Qatar's foreign minister has rebutted accusations by his Saudi counterpart that Qatar is trying to politicise the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.
Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, appeared to accuse Qatar on Sunday of politicising the issue and "declaring a war" against the kingdom by demanding the internationalisation of the Hajj.
The claim was rejected by Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in an interview with Al Jazeera.
"Qatar never politicised the issue of Hajj," he said.
"It was Saudi Arabia trying to politicise the Hajj pilgrimage amid the Gulf crisis.
"There has been no suggestion by any Qatari official about internationalising the issue."
The Hajj is an annual pilgrimage to Mecca attended by hundreds of thousands of Muslims from around the world.
Jubeir was quoted by Al Arabiya's website as saying: "Qatar's demands to internationalise the holy sites is aggressive and a declaration of war against the kingdom … We reserve the right to respond to anyone who is working on the internationalisation of the holy sites."
In a separate statement in the Bahraini capital of Manama on the same day, Jubeir denied what he called claims that Saudi Arabia was trying to politicise the Hajj.
"We reject attempts by Qatar to politicise the issue and consider it disrespect to the Hajj and pilgrims,” he said.
Qatar accused the Saudis of politicising the Hajj and addressed the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion on Saturday, expressing concern about obstacles facing Qataris who want to attend Hajj this year.
Qataris are allowed to go to Hajj by Saudi authorities, but they can access the country via only two designated airports: King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah and Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz Airport in Medina.
The citizens of Qatar who are abroad will have to return to the country, during the Hajj period at the end of August and beginning of September, to be able to enter Saudi Arabia by way of one of the designated airports.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia's General Authority of Civil Aviation has said Qatar Airways flights are banned even for pilgrims during the Hajj period.
The land border with Saudi Arabia has been closed since June 5, preventing pilgrims from reaching Saudi Arabia via land.
The fact that Qatari diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia are also closed means there is no authority to appeal to for Qataris in case issues come up during Hajj.
The moves are designed "to set obstacles for the pilgrims from Qatar to Mecca", according to Qatar's Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (Awqaf).
'Registrations reach 20,000'
Ali Sultan al-Misifry, director of Hajj and Umrah department at Awqaf, said the number of registrations by national and resident pilgrims had reached 20,000.
"Many of these registrants have joined Hajj campaign to begin their holy ritual. However, then the Saudi ministry’s refusal to communicate and to provide safety guarantees led to the apprehension of the pilgrims," Misifry said, according to Qatari news media.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, 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 and “fights terrorism”.