Iran says it has finally received Saudi Hajj invite

Tehran: Iran said Tuesday it had finally received an official invitation from Saudi Arabia for its pilgrims to attend this year's Hajj, two weeks after Riyadh announced it.

There was no official Iranian delegation at last year's pilgrimage to the Muslim holy places after Saudi Arabia severed relations with Iran following the torching of its missions in Tehran and Mashhad by protesters last January.

It was the first time in three decades that Iranian pilgrims had been absent and the culmination of years of worsening relations over the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

The tone is "not that much different from past letters", hajj affairs representative Ali Ghazi Askar said, adding that Iran would respond in the coming days.

"All matters regarding the Hajj - including accommodation, food, medical affairs, transport, pilgrims' security, banking and consular issues - must immediately be studied and appropriate solutions put forward."

Negotiations for Iranian pilgrims to join last year's hajj broke down over the questions of where their visas should be issued and how their security could be assured following the deaths of 464 in a stampede at the 2015 hajj.

In September 2015, a deadly human crush occurred during Hajj rituals in Mina, near Mecca. Days into the incident, Saudi Arabia published a death toll of 770 but refused to update it despite gradually surging fatality figures from individual countries whose nationals had been among the victims of the crush. Iran said about 4,700 people, including over 465 of its nationals, lost their lives in the incident.

Earlier that same month, a massive construction crane had collapsed into Mecca's Grand Mosque, killing more than 100 pilgrims, including 11 Iranians, and injuring over 200 others, among them 32 Iranian nationals.

Serious questions were raised about the competence of Saudi authorities to manage the Hajj rituals in the wake of the incidents, and, facing Saudi intransigence to cooperate and refusal to guarantee the safety of Iranian pilgrims, officials in the Islamic Republic subsequently decided to halt pilgrimages over security concerns.

Saudi Arabia unilaterally severed its diplomatic ties with Iran in January this year after protests in front of its diplomatic premises in Tehran and Mashhad against the execution by Riyadh of prominent Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.


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