18 August Doha (Qatar)-The Qatari foreign minister on Thursday welcomed Saudi Arabia’s decision to reopen the two countries’ border to Muslim pilgrims, while lashing out at Riyadh’s “politicization” of religious freedoms.
“Regardless of the manner in which pilgrims from Qatar or living in Qatar were banned from the pilgrimage, which was politically motivated, and the manner in which they were subsequently permitted to make the pilgrimage, which was also politicized and which was announced with other goals in mind… the government of Qatar welcomes the decision and will respond positively,” Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told a press conference in Stockholm.
“What matters to us is the bottom line, which is that our citizens now have a way to attend the hajj, and we uphold our demand that hajj be spared politicization and remain separate from our political issues,” Sheikh Mohammed said.
Saudi Arabia announced it was opening the Salwa border crossing to Qatari pilgrims for hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to the Saudi city of Mecca, the birthplace of the Prophet Mohamed and Islam’s holiest site.
The Salwa border crossing has been closed since June 5 when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar over accusations the emirate fostered Islamist extremists. Qatar has denied the allegation.
The announcement to reopen the frontier for Qatari pilgrims came after powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received an envoy from Doha, the official Saudi Press Agency said, in the first public high-level encounter between the nations since the crisis erupted.
Saudi Arabia last month said Qatari pilgrims would be allowed to enter the kingdom for hajj this year but imposed clear restrictions, including flying via airlines approved by Riyadh.
The hajj, a pillar of Islam that capable Muslims must perform at least once, is to take place at the beginning of September. The pilgrimage is expected to draw around two million people this year.
Prince Mohammed emphasized the “historical relations between Saudi and Qatari people” after his meeting with the Qatari envoy, Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali bin Abdullah bin Jassim al-Thani, SPA said.