Iran boycotts Hajj as relations with Saudi Arabia deteriorate

Iran has said its pilgrims would not attend the annual hajj pilgrimage, blaming regional rival Saudi Arabia for “sabotage” and failing to guarantee the safety of pilgrims.

Saudi Arabia, which oversees the pilgrimage to Mecca by more than 2 million Muslims from around the world, accused Iran of depriving its citizens of the religious duty by refusing to sign a memorandum reached after talks with Iran’sHajj and Pilgrimage Organisation.

Relations between the two countries have soured since hundreds of Iranians died in a crush in last year’s hajj, and after Riyadh broke off diplomatic ties when its embassy in Tehran was stormed in January after the Saudis executed a Shia cleric.

The dispute is yet another area of discord between the Sunni monarchy of Saudi Arabia and the Shia republic of Iran, which back opposing sides in Syria and other conflicts across the region.

“Due to ongoing sabotage by the Saudi government, it is hereby announced that … Iran’s pilgrims have been denied the privilege to attend the hajj this year, and responsibility for this rests with the government of Saudi Arabia,” Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organisation said in a statement carried by state media on Sunday.

Saudi media earlier said an Iranian delegation had left the kingdom without an agreement over the hajj, the second time the two countries have failed to reach a deal. Riyadh has blamed Tehran for the impasse.

“Saudi Arabia does not prevent anyone from performing the religious duty,” the Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said at a news conference with his visiting British counterpart, Philip Hammond.

“Iran refused to sign the memorandum and was practically demanding the right to hold demonstrations and to have other advantages … that would create chaos during hajj, which is not acceptable,” he added.

Iran’s culture minister, Ali Jannati, said the issue of ensuring the safety of pilgrims was paramount for Tehran following the death of hundreds of Iranian worshippers last year. “The Saudi government deliberately acted in a way to prevent Iranian pilgrims from … attending hajj this year,” he told Iranian state television.

Eight months after the last hajj, Saudi Arabia has still not published a report into the disaster, at which it said more than 700 pilgrims were killed, the highest death toll at the annual pilgrimage since a crush in 1990.

Iran boycotted the hajj for three years after 402 pilgrims, mostly Iranians, died in clashes with Saudi security forces at an anti-US and anti-Israel rally in Mecca in 1987.

source: The Guardian

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