Published: Fri, August 18, 2017
Markets | By Erika Turner

Saudi Arabia reopens Qatar border for Haj pilgrims

Saudi Arabia reopens Qatar border for Haj pilgrims

A Saudi official named Hussein Al-Sharif, undersecretary of the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, told the Saudi broadcaster Al Arabiya that Saudi has reserved a 4,000 square meter plot for some 2,400 Qatari pilgrims in "the most desirable area" along a primary hajj route.

At a news conference in Sweden, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani called it a "step forward" but warned that it was "politically motivated", the BBC reported. It is the first such crossing since Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries began a blockade on Qatar in June, over claims it supported "terrorists". Saudi Arabia sealed Qatar's only land border. The statement noted that the agreement does not include allowing Qatar Airways flights carrying pilgrims.

"The facilitation of Qatari Hajj pilgrims ordered by King Salman have never been done before for any Islamic country and even under regular circumstances", Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said in a tweet Thursday.

Furthermore, King Salman has ordered the transport of all Qatari pilgrims from King Fahd International Airport in Dammam as well as Al Ahsa International Airport be done free of charge and as part of the King Salman Guests Program for Haj and Umrah.

Observers say that, despite this goodwill gesture, the dispute between Qatar and its neighbours, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE is far from over, the BBC report said. Saudi Arabia prides itself on hosting millions of pilgrims annually at Islam's holiest sites in Mecca and Medina.

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Relations between Qatar and its neighbors have fallen apart since June 5 after the bloc accused the tiny emirate of supporting terrorism.

Qatar's human rights committee had previously filed a complaint with the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of belief and religion over restrictions placed on its nationals who wanted to attend the hajj this year. Mecca is in Saudi Arabia, but Qataris were not allowed to fly there directly from Doha under the sanctions prior to the king's order.

Qatar has denied the allegations.

The source also stressed that the ministry will urge Saudi Arabia to ensure the safety of Qatar's pilgrims.

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