Riyadh, Saudi Arabia | AFP | Saudi Arabia on Thursday ordered the reopening of its border with Qatar to Muslim pilgrims, a move which Doha said was welcome but too little to heal relations between the feuding Gulf neighbours.
The Salwa border crossing, also known as Abu Samrah, a key passage for Muslims on the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, has been closed since June in a diplomatic crisis that saw Riyadh cut ties with Doha over accusations the emirate supported Islamist extremists.
Qatar has denied the allegation and in turn accused Riyadh of restricting its citizens’ right to make the hajj, or annual pilgrimage to Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, located in western Saudi Arabia.
Saudi King Salman authorised “the entry of Qatari pilgrims to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through Salwa border crossing to perform hajj, and to allow all Qatari nationals who wish to enter for hajj without electronic permits”, state news agency SPA announced.
He also ordered that private jets belonging to Saudi airlines be sent to Doha airport “to bring all Qatari pilgrims at his expense”.
Qatar’s foreign minister welcomed the decision but lashed out at Riyadh’s ongoing “politicisation” of religious freedoms.
“Regardless of the manner in which pilgrims from Qatar or living in Qatar were banned from the pilgrimage, which was politically motivated, and the manner in which they were subsequently permitted to make the pilgrimage, which was also politicised and which was announced with other goals in mind… the government of Qatar welcomes the decision and will respond positively,” Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told a press conference in Stockholm.
“What matters to us is the bottom line, which is that our citizens now have a way to attend the hajj, and we uphold our demand that hajj be spared politicisation and remain separate from our political issues.”
The hajj, a pillar of Islam that capable Muslims must perform at least once, is to take place this year at the start of September and it is expected to draw around two million Muslims from around the world.