In­ter­na­tion­al­iza­tion of hajj dec­la­ra­tion of war: Riyadh

Iran pil­grims re­turn Em­bassy at­tack­ers’ jail up­held Sadr in Saudi Ara­bia

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Saudi Ara­bia’s for­eign min­is­ter called Qatar’s de­mands for an in­ter­na­tion­al­iza­tion of the Mus­lim hajj pil­grim­age a dec­la­ra­tion of war against the king­dom, Saudi-owned Al Ara­biya tele­vi­sion said yes­ter­day, although it was un­clear whether Qatar had ac­tu­ally made any such de­mand. “Qatar’s de­mands to in­ter­na­tion­al­ize 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 in­ter­na­tion­al­iza­tion of the holy sites,” he said.

How­ever, it was un­clear whether Qatar made the de­mand. It did ac­cuse the Saudis of politi­ciz­ing 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 and its al­lies yes­ter­day ac­cused Qatar of com­pli­cat­ing hajj for its cit­i­zens, who can­not take di­rect flights from Doha to Saudi Ara­bia un­der the sanc­tions.

Mean­while, Nearly 90,000 Ira­ni­ans are ex­pected to at­tend the hajj this year, and were due to start ar­riv­ing yes­ter­day, af­ter Tehran boy­cotted the pil­grim­age last year amid ten­sions with Saudi Ara­bia. Around 800 pil­grims were due to leave Iran on three flights to Mad­i­nah yes­ter­day, the di­rec­tor of the hajj at Iran’s Hajj and Pil­grim­age Or­ga­ni­za­tion, Nas­rol­lah Farah­mand told state me­dia.

Ap­prox­i­mately 86,500 Ira­ni­ans are ex­pected to at­tend the hajj in to­tal this year and 800 co­or­di­na­tors have trav­elled to Saudi Ara­bia to help Ira­ni­ans dur­ing the pil­grim­age, he said.

Iran boy­cotted the hajj last year af­ter hun­dreds of peo­ple, many of them Ira­ni­ans, died in a crush at the pil­grim­age in Saudi Ara­bia in 2015, and fol­low­ing a diplo­matic rift be­tween the two coun­tries who are vy­ing for power and in­flu­ence in the re­gion. In a speech to hajj or­ga­niz­ers yes­ter­day, Ira­nian Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei said that Ira­ni­ans would never for­get the “cat­a­strophic events” of 2015 and called on Saudi Ara­bia to en­sure the se­cu­rity of all pil­grims.

“The se­ri­ous and con­stant is­sue for the Is­lamic Repub­lic is the preser­va­tion of the se­cu­rity, dig­nity, wel­fare and com­fort of all pil­grims, par­tic­u­larly Ira­nian pil­grims,” Khamenei said, ac­cord­ing to his of­fi­cial site. “The se­cu­rity of the hajj is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the coun­try where the two no­ble shrines ex­ist.”

Riyadh sev­ered diplo­matic re­la­tions last year af­ter Ira­nian pro­test­ers stormed the Saudi em­bassy in Tehran fol­low­ing the ex­e­cu­tion of a Shi­ite cleric in Saudi Ara­bia in Jan 2016. In Fe­bru­ary this year Iran, which is pre­dom­i­nantly Shi­ite, sent a del­e­ga­tion to Saudi Ara­bia, which is mostly Sunni, that ini­ti­ated the process of Ira­nian pil­grims re­turn­ing for the hajj.

How­ever, ten­sions be­tween the two coun­tries re­main at an all-time high. Last month Ira­nian of­fi­cials pointed a fin­ger at Saudi Ara­bia af­ter Is­lamic State car­ried out at­tacks on the Ira­nian par­lia­ment in Tehran and the shrine of the founder of the Is­lamic Repub­lic, Ay­a­tol­lah Ruhol­lah Khome­ini, that left at least 18 dead. Saudi Ara­bia de­nied any in­volve­ment. Khamenei in his speech yes­ter­day also called on all pil­grims to show their re­ac­tion to the re­cent un­rest at the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and “Amer­ica’s wicked pres­ence in the re­gion” at the hajj, ac­cord­ing to his of­fi­cial web­site. He did not spec­ify what kind of re­ac­tion he ex­pected pil­grims to show.

Later yes­ter­day, Iran’s of­fi­cial IRNA news agency said that an ap­peals court has ap­proved the jail sen­tences for 10 peo­ple charged with at­tack­ing Saudi diplo­matic mis­sions. The re­port said a lawyer as­so­ci­ated with the case said the prison sen­tences for the 10 at­tack­ers, rang­ing from three to six months each, was ap­proved by the ap­peals court. The re­port’s un­named at­tor­ney also noted that four of the de­fen­dants were cler­ics and there­fore would have to ap­pear be­fore the Spe­cial Cler­i­cal Court. The trial be­gan in July 2016. In Jan 2016, pro­test­ers in Iran, an­gered by the ex­e­cu­tion of Shi­ite cleric Sheikh Nimr AlNimr by the Saudi gov­ern­ment, ran­sacked and set fire to the Saudi em­bassy in Tehran and also at­tacked a Saudi con­sulate in the north­east­ern city of Mash­had.

Separately, Iraq’s in­flu­en­tial Shi­ite cleric Muq­tada AlSadr is on a rare visit to Saudi Ara­bia. Sadr’s of­fice re­leased a state­ment yes­ter­day say­ing he’d been in­vited to the Sunni king­dom. Saudi Ara­bia is con­cerned about the in­flu­ence of its ri­val Iran in Iraq, which backs Shi­ite mili­tias fight­ing against the Is­lamic State group there. Sadr is among those who’ve called for the mili­tias to dis­band.

Pan-Arab news­pa­per Asharq Al-Awsat posted a photo on its Twit­ter ac­count of Sadr ar­riv­ing in Saudi Ara­bia and be­ing greeted by Thamer Al-Sab­han, the king­dom’s for­mer am­bas­sador to Iraq and its first to be as­signed to Baghdad af­ter a 25-year break. Sab­han was re­named min­is­ter of state for the Gulf re­gion af­ter ten­sions with the Iraqi gov­ern­ment. He’d claimed that Ira­nian-backed mili­tias were plot­ting to as­sas­si­nate him. — Agen­cies

JEDDAH: Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man (right) re­ceives prom­i­nent Iraqi Shi­ite cleric Mo­q­tada AlSadr yes­ter­day. — AFP

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