Iran threat­ens ac­tion over hajj tragedy

As ten­sions mount be­tween Mideast na­tions

SundayXtra - - WORLD - By Ali Ak­bar Dareini

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran on Satur­day vowed to take in­ter­na­tional le­gal ac­tion against Saudi Ara­bia’s rulers over the crush of Mus­lim pil­grims at this year’s hajj, which killed at least 769 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 136 Ira­ni­ans, and has led to an es­ca­la­tion of ten­sions be­tween the re­gional archri­vals.

Saudi Ara­bian For­eign Min­is­ter Adel Al- Jubeir later re­sponded to Iran’s crit­i­cism, telling re­porters in New York that “I be­lieve that the Ira­ni­ans should know bet­ter than to play pol­i­tics with a tragedy that has be­fallen peo­ple who were per­form­ing their most sa­cred re­li­gious duty, which is the pil­grim­age.”

The pil­grims suf­fo­cated or were tram­pled to death Thurs­day when two mas­sive crowds con­verged on a nar­row street in the worst dis­as­ter to oc­cur dur­ing the an­nual pil­grim­age in a quar­ter-cen­tury. Shi­ite Iran has ac­cused Sunni Saudi Ara­bia of mis­man­ag­ing the pil­grim­age, which an­nu­ally draws some two mil­lion peo­ple from 180 coun­tries.

Ira­ni­ans com­prise the largest group of ca­su­al­ties iden­ti­fied so far. Ira­nian state TV says a for­mer am­bas­sador to Le­banon, as well as two Ira­nian state TV re­porters and a prom­i­nent po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst are among those still miss­ing. The semi- of­fi­cial Fars news agency said a for­mer am­bas­sador to Slove­nia was among the dead.

“Un­der in­ter­na­tional law, this in­ci­dent is ab­so­lutely sub­ject to pros­e­cu­tion. The Al- Saud must be re­spon­sive,” Iran’s State Pros­e­cu­tor Ebrahim Raisi told state TV, re­fer­ring to Saudi Ara­bia’s rul­ing fam­ily.

He said Saudi author­i­ties blocked a road used by hajj pil­grims to al­low a royal con­voy to pass through, caus­ing the deadly con­ver­gence in the town of Mina on the out­skirts of Mecca.

“They have to know that we will pur­sue the trial of Al- Saud for the crime they have com­mit­ted against the hajj pil­grims through in­ter­na­tional courts and or­ga­ni­za­tions.”

Nei­ther Iran nor Saudi Ara­bia is a state party to the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court, and only the court’s pros­e­cu­tor can file charges. Iran could try to file a case at the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice, which han­dles dis­putes be­tween na­tions but does not mete out crim­i­nal jus­tice.

Saudi Ara­bia has not re­sponded to the Ira­nian ac­cu­sa­tions re­gard­ing the con­voy. Saudi In­te­rior Min­istry spokesman Maj. Gen. Man­sour al-Turki told The As­so­ci­ated Press a VIP con­voy trav­el­ling through Mina on Thurs­day, which in­cluded for­eign dig­ni­taries, had noth­ing to do with the in­ci­dent and was in a dif­fer­ent part of town. He said VIPs use their own roads in Mina.

Iran and Saudi Ara­bia are bit­terly di­vided on a host of re­gional is­sues and sup­port op­po­site sides in the wars rag­ing in Syria and Ye­men. The ac­cu­sa­tions of mis­man­age­ment of the pil­grim­age strike at a key pil­lar of the Saudi royal fam­ily’s pres­tige — King Sal­man holds the ti­tle of the “cus­to­dian of the two holy mosques.”

Iran’s Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani be­gan an ad­dress to the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly on Satur­day by ex­press­ing “re­gret over the heart-rend­ing in­ci­dent,” em­pha­siz­ing the “need for swift at­ten­tion” to an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into “this in­ci­dent and other sim­i­lar in­ci­dents in this year’s hajj.”

The Saudi for­eign min­is­ter, speak­ing to re­porters on the side­lines of his meet­ing with U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry, said “We will re­veal the facts when they emerge. And we will not hold any­thing back. If mis­takes were made, who made them will be held ac­count­able. And we will make sure that we will learn from this, and we will make sure that it doesn’t hap­pen again.”

Kerry then said, “I think all of us are re­ally fo­cused on the loss of life and not on point­ing fin­gers.” He added, “I’m glad that the min­is­ter has spo­ken to the ac­count­abil­ity Saudi Ara­bia will en­gage in.”

Rouhani told a group of ed­i­tors Fri­day both the stam­pede and the col­lapse of a crane on the Grand Mosque in Mecca ear­lier this month — which killed another 111 peo­ple — sug­gested “in­ep­ti­tude” on the part of Saudi author­i­ties.

Iran’s For­eign Min­istry mean­while sum­moned the Saudi chargé d’af­faires for a third time in three days to protest Riyadh’s han­dling of the dis­as­ter. State TV said Saudi Ara­bia has yet to is­sue visas for an Ira­nian del­e­ga­tion to visit the king­dom to over­see the treat­ment of in­jured Ira­ni­ans and the repa­tri­a­tion of re­mains.

The Saudi Health Min­istry said Satur­day on Twit­ter the toll from the hajj dis­as­ter stood at 769 pil­grims killed and 934 in­jured, up­dat­ing pre­vi­ous fig­ures. It did not pro­vide the na­tion­al­i­ties of the dead and in­jured.

Ira­nian state TV said 136 Ira­nian pil­grims were among the dead and 85 were in­jured, while 344 Ira­ni­ans re­main miss­ing.

The hajj is one of the five pil­lars of Is­lam, and all able-bod­ied Mus­lims are re­quired to make the pil­grim­age to Mecca at least once in their lives.

On Satur­day, the fi­nal day of the hajj, pil­grims streamed into Mina’s Ja­ma­rat, a multi-storey com­plex with crowd-mon­i­tor­ing tech­nol­ogy and wide ramps for large crowds to per­form the fi­nal rites of the pil­grim­age.

Mus­lims be­lieve the devil tried to talk the Prophet Ibrahim, or Abra­ham as he is known in the Bi­ble, out of sub­mit­ting to God’s will in Mina. In one of the fi­nal steps of the hajj, pil­grims throw stones at three large pil­lars in a sym­bolic cast­ing away of evil.

VAHID SALEMI / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ira­nian wor­ship­pers chant slo­gans de­nounc­ing the rulers of the Saudi king­dom.

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