Saudi border to open for Qatari pilgrims attending Hajj

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Image source, EPA
Image caption, Saudi Arabia had threatened to impose conditions on Qatari pilgrims attending the Hajj in Mecca

Qatar has confirmed that Saudi Arabia will open its border to allow Qatar's Muslim pilgrims to attend the annual Hajj in Mecca beginning this month.

The announcement came after the first high-level meeting between the neighbours since Saudi Arabia and three other states cut all links in June.

They accuse Qatar of aiding terrorists - a charge the emirate denies.

The closure of the Saudi border has forced Qatar to import food by sea and air for its population of 2.7 million.

Qatari pilgrims wishing to attend the Hajj will be able to pass through the Salwa border crossing without needing electronic permits, a statement on the official Saudi Press Agency said. They would also be welcome through Saudi Arabia's airports, it added.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani confirmed the development on a visit to Sweden on Thursday.

He said his government welcomed the measure but labelled both the ban and the backtrack as "politically motivated".

It was a "step forward", he said, adding that any resolution to the Qatar crisis needed "to be based on clear principles of respecting everyone's sovereignty and not interfering in others' affairs".

Last month, Saudi Arabia warned that Qatari pilgrims would face certain restrictions if they wanted to attend the Hajj. Qatar responded by accusing Riyadh of politicising the Hajj, and the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion expressed concern at Saudi Arabia's measures.

But the Saudi change of heart came after a meeting between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud and Qatari Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali bin Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani.

Observers say that, despite this goodwill gesture, the dispute between Qatar and its neighbours, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates is far from over.

On Wednesday, Bahrain's state TV channel accused Qatar of plotting with the kingdom's main opposition grouping to stoke anti-government unrest in 2011.

Saudi Arabia 'returns to reason'

Regional reaction by BBC Monitoring

Saudi media have been keen to highlight the news. One commentator speaking on Al-Arabiya TV said the whole Arab and Islamic world was "truly happy" with the decision.

UAE State Minister for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeted in praise of Saudi Arabia and said that the "noise Qatar is making and its attempts to politicise Hajj should end after King Salman's generous, patient initiative".

However, the editor-in-chief of pro-government Qatari daily Al-Arab, Abdullah al-Athba, told Al Jazeera TV that the decision reflected Saudi Arabia's "return to the voice of reason", adding that it was stopping its use of "the Two Holy Mosques in politics".

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