Iran to send pilgrims on Hajj after reaching deal with Saudi

Saudi officials initially blamed Iranian and African pilgrims for the Mina disaster

Iran has said it will send pilgrims to this year’s Hajj after reaching a deal with Saudi Arabia.

The Middle Eastern rivals had a major row after hundreds of Iranian pilgrims were killed on Hajj in 2015, which resulted in Iran declining to send Hajj groups the following year.

Seyyed Ali Qazi-Askar, the representative of Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Hajj and pilgrimage affairs, said the final agreement came about after several bouts of negotiations with the Saudi Hajj minister.

The accord, he said, enables the dispatch of 86,000 Iranians on pilgrimage.

“The Saudis declared that they would take the responsibility and ensure comfort, esteem, dignity, and safety for the Iranian pilgrims while they are in the kingdom.”

In September 2015, a deadly human crush occurred during Hajj rituals in Mina, near Makkah. Saudi Arabia published a death toll of 770 but other sources put the toll in the thousands. Iran said about 465 of its nationals lost their lives in the incident.

Earlier that month, a massive construction crane operated by the Saudi Binladin Group conglomerate collapsed in Makkah’s Grand Mosque, killing more than 100 pilgrims, including 11 Iranians, and injuring over 200 others, 32 of them from Iran.

Concerning the crane crash incident, Qazi-Askar said it has been agreed that the Saudi Binladin group would pay blood money to the victims’ families in two tranches.

Asked if the Hajj agreement was to have any impact on ties between the two countries, he said pilgrimage is a religious obligation that has nothing to do with the status of diplomatic ties.

Saudi Arabia unilaterally severed its diplomatic ties with Iran in January after unruly protests outside 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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