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Saudi denies blocking Iran Hajj pilgrims

Hajj

RIYADH/TEHRAN: Saudi Arabia on Thursday denied blocking Iranian Hajj pilgrims after Tehran alleged “sabotage” by its regional rival.

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 Hajj said in a statement carried by Al-Riyadh newspaper.

But the visits must occur “within the system and guidelines that organise Hajj affairs,” the ministry said.

Earlier on Thursday, Iran said its nationals will miss the annual Hajj, expected in early September, after the two countries severed diplomatic ties this year.

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 Hajj… 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”.

Tehran accuses Saudi of ‘sabotage’

Earlier, Iran said its nationals will miss the annual Hajj, accusing Saudi Arabia of sabotaging arrangements following a major diplomatic row and a deadly stampede at last year’s pilgrimage.

A delegation from Tehran held four days of talks in Saudi Arabia last month aimed at thrashing out a deal for Iranians to go to Makkah in September.

It was the first dialogue between the region’s foremost Shiite and Sunni Muslim powers since diplomatic relations were severed in January.

But with Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran still closed and Iranian flights to the kingdom halted, the talks hit deadlock.

“The arrangements have not been put together and it’s now too late,” Iran’s Culture Minister Ali Jannati told the official IRNA news agency. “The sabotage is coming from the Saudis.”

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