Iranian officials to visit Saudi Arabia to go over Hajj regulations

 Bodies were gathered in Mina, Saudi Arabia, near Mecca, after a stampede in September killed hundreds of Muslim pilgrims.
Bodies were gathered in Mina, Saudi Arabia, near Mecca, after a stampede in September killed hundreds of Muslim pilgrims.

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Iran announced on Wednesday that it intended to send a delegation to Saudi Arabia this month to discuss the hajj pilgrimage, a rare official meeting between the Middle Eastern rivals at a time of deep regional tensions.

The delegation wants to discuss arrangements for Iranians to attend this year’s pilgrimage as well as compensation for the relatives of 461 Iranians who died in a human crush during the event last year, said Saeed Ohadi, the head of Iran’s pilgrimage organization, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

The pilgrims were killed during the rite last year when large crowds ran into each other in the narrow alleys of a pilgrim’s camp, crushing many people who had no way to escape.

More than 2,400 pilgrims from three dozen countries died, according to a count by The Associated Press, a toll that would make the crush the deadliest event in the history of the hajj.

The Saudi government announced soon after the event that 769 people had been killed, but it has not updated the number since. Top Saudi officials at the time promised a thorough investigation, but no results have been made public.

The deaths exacerbated already tense relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which had more pilgrims among the dead than any other country. The two powers follow different sects of Islam — Saudi Arabia is Sunni and Iran is Shiite — and are facing off in proxy struggles across the region.

In January, Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic relations with Iran after protesters burned the Saudi Embassy in Tehran after the Saudi government’s execution of an outspoken Shiite cleric.

The hajj is one of the most important obligations in Islam, and all Muslims who can afford to are supposed to perform it once in their lives. Saudi Arabia takes great pride in hosting the event, and the Saudi monarch bears the title of “the custodian of the two holy mosques,” emphasizing his personal responsibility for the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Mr. Ohadi, of Iran’s pilgrimage organization, said the visit of the Iranian delegation was scheduled for April 14 but would only proceed if its members received their visas on time.

He said there was a “contradiction in the words and deeds of Saudi officials” about admitting Iranian pilgrims this year that needed to be resolved. He added that the Saudi government had “not yet taken any move” to pay compensation to the families of those who died last year.

Saudi officials have not spoken publicly about the Iranian visit, and there was no mention of it Wednesday by the official Saudi Press Agency.

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