Iran suspends flights to Saudi Arabia

Iran suspends flights to Saudi Arabia for year-round Umrah pilgrimage and accuses Saudi security officers of sexually assaulting two Iranian boys amid increase in regional tensions

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Flights from Iran to Saudi Arabia have been suspended by Iran for the year-round Umrah pilgrimage, following allegations that Saudi security officers sexually assaulted two Iranian boys, Iran’s culture minister said on Monday.

The two Iranian boys were returning to Tehran from Saudi Arabia, where they had been on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and were allegedly abused by a Saudi officer conducting a security search at Jeddah airport- according to the Iranian Students News Agency, citing the teenage boys.

Iranian Culture Minister Ali Jannati said the perpetrators were arrested by the Saudi authorities

"Until these guilty people are put on trial and punished, the Umrah will be stopped and Iranian flights will be suspended," he added.

This latest incident seems likely to increase already existing tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia who are at odds over the conflict in Yemen, especially after Saudi Arabia recently launched a military operation against the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthis who captured Yemen’s capital Sanaa in September and later seized the central city of Taiz.

The day after Saudi-led coalition forces began the operation against the Houthis, on March, 26, Iran demanded an immediate halt to the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen.

"Military action, especially military action from outside Yemen, will bear no result but the bloodshed and massacre of the people of Yemen," said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
However, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Monday rejected the call by Iran.

“How can Iran call for us to stop the fighting in Yemen? The fight has been ongoing in Yemen for more than a year,” said Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

After more than two weeks of heavy clashes between Houthi forces and President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s forces, backed by Saudi air strikes, Iran called for the formation of a new Yemeni government and offered to assist in a political transition.

"I had the privilege of participating in the Bonn Conference when we created the Afghan government. Actually we didn't do it, the Afghans did. We can do that in Yemen too," Zarif said Monday in a speech during a two-day visit to Kazakhstan.

The situation in Yemen is getting worsening everyday, pushing the international community to resume dialogue out of fears the already high death toll may further increase.

United Nations Chief Ban Ki-moon said Monday that the number of deaths in Yemen has reached around 600 and 2,000 others have been wounded in the ongoing fighting.

Stating that the country urgently needs a de-escalation and a return to peaceful negotiations, Moon said the crisis should not be allowed to grow into a protracted regional conflict.

"I firmly believe that the U.N.-brokered negotiations remain the best chance to prevent a long drawn out conflict."

TRTWorld and agencies