Iranian Umrah pilgrims travel to Saudi Arabia for first time in almost a decade

Ties were severed in 2016 following a series of public disagreements

Muslims perform Umrah at the Grand Mosque in Makkah during Ramadan this year. Reuters
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The first group of Iranian Umrah pilgrims in nine years travelled to Saudi Arabia on Monday, following the restoration of ties between the two countries last year.

Eleven flights from as many airports in Iran took off for Saudi Arabia, Iran's official news agency reported, citing Mohammad Hossein Ajilian, who is in charge of Hajj operations in Iran Airports Company.

Iran and Saudi Arabia restored diplomatic relations under a Chinese-mediated agreement in March last year after they were cut in 2016.

Iranian media said in December the kingdom had lifted restrictions on Iranians wanting to perform Umrah but flights were delayed due to what Tehran called “technical problems”.

Both countries had agreed to resume flights and bilateral visits of official and private sector delegations.

The first flight left from Mashhad, to be followed by flights from Zahedan, Ahvaz, Tabriz, Yazd, Kerman, Bandar Abbas, Sari, Isfahan and Shiraz before the final flight from Mashhad on May 2.

Iran suspended flights to Saudi Arabia for Umrah pilgrims in April 2015 over allegations that Saudi security officers assaulted two male Iranian pilgrims travelling through Jeddah Airport as they returned from Makkah.

In September of the same year, a stampede during Hajj led to 769 deaths, with Iranian pilgrims accounting for 464 of those killed.

Before ties were restored, Iranians had only been able to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage that all Muslims are expected to undertake at least once. and which is subject to strict quotas for each country.

Umrah can be performed at any time and is not deemed compulsory.

Both countries have since agreed to reopen embassies and consulates and reinstate economic agreements signed more than 20 years ago.

Iran reopened its diplomatic missions in Riyadh last June. Consulate services in Jeddah also resumed shortly after.

Updated: April 22, 2024, 10:38 AM