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Qatar welcomes Saudi decision to reopen borders for Hajj

Foreign minister says move is appreciated, but criticises politicisation of Hajj pilgrimage
Saudi Arabia is expecting more than a million pilgrims this month (Reuters)

Qatar on Thursday welcomed Saudi Arabia's decision to reopen the countries' border to Hajj pilgrims, but lashed out at Riyadh's "politicisation" of religious freedoms.

"The government of Qatar welcomes the decision and will respond positively," said Qatar's foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani.

However, he added that the original Saudi decision to close the border was political, as was the decision to reopen.

"What matters to us is the bottom line, which is that our citizens now have a way to attend the hajj, and we uphold our demand that hajj be spared politicisation and remain separate from our political issues," he said.

Al Arabiya TV reported 50 Qatari pilgrims entered Saudi territory on Thursday after authorities opened the border crossing. It is the first such crossing since Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries began a blockade on Qatar in June, over claims it supported "terrorists".

The Saudi king on Wednesday ordered that Qatari pilgrims be allowed in as his guests.

He also ordered that private jets belonging to Saudi airlines be sent to Doha's airport "to bring all Qatari pilgrims at his expense", it added.

The Doha-backed National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) told the UN last month that Qatari citizens were being told that they could only enter Saudi Arabia through two airports and that they would have to travel via the Qatari capital of Doha to be allowed in.

The NHRC had also commented that it was “extremely concerned over [Saudi Arabia] politicising religious rituals and using [Hajj] to achieve political gains.

"The Saudi authorities have allowed the Qatari pilgrims to enter Saudi Arabia through two airports via Qatar only, thus any Qatari citizen located outside Qatar must first return to Qatar then travel to Saudi Arabia," it said.