Saudi says arrangements complete for Iranian haj pilgrims

  • World
  • Friday, 17 Mar 2017

Muslim pilgrims walk on roads as they head to cast stones at pillars symbolizing Satan during the annual haj pilgrimage in Mina on the second day of Eid al-Adha, near the holy city of Mecca September 13, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia said on Friday it had completed all necessary arrangements for Iranian pilgrims to attend the annual haj pilgrimage, the official SPA news agency said, an issue that has created tensions between the two regional powers in the past.

The news agency said the arrangements were completed after a meeting took place with an Iranian delegation on February 23.

Iran's Tasnim news agency said on March 5 that the country would send around 80,000 pilgrims this year.

Saudi Arabia oversees more than two million Muslims from around the world making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the five pillars of Islam which every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to is obliged to undertake at least once.

Relations between mainly Shi'ite Muslim Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, which back rival sides in several Middle East conflicts, worsened after hundreds of people including Iranians died in a crush at the 2015 event.

Riyadh said 769 pilgrims were killed in the 2015 disaster - the highest haj death toll since a crush in 1990. Counts of fatalities by countries who repatriated bodies showed over 2,000 people may have died, more than 400 of them Iranians.

Iran blamed the disaster on what it called the organisers' incompetence, and it boycotted last year's haj.

Ties worsened further when Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia executed a Shi'ite cleric in January 2016, angry Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and Riyadh severed diplomatic relations.

(Reporting By Sami Aboudi; Writing By Maha El Dahan; Editing by Julia Glover)

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