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Saudi Arabia denies blocking Iran Haj pilgrims
May 14, 2016, 8:23 am
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Iranian delegation refused to sign the agreement to finalise preparations for this year’s Haj

Saudi Arabia denied blocking Iranian Haj pilgrims after Tehran alleged “sabotage” by its regional rival. Riyadh blamed Iranian officials for the decision and suggested it was politically motivated to publicly pressure the kingdom.

The kingdom “welcomes all pilgrims from all over the world and from all nationalities and sectarian backgrounds, and does not stop any Muslim from coming”, the ministry of Haj said in a statement carried by Al Riyadh newspaper.

But the visits must occur “within the system and guidelines that organise Haj affairs,” the ministry said. Earlier Thursday Iran said its nationals will miss the annual Haj, expected in early September, after the two countries severed diplomatic ties this year.

ran says Saudi “incompetence” caused the crush and stampede in the area of Mina on Sept. 24 during the Haj. Iran has said the disaster killed 464 of its pilgrims.

Ali Jannati, Iran’s minister of culture and Islamic guidance, said negotiations that took place over several months between Iran and Saudi Arabia were aimed at trying to “resolve the issue” of security during the Haj, but failed to make any headway.

“We did whatever we could but it was the Saudis who sabotaged” it, Jannati said in comments carried by the state-run IRNA news agency. “Now the time is lost.” A later IRNA report in English on Jannati’s comments, which came during a visit to the Iranian holy city of Qom, called the decision “tentatively confirmed,” suggesting it may not be final.

In a statement in the official Saudi Press Agency on Thursday evening, Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for the row and said the kingdom is honored to serve Muslims of all nationalities as guests at holy sites in Makkah and Medina, where pilgrims carry out religious rites and prayers during the Haj season, as well as year-round.

The statement by Saudi Arabia’s Haj Ministry said the kingdom ensured Iranian officials obtained visas to meet with Saudi officials in April to discuss arrangements for this year’s Haj, despite the fact the two countries severed diplomatic ties earlier this year. The ministry said that Iranian officials made demands that all visas for Iranian pilgrims be issued from inside Iran” that the transport of pilgrims be divided between Iranian and Saudi air carriers” and that a clause be included in the record to allow Iranian pilgrims to hold a Shiite ritual during the Haj.

The ministry said Saudi Arabia “did not at all ban Iranian pilgrims from coming. The ban came from the Iranian government which uses this as one of its many means to pressure the Saudi government.”

The Iranian delegation “refused to sign the agreement to finalise preparations for this year’s Haj... insisting on their demands,” the ministry said. It added that “those who have banned their citizens from this right (to perform the pilgrimage) will be held responsible for their decision in front of God and the whole world”.

Iran has boycotted the Haj before. In 1987, demonstrating Iranian pilgrims battled Saudi riot police in clashes that killed at least 402 people. Iran claimed 600 of its pilgrims were killed and said police fired machine guns at the crowd. Iran did not send pilgrims to the Haj in 1988 and 1989, while Saudi officials severed diplomatic ties over the violence and Iranian attacks on shipping in the Gulf.

- Agencies

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