Saudi Arabia hampering haj pilgrims, says Qatar

Doha's demands to 'internationalise' holy sites a declaration of war, says Saudi minister

DUBAI • The annual haj pilgrimage has become embroiled in the dispute in the Gulf between Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The Qatari authorities have accused Saudi Arabia of jeopardising the pilgrimage of Qatari pilgrims to Mecca, by refusing to guarantee their safety.

The Saudi Foreign Minister, meanwhile, has called what he said was Qatar's demand for an internationalisation of the pilgrimage as a declaration of war against the kingdom.

"Qatar's demands to internationalise the holy sites is aggressive and a declaration of war against the kingdom," Mr Adel al-Jubeir was quoted as saying on Al Arabiya's website on Sunday. "We reserve the right to respond to anyone who is working on the internationalisation of the holy sites."

But Qatar said it never made such a call.

Saudi Arabia and its allies have boycotted Qatar since June 5, accusing it of backing extremist groups and of ties to Shi'ite-dominated Iran, the regional arch-rival of Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, in the region's worst diplomatic crisis in years.

On July 20, Riyadh said Qataris wanting to perform this year's haj would be allowed to enter the kingdom for the pilgrimage, but imposed certain restrictions.

The Saudi Haj Ministry said Qatari pilgrims arriving by plane must use airlines in agreement with Riyadh. They would also need to get visas on arrival in Jeddah or Medina, their sole points of entry in the kingdom.

The Qatari Islamic Affairs Ministry, in a statement published by the official QNA news agency, said the Saudi side had "refused to communicate regarding securing the pilgrims' safety".

It accused Riyadh of "intertwining politics with one of the pillars of Islam, which may result in depriving many Muslims from performing this holy obligation".

According to the statement, 20,000 Qatari citizens have registered to take part this year. The ministry said it denied Saudi claims that Doha had suspended those registrations.

"The distortion of facts is meant to set obstacles for the pilgrims from Qatar to Mecca, following the crisis created by the siege countries," the Qatari ministry added, referring to Saudi Arabia and its allies.

Some Gulf media claimed the Qatari statement was a call for the "internationalisation" of the management of the haj season, which is run by the Saudi authorities.

But Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani described the claims as "media fabrications".

"There has not been a single statement by a Qatari official concerning the internationalisation of haj," he told Al-Jazeera news channel.

The haj, a pillar of Islam that capable Muslims must perform at least once in a lifetime, is to take place at the beginning of next month.

Saudi Arabia and its allies Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties and imposed sanctions on Doha in June, including the closure of their airspace to Qatari airlines.

Qatar denies the allegations and accuses the Saudi-led bloc of imposing a "siege" on the tiny emirate.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2017, with the headline 'Saudi Arabia hampering haj pilgrims, says Qatar'. Print Edition | Subscribe