Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said Qatar had called for the internationalisation of the Muslim Hajj pilgrimage and called it a declaration of war against the kingdom, but Doha says it never made such a demand.

Around 20,000 Qatari citizens have registered to take part in Hajj this year.
Around 20,000 Qatari citizens have registered to take part in Hajj this year.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister called what he said was Qatar's demand for an internationalisation of the Muslim hajj pilgrimage a declaration of war against the kingdom, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television said on Sunday, but Doha said it never made such a call.

"Qatar's demands to internationalise the holy sites is aggressive and a declaration of war against the kingdom," Adel al-Jubeir was quoted saying on Al Arabiya's website.

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

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani said no official from his country had made such a call.

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

Qatar did accuse the Saudis of politicising hajj and addressed the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion on Saturday, expressing concern about obstacles facing Qataris who want to attend Hajj this year.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain previously issued a list of 13 demands for Qatar, which included curtailing its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, shutting down the Doha-based Al Jazeera channel, closing a Turkish military base and downgrading its relations with Gulf enemy Iran.

On Sunday, foreign ministers of the four countries said they were ready for dialogue with Qatar if it showed willingness to tackle their demands.

Iranian pilgrims return to Hajj

The director of the Hajj at Iran's Hajj and Pilgrimage Organisation, Nasrollah Farahmand announced that approximately 86,500 Iranians are expected to attend the Hajj in Mecca in total this year.

Iran boycotted the Hajj last year, accusing Saudi Arabia of failing to guarantee the safety of its citizens after hundreds of people, many of them Iranians, died in a crush at the pilgrimage in the kingdom in 2015, that was also followed by a diplomatic rift between the two countries who are vying for power and influence in the region.

Riyadh severed diplomatic relations last year after Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran following the execution of a Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia in January 2016.

Source: Reuters