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2-min read

Saudi 'Blocking Path to Allah', Will Miss Hajj This Year: Iran

Shiite Iran and predominantly Sunni Saudi Arabia are at odds over a raft of regional issues, notably the conflicts in Syria and Yemen in which they support opposing sides.

AFP

Updated:May 30, 2016, 8:27 AM IST
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Saudi 'Blocking Path to Allah', Will Miss Hajj This Year: Iran
File photo: Muslims touch and pray at the door of the Kaaba and touch and kiss the al-Hajr al-Aswad "Black Stone" in Mecca, Saudi Arabia (Reuters)
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Tehran: Iran said on Sunday its pilgrims will miss hajj in 2016 because Saudi Arabia, custodian of Islam's holiest sites, was raising obstacles and "blocking the path to Allah" for its faithful.

Riyadh said Iran's hajj demands were "unacceptable". The Iranian Hajj Organisation said, "Saudi Arabia is opposing the absolute right of Iranians to go on the hajj and is blocking the path leading to Allah."

The Saudi side had failed to respond to Iranian demands over "the security and respect" of its pilgrims to Mecca, of whom 60,000 took part in 2015 hajj, the organisation said.

In the latest dispute between regional rivals Tehran and Riyadh, "after two series of negotiations without any results because of obstacles raised by the Saudis, Iranian pilgrims will unfortunately not be able to take part in the hajj" in September, Iran's Culture Minister Ali Jannati said.

Saudi officials have said an Iranian delegation ended a visit to the kingdom on Friday without reaching final agreement on arrangements for pilgrims from the Islamic republic.

Riyadh's hajj ministry said it had offered "many solutions" to meet a string of demands made by the Iranians in two days of talks.

Agreement had been reached in some areas, including to use electronic visas which could be printed out by Iranian pilgrims, as Saudi diplomatic missions remain shut in Iran, it said.

At a joint press briefing in Jeddah with Britain's visiting Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir denounced Iran's demands.

"Iran has demanded the right to organise... demonstrations and to have privileges... that would cause chaos during the hajj. This is unacceptable," Jubeir said.

He said Riyadh annually signs a hajj memorandum of understanding with more than 70 countries "to guarantee the security and safety of pilgrims", but "Iran refused to sign the memorandum".

"If it is about measures and procedures, I think we have done more than our duty to meet those needs, but it is the Iranians who have rejected things," Jubeir added.

It would be the first time in almost three decades that hajj will take place without the participation of pilgrims from Iran.

Riyadh-Tehran ties were severed for four years after more than 400 people were killed in Mecca during clashes between Iranian pilgrims and Saudi security forces in 1987.

In January, relations were severed again after Iranian demonstrators torched Saudi Arabia's embassy and a consulate following the kingdom's execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

Shiite Iran and predominantly Sunni Saudi Arabia are at odds over a raft of regional issues, notably the conflicts in Syria and Yemen in which they support opposing sides.

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