Iran sus­pends pil­grim­ages to Saudi Ara­bia

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY NASSER KARIMI

Iran suspended all um­rah pil­grim­ages to Saudi Ara­bia on Mon­day amid grow­ing diplo­matic ten­sions be­tween the two coun­tries, state tele­vi­sion re­ported.

Iran’s Cul­ture Min­istry made the de­ci­sion over al­leged abuse suf­fered by two male Ira­nian pil­grims trav­el­ing through Saudi’s Jed­dah air­port in March try­ing to re­turn home, the sta­tion re­ported.

Cul­ture Min­istry spokesman Hos­sein Nooshabadi told state TV that the pil­grim­age would be suspended un­til the Saudi gov­ern­ment “ap­plies a strong at­ti­tude” to the case. He also said “cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment” should ap­ply to the case, with­out of­fer­ing fur­ther de­tails.

The al­leged abuse, the de­tails of which have not been pub­licly dis­closed, sparked unau­tho­rized protests at the Saudi Em­bassy in Tehran on Satur­day. Public anger has grown over the in­ci­dent, with Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani order­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion and Iran’s For­eign Min­istry sum­mon­ing a Saudi diplo­mat for an ex­pla­na­tion.

But what ac­tu­ally hap­pened re­mains un­clear. On Mon­day, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Iran’s top leader on hajj af­fairs down­played the case, say­ing the pil­grims weren’t abused, the semi-of­fi­cial Fars news agency re­ported.

“In the in­ci­dent, no abuse has hap­pened and the two po­lice­men who at­tempted abuse were iden­ti­fied and de­tained by Saudi po­lice,” Ali Ghazi­as­gar was quoted as say­ing.

Saudi of­fi­cials haven’t com­mented pub­licly on the dis­pute. Ear­lier this month, avi­a­tion au­thor­i­ties in the king­dom turned away an Ira­nian plane car­ry­ing pil­grims, say­ing it did not have per­mis­sion to use the coun­try’s airspace, the of­fi­cial Saudi Press Agency re­ported.

Ten­sions be­tween Shi­ite power Iran and the Sunni king­dom of Saudi Ara­bia have es­ca­lated over Saudi- led airstrikes in Ye­men tar­get­ing Shi­ite rebels known as Houthis. The U.S., West­ern coun­tries and Sunni Arab na­tions in­volved in the Saudi-led coali­tion have ac­cused Iran of sup­port­ing the Houthis mil­i­tar­ily, some­thing both the rebels and the Is­lamic Repub­lic deny.

On Mon­day, hun­dreds of stu­dents staged an­other demon­stra­tion in front of the Saudi em­bassy in Tehran, protest­ing the airstrike cam­paign in Ye­men.

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