TEHERAN • With Iranians blocked from this month's haj pilgrimage, their Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a furious rebuke to rival Saudi Arabia, saying the Muslim world should challenge its management of Islam's holiest sites.
"Saudi rulers... who have blocked the proud and faithful Iranian pilgrims' path to the Beloved's House, are disgraced and misguided people who think their survival on the throne of oppression is dependent on defending the arrogant powers of the world, on alliances with Zionism and the US," Ayatollah Khamenei wrote in a message on his website.
He accused Saudi Arabia's ruling family, the custodians of Islam's holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, of politicising the annual pilgrimage, due to start at the end of the week, turning themselves into "small and puny Satans who tremble for fear of jeopardising the interests of the Great Satan (the United States)".
HARSH WORDS FOR SAUDI RULERS
Saudi rulers... who have blocked the proud and faithful Iranian pilgrims' path to the Beloved's House, are disgraced and misguided people who think their survival on the throne of oppression is dependent on defending the arrogant powers of the world, on alliances with Zionism and the US.
SUPREME LEADER AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI, rebuking Saudi Arabia for blocking Iranians from the haj.
For the first time in almost three decades, Iranians have been effectively barred from participating in this year's pilgrimage to Mecca. That was announced in May after the two countries failed to agree on the haj memorandum of understanding that is signed annually with more than 70 countries.
But even by recent standards, with relations between the rival Middle Eastern powers at an all-time low, the language was tough. "Because of the Saudi rulers' oppressive behaviour towards God's guests, the world of Islam must fundamentally reconsider the management of the two holy places and the issue of haj," Ayatollah Khamenei wrote.
He reserved some of his harshest words for Riyadh's response to a deadly stampede during last year's haj that killed some 2,300 foreign pilgrims, including an estimated 464 Iranians. "Instead of an apology, remorse and judicial prosecution of those who were directly at fault... Saudi rulers, with utmost shamelessness and insolence, refused to allow the formation of an international Islamic fact-finding committee," he said.
"The hesitation and failure to rescue the half-dead and injured people... is... incontrovertible," he added. "They murdered them."
Iran is particularly opposed to the Saudi monarchy's close relationship with Washington and Israel. Ayatollah Khamenei wrote: "They have placed pilgrims from the participating countries under unprecedented surveillance with the help of the spy agencies of the US and Zionist regime. They have made the divine sanctuary unsafe for everybody."
In January, Saudi-Iran relations were severed after Iranian demonstrators torched the Saudi embassy and a consulate, following the kingdom's execution of a prominent Shi'ite cleric.