Iran delegation to visit Saudi over hajj preparations

After stampede that killed hundreds last year, Tehran invited to kingdom in first official trip since ties were severed.

    Iran's hajj department says 461 Iranian pilgrims died in the stampede disaster in 2015 [Ebrahim Noroozi/AP]
    Iran's hajj department says 461 Iranian pilgrims died in the stampede disaster in 2015 [Ebrahim Noroozi/AP]

    Iran plans to send a delegation to Saudi Arabia to discuss new arrangements for the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, the first official visit by either side since ties were severed in January after attacks on diplomatic missions.

    The pilgrimage was marred last September by a deadly crush that killed hundreds of people, many of them Iranians, which drove up tensions between the two Middle Eastern powers.

    The head of Iran's hajj organisation, Saeed Ohadi, said Saudi authorities had invited Tehran to send a delegation to Riyadh on April 14 to discuss preparations for hajj, which is expected to fall again in September this year.

     Saudi Arabia orders probe into deadly Hajj stampede

    Ohadi told state news agency IRNA the Iranian delegation members were still waiting for their visas and were expecting to meet the Saudi hajj minister.

    "The fate of this year's hajj will be decided in this meeting," Ohadi said, according to Iran's Tasnim news agency.

    Saudi officials could not immediately be reached for a comment.

    Deadly disaster

    Saudi Arabia has faced heavy criticism for its handling of the crush last year, in which up to 2,070 people were believed to have been killed according to a Reuters news agency tally, making it one of the deadliest hajj disasters in recent memory.

    Saudi officials have stood by their official counts of 769 dead and 934 injured.

    READ MORE: Saudi Mufti says hajj stampede was beyond human control

    Saudi King Salman ordered an investigation into the causes of the crush, which occurred as two groups of pilgrims converged at a crossroads in a tent city outside Mecca. But more than six months after the disaster, no findings have been published.

    Iranian officials have accused Riyadh of mishandling the response and complained of delays in repatriating the bodies of the 461 Iranian nationals who died in Mecca.

    The disaster exacerbated tensions between Riyadh and Tehran, as many of the pilgrims killed were Iranian.

    Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran after demonstrators angry at the execution of a prominent Shia cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, attacked Saudi diplomatic missions.

    Saudi Arabia has also led Gulf Arab states to declare the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah group, an ally of Iran, a "terrorist" organisation.

    Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz, who is also the interior minister and head of the Supreme Hajj Committee, vowed at a recent hajj committee meeting to "firmly deal" with any attempt to undermine security at the pilgrimage, according to Saudi media.

     Mecca and the media - The Listening Post

    SOURCE: Reuters


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