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Saudi King Salman invites Qatar pilgrims to Hajj

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Saudi Arabia had closed its land border with Qatar in June as part of an economic and political blockade.

Muslims from around the world gather in Mecca to perform the annual Hajj [Reuters]
Muslims from around the world gather in Mecca to perform the annual Hajj [Reuters]

Saudi Arabia will open its land border with Qatar to allow Hajj pilgrims to pass through, its official press agency said.

A statement on the official Saudi Press Agency on Thursday said the Salwa border point would be open for Qatari citizens who wish to perform the annual pilgrimage to pass through with no electronic permissions needed.

The statement added that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has invited Qatari pilgrims to perform this year’s Hajj pilgrimage at his expense.

King Salman also ordered that private jets belonging to Saudi airlines be sent to Doha airport “to bring all Qatari pilgrims on his expenses”.

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The Salwa border crossing had been shut after Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing Doha of supporting “terrorism”. Qatar denies the accusations.

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Jeddah is the airport hub for pilgrims travelling to Mecca and Medina to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Under the same royal directive, Qatari citizens will also be transported to Mecca from King Fahad airport and Ihsaa airport in the east of the country.

There has been no reaction yet by Qatar’s government to the announcement.

Last month, Saudi Arabia said Qataris wanting to perform this year’s Hajj would be allowed to enter the kingdom, but imposed certain restrictions including that those arriving by plane must use airlines in agreement with Riyadh.

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Qatari authorities had subsequently accused Saudi Arabia of politicising hajj and jeopardising the pilgrimage to Mecca by refusing to guarantee their pilgrims’ safety.

Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) demanded on Saturday that Saudi Arabia lift all land and air restrictions on Qatar-based pilgrims traveling to Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage.

Saudi Arabia, along with Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE blocked direct air and land transportation to and from Qatar, as well as closed airspace for all Qatar Airways flights after severing ties with its Gulf neighbour in June.

As part of the blockade, the Saudi-led group also asked all Qatari nationals to leave their countries.

Doha did not impose similar restrictions on the four Arab nations.

‘No pilgrimage without lifting the siege’

Qatari journalist and the editor-in-chief of Al-Arab daily, Abdallah Al-AlAthbah, told Al Jazeera that the decision of the Saudi king to let Qatari pilgrims cross over the border without electronic permits is a positive step and signals backing from politicising the Hajj.

Meanwhile, Qataris are criticising the Saudi royal move on Twitter, using the hashtag ‘No pilgrimage without lifting the siege’.

One Twitter user said: “There are no assurances that Qatar pilgrims will not be arrested on charges of terrorism or harassment.”

Another tweeted: “The trust is gone. We will only go if we can fly on our planes and with our money. We don’t need charity from anyone.”

Social media users said Hajj takes place in the House of Allah and should not be traded by the Saudi government through “this royal gesture of generosity”

Others raised concern about lodging and security.

Muslims are expected to perform the Hajj, one of Islam’s five pillars, at least once in their lifetime, provided they are fit enough and have the financial means to do so.

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Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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