Iranian Umrah pilgrims arrive in S Arabia after 9 years

Iranian Umrah pilgrims arrive in S Arabia after 9 years

MADINAH (INP): Saudi Arabia welcomed the first batch of Iranian Umrah pilgrims at Prince Muhammad bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Madinah, after a hiatus of nine years. Iranian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ali Reza Enayati and several Saudi and Iranian officials and diplomats were there at the airport to receive the pilgrims.

They are the first Iranians to make the pilgrimage since Tehran and Riyadh agreed in a China-brokered deal last year to restore ties and reopen their respective embassies after more than nine years.

Iranians have already been allowed back to the hajj pilgrimage last year, but the Umrah had remained off-limits for them until now. Saudi Arabia and Iran severed ties in 2016 after Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran were attacked during protests over Riyadh’s execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

Iranian state media has said in recent months that pilgrims would be able to head to the Saudi holy city of Mecca for Umrah, but blamed technical difficulties for repeated delays. IRNA said a total of 5,720 Iranian Umrah pilgrims were planned to head to Saudi Arabia this year.

The Saudi ambassador to Tehran, Abdullah bin Saud al-Anazi, was present at the airport along with several Iranian officials to send off the first group of pilgrims Monday. Muslims can make the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca at any time of the year, in contrast to the hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam which takes place on specific dates according to the lunar calendar.