Qatar slams hajj curbs, de­nies air ‘cor­ri­dors’ open

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE - — Agen­cies

The Qatari au­thor­i­ties have ac­cused Saudi Ara­bia of jeop­ar­diz­ing the an­nual hajj pil­grim­age to Makkah of Qatari pil­grims by re­fus­ing to guar­an­tee their safety. Saudi Ara­bia and its al­lies have been boy­cotting Qatar since June 5, ac­cus­ing it of back­ing ex­trem­ist groups and of ties to Iran, in the re­gion’s worst diplo­matic cri­sis in years. On July 20, Riyadh said that Qataris want­ing to per­form this year’s hajj would be al­lowed to en­ter the king­dom for the pil­grim­age, but im­posed cer­tain re­stric­tions.

The Saudi hajj min­istry said Qatari pil­grims ar­riv­ing by plane must use air­lines in agree­ment with Riyadh. They would also need to get visas on ar­rival in Jed­dah or Mad­i­nah, their sole points of en­try in the king­dom. The Qatari Is­lamic af­fairs min­istry, in a state­ment pub­lished by the of­fi­cial QNA news agency on Sun­day, said the Saudi side had “re­fused to com­mu­ni­cate re­gard­ing se­cur­ing the pil­grims safety and fa­cil­i­tat­ing their hajj”.

The min­istry ac­cused Riyadh of “in­ter­twin­ing pol­i­tics with one of the pil­lars of Is­lam, which may re­sult in de­priv­ing many Mus­lims from per­form­ing this holy obli­ga­tion”. Ac­cord­ing to the state­ment, 20,000 Qatari cit­i­zens have reg­is­tered to take part this year. The min­istry said it de­nied Saudi claims that Doha had sus­pended those reg­is­tra­tions. “The dis­tor­tion of facts is meant to set ob­sta­cles for the pil­grims from Qatar to Makkah, fol­low­ing the cri­sis cre­ated by the siege coun­tries,” the Qatari min­istry added, re­fer­ring to Saudi Ara­bia and its al­lies.

Some Gulf me­dia claimed the Qatari state­ment was a call for the “in­ter­na­tion­al­iza­tion” of the man­age­ment of the hajj sea­son, which is run by the Saudi au­thor­i­ties. “Any call to in­ter­na­tion­al­ize (the man­age­ment of) hajj is an ag­gres­sive act and a dec­la­ra­tion of war,” Saudi For­eign Min­is­ter Adel Al-Jubeir told Ara­biya news chan­nel on Sun­day. But Qatari For­eign Min­is­ter Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Ab­dul­rah­man Al-Thani de­scribed the claims as “me­dia fab­ri­ca­tions”. “There has not been a sin­gle state­ment by a Qatari of­fi­cial con­cern­ing the in­ter­na­tion­al­iza­tion of hajj,” he told Al-Jazeera news chan­nel.

Qatar’s Na­tional Hu­man Rights Com­mit­tee yes­ter­day said it will com­plain about the Saudi re­stric­tions to the United Na­tions, the Arab League and the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of the Is­lamic Co­op­er­a­tion. “Anti-Qatar rhetoric... threat­ens the se­cu­rity of Qatari pil­grims,” the com­mit­tee said in a state­ment. The hajj, a pil­lar of Is­lam that ca­pa­ble Mus­lims must per­form at least once in a life­time, is to take place this year at the be­gin­ning of Septem­ber.

Saudi Ara­bia and its al­lies Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emi­rates cut diplo­matic ties and im­posed sanc­tions on Doha in June, in­clud­ing the clo­sure of their airspace to Qatari air­lines. The move forced state-backed Qatar Air­ways, one of the re­gion’s big­gest air­lines, to reroute many of its flights and scrap fre­quent routes to ma­jor re­gional des­ti­na­tions such as Dubai.

But the four states said yes­ter­day that they have opened up air routes that Qatari planes can use in case of emer­gency. The United Arab Emi­rates’ for­eign min­istry said that nine cor­ri­dors were be­ing opened in co­or­di­na­tion with the In­ter­na­tional Civil Avi­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion, or ICAO. The of­fi­cial Saudi Press Agency is­sued a sim­i­lar state­ment. Qatar de­nied that any new routes had been made avail­able, how­ever.

In a state­ment cit­ing its Min­istry of Trans­port and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and the Qatar Civil Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity, it said no nav­i­ga­tion an­nounce­ments have been re­leased out­lin­ing the new cor­ri­dors. The min­istry and QCAA al­leged that the anti-Qatar bloc was try­ing to “leak in­cor­rect news” ahead of a meet­ing of the ICAO coun­cil yes­ter­day. The ICAO did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment. The Emi­rati for­eign min­istry said the emer­gency routes in­clude over­seas ar­eas man­aged by the UAE and one over the Mediter­ranean, man­aged by Egypt.

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