Iran suspends pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia
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.