Amid dispute, Saudi Arabia opens border to Qataris for pilgrimage

By Andrew V. Pestano Follow @AVPLive9 Contact the Author   |  Aug. 17, 2017 at 8:51 AM
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Aug. 17 (UPI) -- Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz said Thursday he will open his country's border with Qatar -- amid a months-long diplomatic standoff -- to allow Hajj pilgrims to enter the Kingdom, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

The Qatari citizens will be granted entry through the Salwa Al-Bari Port border crossing to perform the annual pilgrimage, without needing electronic permission.

SPA reported Wednesday that Salman will allow the entry, which will be enforced by Saudi Arabia's Directorate General of Passports with "full hospitality at his expense."

Salman's order comes as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt are engaged in a diplomatic row with Qatar. The four countries, which have largely boycotted Qatar, accuse the country of supporting terrorism.

SPA said the king's decision was "based on the mediation efforts of Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali bin Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, a member of Qatar's ruling family."

Salman dispatched Saudi Airlines planes to Hamad International Airport in Qatar to transport all pilgrims at his own expense to the city of Jeddah.

In June, the four nations broke off diplomatic relations with Doha's government. Saudi Arabia closed its land border and the other nations cut air and sea links. Also, Qatari expatriates were expelled from those countries.

The four nations also have accused Qatar of complicating the Hajj -- the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca -- for its citizens. Mecca is in Saudi Arabia, but Qataris were not allowed to fly there directly from Doha under the sanctions prior to the king's order.

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