Qatar slams Saudi pilgrim plan as hajj row escalates

A row between Gulf states Qatar and Saudi Arabia over the transport of hajj pilgrims to Mecca escalated on Monday as Doha denounced current arrangements as “illogical”.

A strongly worded statement from Doha’s foreign ministry said it was surprised that Riyadh had decided to restrict the transport of pilgrims from Qatar to Saudi Arabian Airlines only.

“Limiting the transfer of Qatari pilgrims to Saudi Arabian Airlines only is unprecedented, illogical, surprising and contravenes the teachings of Islam,” said the statement from the ministry’s information office director, Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Rumaihi.

It was the second statement of the day from Qatar on an increasingly contentious issue.

Earlier, Doha had denied a claim from Saudi Arabian Airlines accusing Qatari authorities of refusing to allow one of its flights to land at Hamad International Airport.

An official source in the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority said the claim was “baseless”, according to a report carried on the state-run QNA news agency.

The Saudi accusation of the flight being blocked was made on Sunday.

“Qatari authorities have not allowed the aircraft to land as it did not have the right paperwork, although the paperwork was filed days ago,” the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.

Qatar said the paperwork had been filed to the wrong ministry.

The flight is one of a select few that will allow Qataris to land in Saudi Arabia, after Riyadh decided last week to temporarily reopen its borders to pilgrims from the emirate.

That decision came more than two months into a diplomatic crisis that has seen Saudi Arabia cut all ties and close its border with Qatar.

The hajj to Mecca, the most revered site in Islam, is a pilgrimage that Muslims must perform at least once.

This year’s hajj at the start of September is expected to draw some two million Muslims from around the world.

The pilgrimage has turned into the latest front in an ongoing diplomatic crisis that has seen Saudi Arabia and its allies cut all ties with Doha over accusations of state support for Islamist extremist groups and close ties to Shiite Iran.

Qatar denies the allegations.

Saudi Arabia has said Qatari pilgrims would be allowed to enter the kingdom for this year’s hajj but imposed several travel restrictions, including flying in only on airlines approved by Riyadh.

The move sparked a backlash in Doha, where authorities said the pilgrimage had been used as political ammunition.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar on June 5 in what has become the worst political crisis to grip the Gulf region in decades.

-AFP

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