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1.4 million pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia for Hajj pilgrimage

More than two million people are expected at this year's hajj [AFP]

Date of publication: 25 August, 2017

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More than 1.4 million Muslims have so far arrived in Saudi Arabia to prepare for the upcoming annual Hajj pilgrimage, as regional tensions continue to boil.
More than 1.4 million Muslims have arrived in Saudi Arabia for the Hajj so far, authorities said on Thursday, with the annual pilgrimage marked by the return of Iranians after Tehran's boycott last year.

More than two million people are expected to participate in this year's Hajj, a pillar of Islam that capable Muslims must perform at least once in their lives, which starts next week.

"So far 1,313,946 pilgrims have arrived by air, 79,501 by land, and 12,477 by sea – an increase of 33 percent compared with the same period last year," the state-run Saudi Press Agency said, citing passport officials. 

That includes more than 400 Qatari pilgrims, local media reported, despite an intensifying row between Doha and Riyadh over arrangements for the religious event.

All Qatari pilgrims arrived through the Salwa border crossing with Qatar, which was recently opened despite an air, sea and land blockade on the tiny Gulf emirate.

This year's pilgrimage has been clouded by the worst political crisis in the Gulf in decades, with Saudi Arabia leading a four-state bloc that suspended all ties with Doha on June 5 over accusations the emirate backed Islamist extremists.

Qatar has denied the charge and said this week it was worried pilgrims from the emirate would be treated badly.

"Given the current situation, [the ministry] remains concerned and fearful for Qatari pilgrims and a repeat of the harassment of Qatari citizens in June," read the statement.

Early in June, local media reports claimed Qataris were stopped from entering the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

But the Hajj ministry said the kingdom, home to Islam's holiest sites, welcomes all pilgrims from different nationalities.

It also added it was equipped to handle the additional crowds after the completion of expansion works at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the most revered site in Islam.

More than 1.8 million pilgrims took part in last year's Hajj.

But Iran's 64,000 pilgrims stayed away for the first time in three decades after tensions between Riyadh and Tehran boiled over following a deadly stampede during the 2015 pilgrimage.

However, an agreement was reached earlier this year to allow Iranians to take part in the Hajj.

Meanwhile, Iran and Saudi Arabia will soon exchange diplomatic visits, Tehran said this week, in a possible sign of tensions easing after the arch rivals cut ties last year.

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