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Gulf diplomatic crisis: Saudi Arabia accuses Qatar of blocking planes from transporting hajj pilgrims

Qatar has blocked Saudi planes from transporting hajj pilgrims, Saudi state media said, after Riyadh reopened the border despite a major diplomatic crisis roiling the Gulf.

Riyadh last week reopened its 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.

“Qatari authorities have not allowed the aircraft to land as it did not have the right paperwork, although the paperwork was filed days ago,” the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.

“Saudi Arabian Airlines director general Saleh al-Jasser has said that the airline has thus far been unable to schedule flights to transport Qatari pilgrims from Hamad International Airport in Doha,” SPA added.

The reopening of the border initially sparked hope of a thawing in the Gulf crisis, which saw Saudi Arabia and its allies cut diplomatic ties with Doha in June over accusations that the emirate supported Islamist extremists. Qatar has denied the allegation.

But even as Doha cautiously welcomed the reopening of the border, it blasted the move as “politically motivated”. Doha has also accused Riyadh of jeopardising the pilgrimage to Mecca by refusing to guarantee the safety of Qatari citizens. Its delay – or refusal – to grant landing rights to Saudi planes could now further stoke tensions.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar on June 5 in what has become the worst political crisis to grip the Gulf region in decades. Saudi Arabia last month said Qatari pilgrims would be allowed to enter the kingdom for hajj this year but imposed several travel restrictions, including flying in only on airlines approved by Riyadh.

The hajj, a pillar of Islam that capable Muslims must perform at least once, is to take place this year at the start of September and it is expected to draw around two million Muslims from around the world.

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