The number of Qatari pilgrims who have travelled to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj is nearly 30 per cent higher than last year despite a political dispute that led to the severing of relations between the two countries.
At total of 1,564 Qataris arrived in Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage, the governor of Makkah Prince Khalid Al Faisal said, whereas the number of Qatari pilgrims last year was 1,210.
The arrival of Qatari pilgrims has been a subject of controversy this year after Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic and travel ties with Qatar, including the closure of border crossings and barring Qatari aircraft from its airspace. The Saudi move on June 5 was taken along with the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt to protest against what they say is Qatar's support of groups and individuals linked to extremism and terrorism. Qatar denies the accusations and has refused to meet the quartet's conditions for normalisation of relations.
Doha angered Riyadh further in late July by criticising Saudi Arabia's provisions to enable Qatari pilgrims to perform Hajj despite the boycott of their country. Foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir accused Qatar of attempting to "internationalise" the administration of the holy sites in Saudi Arabia and warned this would be considered a "declaration of war".
However, Saudi King Salman in mid-August ordered the opening of the land border to Qatari pilgrims and authorised sending Saudi aircraft to ferry pilgrims from Doha after the intercession of a member of Qatar's royal family.
Prince Khalid, who chairs the Hajj central committee, said the overall number of pilgrims from abroad had also risen this year, to 1,752,014 from 1,325,372 last year. Domestic pilgrims comprised of 126,092 Saudi citizens and 102,936 expatriates, the prince said on Wednesday as the Hajj began, in remarks reported by the Saudi Press Agency.
More than 300,000 Saudi military personnel and civil servants have been enlisted to assist pilgrims this year, Prince Khalid said.
Figures from the Saudi immigration department show that foreign pilgrims this year came from 168 countries, and that 54 per cent of them were male.
The majority of the pilgrims - 1,648,332 - came by air, 88,855 by land and 14,827 by sea, the department said.
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