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Qatar denies blocking Saudi Haj pilgrimage flights

Qatar on Monday denied it had banned Saudi Arabian flights from landing in the emirate to transport Muslim pilgrims to Makkah, after an accusation by authorities in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabian Airlines on Sunday said Qatari authorities had refused to grant a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight, scheduled to transport Qatari Haj pilgrims, permission to land at Hamad International Airport.

Riyadh last week reopened its land border with Qatar and allocated seven flights of the Saudi national carrier to bring pilgrims from Doha, in a temporary lifting of a weeks-long boycott of its Gulf neighbour. “Qatari authorities have not allowed the aircraft to land as it did not have the right paperwork, although the paperwork was filed days ago,” the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.

The flight is one of a selected few that will allow Qataris to land in Saudi Arabia, which last week temporarily opened its borders to pilgrims to the Saudi city of Makkah, the most revered site in Islam.

The pilgrimage has turned into a point of contestation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are locked in a diplomatic crisis that has seen Saudi Arabia and its allies cut all ties with Doha over accusations of state support for extremist groups and ties to Iran. Qatar has denied the allegations.

An official source in the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority on Monday “described as baseless the news… that allegedly claimed that the state of Qatar refused to allow Saudi Airlines to transport the Qatari pilgrims,” according to a report carried by the state-run QNA news agency.

Qatar’s civil aviation authority confirmed that it had received a request from the Saudi carrier for permission to land and had referred the airline to the ministry of Islamic affairs “in accordance with past practices”.

The Haj, a pillar of Islam that capable Muslims must perform at least once, takes place at the start of September this year. It is expected to draw around two million Muslims from around the world.

Saudi Arabia last month said Qatari pilgrims would be allowed to enter the kingdom for this year’s Haj but imposed several travel restrictions, including flying in only on airlines approved by Riyadh.

The move sparked a backlash in Doha, where authorities said the pilgrimage had been used as political ammunition. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar on June 5 in what has become the worst political crisis to grip the Gulf region in decades.

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Azhar Hashmi

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