Iran pilgrims to join this year’s Haj

-File Photo

RIYADH: Iranian pilgrims will participate in this year’s Haj, Saudi Arabia said on Friday, despite ruptured ties between the regional rivals. For the first time in nearly three decades Iran’s pilgrims — which would have numbered about 60,000 — did not attend last year’s Haj after Riyadh and Tehran failed to agree on security and logistics.

But after talks between the two sides, the Iranians will join this year’s ritual which takes place at the beginning of September.

“The ministry of Haj and the Iranian organisation have completed all the necessary measures to ensure Iranian pilgrims perform Haj 1438 according to the procedures followed by all Muslim countries,” the official Saudi Press Agency said, referring to this year in the Islamic calendar.

The Haj ministry said that the kingdom welcomes “all pilgrims from all the different nationalities and backgrounds”.

Iran rejects accusations of regional aggression and says Riyadh must stop its alleged support for Sunni “terrorists” like the IS and Al Qaeda.

Although the verbal sparring continued, Saudi media reported in December that the Saudi minister-in-charge of pilgrimages, Mohammed Bentin, had invited Iran to discuss arrangements for this year’s Haj. An Iranian delegation visited Saudi Arabia in February for talks with Bentin.

In early March, Iran said there had been progress. “Most of the questions up for discussion have been resolved and a couple of issues are remaining,” Iran’s ISNA news agency quoted Ali Ghazi Askar, the Iranian supreme leader’s representative for Haj affairs, as saying. “If those questions are resolved, we hope pilgrims will soon be sent to Saudi Arabia.”

A major issue was compensation for the families of hundreds of people killed in a stampede during the 2015 Haj. Iran says 464 of its citizens died in the disaster.

Despite agreement on the Haj, Riyadh maintains its criticism of Iran, as highlighted in talks on Tuesday between Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US President Donald Trump. The two leaders “noted the importance of confronting Iran’s destabilising regional activities”, the White House said. -AFP