Saudi Arabia reopens Qatar border to pilgrims


Saudi Arabia's King Salman has ordered the reopening of the border with Qatar to facilitate the annual hajj pilgrimage, state media said Thursday, in the first signs of a thaw after the region's worst diplomatic crisis in years.

The Salwa border crossing had been shut after Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in June, accusing it of supporting and funding Islamist extremist groups.

Now after the meeting between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud and Qatari Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali bin Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, the changed statement has come up, welcoming Qatari pilgrims in the country.

The king also ordered that aircraft from the country's flagship carrier be dispatched to Qatar's capital, Doha, to fly Qatari pilgrims to the Red Sea city of Jiddah - nearest to Mecca - and to host them at his expense for the hajj.

Qatar's National Human Rights Committee had previously said that Saudi Arabia was restricting Qataris' access to the pilgrimage.

The Iraqi leader's "no" came during a meeting with Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa in Baghdad.

Officials from other boycotting Arab states appeared to endorse Saudi Arabia's announcement.

The pilgrims from Qatar are allowed to perform Hajj via Salwa border crossing.

The hajj takes place at the beginning of September this year.

Since the beginning of the siege, the statement said, NHRC "has called for facilitating Haj procedures for citizens and residents of the State of Qatar without restrictions, and also called for regional and global moves to lift the injustice and not to politicise the Haj or use it as leverage against peoples or governments". Saudi Arabia prides itself on hosting millions of pilgrims annually at Islam's holiest sites in Mecca and Medina.

Qatar has denied the allegations, arguing that the sanctions aim to bring the gas-rich emirate to its knees.

A total of 5, 571 pilgrims from Kaduna State have been transported to Saudi Arabia, the State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board's Spokesman, Yunusa Abdullahi says.