Saudi Arabia will open its land border to Hajj-bound Qatari pilgrims and pay their expenses, according to the Kingdom’s state media.
Saudi’s King Salman also offered to dispatch private jets to transport pilgrims from Qatar to Jeddah.
The developments came more than two months into a diplomatic rift in the Gulf. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar over its alleged support of terrorism – a charge it has denied.
Saudi Arabia said the Hajj decrees emerged from mediation between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Qatari Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al Thani, the brother of Qatar’s former ruler, Emir Sheikh Ahmad bin Ali Al Thani, who was deposed in 1972.
These are the first known negotiations between Saudi and Qatari royals since the start of the diplomatic crisis.
Qatar FM: Hajj decrees ‘politically motivated’
Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said his country welcomed the move, though he considered it “politically motivated.”
“Despite the fact it’s been politically motivated to ban the Qatari people haj and politically to allow them … we welcome such a step, which is a step forward to get rid of this blockade which is imposed against my country,” the minister told a news conference on a visit to Sweden, according to Reuters.
Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee said it was “satisfied” with the move, but asked for further clarification about procedures. It is unclear whether Sheikh Abdullah’s role in the mediation was sanctioned by the Qatari government.
Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee had previously said that Saudi Arabia was restricting Qataris’ access to the pilgrimage.
Every year, millions of Muslims from around the world make their way to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia to mark the Hajj.
The pilgrimage – which this year starts on August 30 – is one of the pillars of Islam that all Muslims who are financially and physically able must perform at least once in their lifetime.
Officials from other boycotting Arab states appeared to endorse Saudi Arabia’s announcement.
“The facilitation of Qatari Hajj pilgrims ordered by King Salman have never been done before for any Islamic country and even under regular circumstances,” Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said in a tweet Thursday.
The UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar al-Gargash, lambasted Qatar’s criticisms of Saudi Arabia’s dealings with Qatari pilgrims.
“Qatar’s politicization of Hajj must come to an end following the initiative taken by King Salman,” Gargash said. “There are matters that rise above politics.”