council discussion of Israeli settlement construction, spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said in a statement published by the government-run Palestinian news agency Wafa.

An Israeli official responded by saying a resolution to the Middle East conflict will come only through direct negotiations with Israel’s government. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to comment on the Palestinian action.

Abbas made the request after Israel published plans to build homes in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of their state.

Israel captured the area from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it in a move never internationally recognized.

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which started Sept. 2 in Washington, stalled on Sept. 26 when Israel ended a partial 10-month freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank. Abbas has said he won’t continue the talks unless Israel stops building settlements.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to meet in New York with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about ways to resume the peace talks.

In a text message after meeting with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Netanyahu said he and Clinton will discuss “ways to reach a peace agreement based on broad understandings with the Palestinian people and maybe even with other nations in the Arab world.”

Mansour said that ambassadors from the most recent, current and next chairmen of the Arab Group will join him in talks with Security Council members and entities such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Mauritania held the rotating chairmanship of the group last month and Morocco is the current head. Next month’s chairman hasn’t been determined.

Mansour said it was possible that the Palestinian Authority might revive a draft resolution tabled by Libya two years ago.

The resolution, which called for a halt to settlement activity, was never put to a vote.

In an interview with Bloomberg Television in New York, Netanyahu called Palestinian complaints about Israeli settlement construction “way overblown.” He said previous settlement construction hadn’t prevented Egypt or Jordan from concluding peace agreements with Israel.

About 500,000 Jews have moved to the West Bank and Jerusalem since Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Middle East war. The UN says the settlements are illegal, and the International Committee of the Red Cross says they breach the Fourth Geneva Convention governing actions on occupied territory.

Israel says the settlements don’t fall under the convention because the territory wasn’t recognized as belonging to any country before the 1967 war, in which Israel prevailed, and therefore isn’t occupied.

In Jakarta, US President Barack Obama said that enormous obstacles remained in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

Obama acknowledged that the Middle East peace process suffered from "false starts and setbacks" but said the United States would leave no stone unturned.

"Israelis and Palestinians restarted direct talks, but enormous obstacles remain," Obama said in a speech at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta.

"We will spare no effort in working for the outcome that is just and that is in the interest of all the parties involved: two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security," he said.

Obama, who has made the Middle East peace process a focus of his administration, warned that peace and security would not come easily and that the stakes were high in resolving the issue.

The US president said that newly published Israeli plans to build more than 1,300 homes on Palestinian land would not help the Middle East peace process.

"This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations," he said at a news conference after talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono.

"I'm concerned that we are not seeing each side make the extra effort to get a breakthrough that could finally create a framework for a secure Israel living side-by-side in peace with a sovereign Palestine," he said.

The announcement of the plans to build 1,345 housing units in occupied East Jerusalem has triggered a war of words between Israelis and Palestinians and endangered the fragile peace talks process.