Saudi Arabia says calls for internationalisation of holy sites 'a declaration of war'

Muslim worshippers pray at the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on June 23, 2017.
Muslim worshippers pray at the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on June 23, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

DUBAI (REUTERS) - Saudi Arabia's foreign minister called Qatar's demands for an internationalisation of the Muslim hajj pilgrimage a declaration of war against the kingdom, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television said on Sunday (July 30), although it was unclear whether Qatar had actually made any such demand.

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

However, it was unclear whether Qatar made the demand. It did accuse the Saudis of politicising the Hajj and addressed the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion on Saturday, expressing concern about obstacles facing Qataris who want to attend hajj this year.

No one from the Qatari government was immediately available for comment.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain have previously issued a list of 13 demands for Qatar, which include curtailing its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, shutting down the Doha-based Al Jazeera channel, closing a Turkish military base and downgrading its relations with Gulf enemy Iran.

On Sunday, foreign ministers of the four countries said they were ready for dialogue with Qatar if it showed willingness to tackle their demands.