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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Saudi Arabia offers visas on arrival for Qatari Hajj pilgrims 

The move is aimed at providing routes for thousands of Qataris expected to perform Hajj 
An aerial view of the holy Kaaba and the Grand Mosque compound during the Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah.  EPA/MAST IRHAM

Saudi Arabia will provide Hajj visas for Qatari nationals on-arrival, saying that Doha had been attempting to block access to citizens wishing to perform the holy pilgrimage later this month.

This week, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umra countered Qatari claims that the kingdom was blocking access to websites used to register for Hajj visas by officially allowing citizens to obtain permits at the King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah.

The ministry provided photos of the offices that will be responsible for Qatari pilgrims during their stay in Makkah and an official statement saying that Qataris will be granted passage, despite a diplomatic dispute between Riyadh and Doha.

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An official at the ministry told The National, that it is Saudi Arabia’s duty to “provide every necessary measure for all our Muslim brothers around the world to perform Hajj”.

This comes after reports that Doha blocked a website set up by the ministry to allow Qataris to apply for the Hajj visa. Saudi Arabia launched another website, which again, was made inaccessible by Qatari authorities, Saudi Arabia said.

The site is intended to help Qataris perform the Hajj, an obligatory pilgrimage for all able-bodied Muslims and one of the five pillars of Islam, despite Saudi Arabia being embroiled in a diplomatic stand-off with its neighbour.

A statement on the Hajj Media Service, the official website for all news on Hajj, said that preparation was in place to receive Qatari pilgrims.

“Qataris can come on all airlines, except for Qatari Airlines, and that Qataris living in the Kingdom (of Saudi Arabia) can apply through the website set up for Qatari citizens,” a statement on the website said.

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Saudi Arabia, along with the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, have made no diplomatic contact with Qatar since June 2017. Direct flights between the quartet and Qatar have stopped running since the boycott, but citizens can still fly to Jeddah via Muscat or Kuwait City.

Last year, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman, reopened Saudis land border with Qatar and allocated seven flights of the Saudi national carrier to bring pilgrims from Doha, in a temporary lifting of a weeks-long boycott of its Gulf neighbour.

Officials from the quartet have been clear on their stance, saying the boycott is not intended for the Qatari people but for the leadership in Doha, whom they accuse of supporting terrorism and interfering in the domestic affairs of their neighbours.

Saudi Arabia has also made similar concessions for Iranian nationals, despite the two countries being regional adversaries. Tens of thousands of Iranians have been granted the right to perform the mandatory Hajj.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have had no diplomatic relations since 2016.

Qatar, however, has claimed that their treatment of Iran has been more favourable than that of Qataris, a claim Saudi Arabia has denied.

"The Qatari government’s decision bars its citizens from performing the rituals of Hajj, and regardless of all the justifications it touted, it shows a clear absence of informed vision that can differentiate between what is political and what is more important," said Dr Anwar Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs earlier this week.

The Qatari foreign minister has said that Saudi Arabia has “politicised” Hajj, in a statement that angered authorities in the kingdom. Last year, Foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir accused Qatar of attempting to "internationalise" the administration of the holy sites in Saudi Arabia and warned this would be considered a "declaration of war".

Officially, no country is barred from sending its citizens to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage.

The country takes measures to allocate visas to all countries where citizens are looking to perform Hajj.