Saudis Send Invitation for Hajj Talks
Iran confirmed receiving an invitation to discuss preparations for the next annual hajj pilgrimage from Saudi Arabia. Seyyed Ali Qazi-Askar, the representative of the Leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei on hajj affairs, said on Monday Iran had officially received Saudi Arabia's invitation to hold bilateral talks on the hajj, Press TV reported.
He said the talks would focus on accommodation, transportation, safety, medical care, visas and banking, and that Iran would respond to the invitation in the next few days. Last week, a senior Iranian official denied reports that Saudi Arabia had invited Iran to discuss the resumption of Iranians' participation in the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
Hamid Mohammadi, the head of Iran's Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization, had said, "Contrary to the report published by some media outlets about the extension of an invitation by Saudi Arabia for Iran's participation in this year's hajj rituals, we have received no invitation."
In September 2015, a deadly human crush occurred during hajj rituals in Mina, near Mecca. Days into the incident, Saudi Arabia published a death toll of 770 but refused to update it despite the surge in fatality figures from individual countries whose nationals had been among the victims of the crush. Iran said about 4,700 people, including over 465 of its own nationals, lost their lives in the incident.
Earlier the same month, a massive construction crane had collapsed into Mecca's Grand Mosque, killing more than 100 pilgrims, including 11 Iranians, and injuring over 200 others, among them 32 Iranian nationals. Serious questions were raised about the competence of Saudi authorities in managing the hajj rituals in the wake of the incidents. In the face of Saudi refusal to guarantee the safety of Iranian pilgrims, officials of the Islamic Republic decided to halt pilgrimages over security concerns.
Saudi Arabia unilaterally severed its diplomatic ties with Iran in January last year after protesters outraged by the execution by Riyadh of prominent Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr attacked its diplomatic premises in Tehran and Mashhad.