Muslims fill Mecca to reaffirm their faith
MECCA, Saudi Arabia Some 2 million Muslim pilgrims massed here in their holiest city yesterday to reaffirm their faith after a tumultuous year that has raised fears Islam is being demonized after the September 11 attacks in the United States.
Calls to prayer echoed through the city at sunset, followed by an eerie silence as hundreds of thousands of worshippers from around the world bent to offer whispered prayers around the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, in Mecca’s Grand Mosque.
The silences alternating with the deep voice of a cleric reciting from the Koran brought a sense of peace and order to Mecca, a sleepy city that has been transformed in days into a teeming metropolis for the annual hajj.
This year’s pilgrimage comes as many of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims believe that their faith is the target of a hate campaign in the West.
Egypt ‘appreciates’ Saudi prince’s plan
CAIRO Egypt said yesterday it “appreciates” a controversial Saudi proposal for the Arab world to recognize Israel in return for ending the occupation of Palestinian land.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said the suggestion by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, which set off great debate in the Arab world, touched the crux of the Middle East conflict.
“As long as the occupation is the essence of the problem, it is normal that the end of the occupation would signify the end of the problem,” Mr. Maher told reporters.
The proposal by the crown prince, the effective ruler of the kingdom since the illness of his half-brother King Fahd, was reported by the New York Times on Sunday.
Cypriot leaders end first stage of talks
NICOSIA, Cyprus The leaders of the Greek and Turkish communities on this divided eastern Mediterranean island ended yesterday a first stage of talks aimed at reaching a settlement. The sides will resume talks with “urgency” March 1 and will concede ground in a spirit of “give and take,” said sources close to the talks. Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash ended their initial series of talks, aimed at creating progress by June. They are taking a 10-day break before the talks resume under the guidance of U.N. envoy Alvaro De Soto.
Weekly notes …
Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri is to visit Italy today with talks on the Middle East conflict and bilateral relations high on the agenda. His office said Mr. Hariri would meet President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and business leaders during his two-day visit to Italy, which is Lebanon’s top trading partner. … Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak yesterday discussed by telephone the escalating Israeli-Palestinian violence and international efforts to restore calm. Mr. Mubarak telephoned King Abdullah for talks on the latest developments, Jordan’s Petra news agency reported.