Gulf row stunts Qatar hajj numbers » Manila Bulletin News

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By Agence France-Presse

Qatar has sent only dozens of its citizens across the border to Saudi Arabia for this week’s hajj pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest sites because of the increasingly bitter crisis between the Gulf neighbors.

The annual pilgrimage that draws two billion Muslim faithful from across the globe and starts this year on Wednesday has become embroiled in a dispute between Doha and Riyadh now nearing its third month.

Qatar’s border crossing that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has ordered temporarily reopened to allow in Qatari pilgrims for the annual hajj to Mecca and Medina.
(AFP/File / KARIM JAAFAR/ MANILA BULLETIN)

Qatar’s only land border, which it shares with Saudi Arabia, has been closed and travel, diplomatic and economic sanctions imposed over charges that Doha supports Islamist extremists and has too close ties to Riyadh’s regional rival Iran.

Doha has strongly denied the accusations.

Impacting on the hajj, only a few dozen Qatari nationals have been able to travel to Mecca and Medina, western Saudi Arabia, according to a member of Qatar’s state-linked National Human Rights Committee (NHRC).

“Through the border, we estimate 60 to 70 people (travelled) last week,” he told AFP. “It’s not an official figure, we are waiting for an official figure.”

Media reports in Saudi Arabia have put the number at up to 1,200 Qataris.

In sharp contrast, 12,000 Qataris took part in last year’s hajj, a pillar of Islam that capable Muslims must perform at least once in their lives, according to the state-run Qatar News Agency.

Politics and paperwork

Saudi Arabia temporarily suspended the border closure on August 17, at the same time as it announced Qatari pilgrims would be allowed into the kingdom for the hajj.

With flights between Qatar and Saudi Arabia suspended and Qatar Airways banned from using Saudi airspace, Riyadh had offered to ferry pilgrims using exclusively Saudi Arabian Airlines planes.

But the offer soon became mired in the diplomatic spat, with Qatar charging that Saudi authorities had politicised a religious right.

The Saudi carrier accused Qatar of refusing to allow its planes to land in the emirate on the grounds that they lacked “the right paperwork”.

In response, Qatar said the Saudi airline had lodged the papers with the wrong government department.

The decision to reopen the border came a day after a surprise meeting between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and a little-known member of Qatar’s royal family, sparking allegations Riyadh was seeking regime change in Doha.

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