04/07/2016, 15.52
IRAN – SAUDI ARABIA
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Signs of a thaw between Tehran and Riyadh

An Iranian delegation is set to meet with the Saudi Hajj minister to discuss the resumption of travel by Iranians to Makkah after they were interrupted following last year’s stampede that led to the death of more than 2,000 people, including 136 Iranians.

Teheran (AsiaNews) – Iran is sending a delegation to meet Saudi officials next week to discuss arrangements for this year's hajj.

As one of the five pillars of Islam, the annual pilgrimage to Makkah must be carried out by all adult Muslims in good health at least once in their lifetime.

Saudi Arabia has often used the event for political purposes. For example, Syrians have not been allowed to travel to the Muslim holy cities for many years.

The visit by an Iranian delegation is the first since a tragic stampede during last year’s pilgrimage (pictured) caused the death of thousands of people.

The head of Iran’s haj organisation, Saeed Ohadi, told state news agency IRNA that the Iranian delegation was still waiting for their visas and were expecting to meet the Saudi haj minister.

"The fate of this year’s haj will be decided in this meeting," Ohadi said, quoted by the Tasnim news agency.

AsiaNews has not been able so far to get any confirmation or denial from the Saudis.

In September 2015, up to 2,070 people when a crowd stampeded, Reuters reported, making it one of the deadliest haj disasters in recent history. However, the Saudi official death toll is 769 pilgrims killed.

Iranian pilgrims suffered the highest number of casualties with 136 dead, 102 injured, and 344 missing. The latter include some prominent people, like Iran’s former ambassador to Lebanon.

Reacting to the incident, Tehran accused Riyadh of mismanagement and incompetence, suggesting even that the incident was premeditated. In fact, by closing a street, Saudi officials caused people to crush into each other.

As a result of this, relations between the two rivals have further deteriorated.

For decades, the two have vied for regional hegemony on several fronts, namely Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen.

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