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Saudi Arabia, Qatar spar over 'politicization' of hajj pilgrimage

Muslim pilgrims circle around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque, in the Saudi city of Mecca, during the last day of the hajj on September 14, 2016
Ahmad Gharabli (AFP)
Saudi Arabia says that calls to internationalize holy sites are 'a declaration of war' against the Kingdom

Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Qatar showed no signs of easing of easing ahead of the Muslim hajj pilgrimage to Mecca next month, with the two nations this week each accusing the other of politicizing the holy rite.

Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir on Monday charged that Qatar has called for the internationalization of the annual pilgrimage, which he said was a declaration of war against the Kingdom.

"Qatar's demands to internationalize the holy sites is aggressive and a declaration of war against the kingdom," Adel al-Jubeir was quoted as saying by the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news site.

"We reserve the right to respond to anyone who is working on the internationalization of the holy sites," he said.

Al-Jubeir's Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani responded that no official from his country had made any such demand.

"We are tired of responding to false information and stories invented from nothing," Sheikh Mohammed told the Doha-based Al Jazeera TV.

Mohammed Al-Shaikh (AFP/File)

Qatar did, however, accuse Saudi Arabia of politicizing the hajj in an address to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion on Saturday, raising concerns about obstacles facing Qataris who wish to participate in the pilgrimage amid a diplomatic spat between the emirate and a bloc of Gulf Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia and its allies on Sunday accused Qatar of complicating Hajj for its citizens, who cannot take direct flights from Doha to Saudi Arabia under the sanctions.

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.

Mohamed El-Shahed (AFP)

"The distortion of facts is meant to set obstacles for the pilgrims from Qatar to Mecca, following the crisis created by the siege countries," the Qatari ministry added, referring to Saudi Arabia and its allies.

Regional kingpin Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt broke ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing the emirate of fostering Islamist extremist groups and of ties to Saudi arch-rival Iran.

Qatar has denied the allegations.

The Saudi-led bloc in June issued the list of demands for the lifting of sanctions, including the termination of regional news giant Al-Jazeera, the downgrading of ties to Iran and the closure of a Turkish military base in the country.

The four Arab states have recalled their ambassadors from Doha, ordered all Qataris to return home and banned Qatar from using their airspace.

Qatar accuses the bloc of imposing a "blockade" on the tiny emirate and has rejected the demands as a violation of its sovereignty.

(Staff with agencies)

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