MANAMA –The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) considers Qatar’s demands for an internationalisation of the Hajj pilgrimage a declaration of war against the Kingdom, Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said on Sunday.
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Speaking to Al Arabiya and Al Hadath TV channels at the end of Sunday’s meeting of the Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ), Al-Jubeir said: “Qatar’s demands to internationalise the holy sites is aggressive and a declaration of war against the kingdom.”
He added: “We reserve the right to respond to anyone who is working on the internationalisation of the holy sites.”
It was not immediately clear when such a move was suggested, as Doha has yet to publicly call for Islam’s two holiest sites to be placed under international oversight. Al-Arabiya reported that Qatari media floated the idea after Saudi Arabia enforced new rules for Qataris travelling to Mecca in view of the air blockade on Doha.
On Saturday, Qatar’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) lodged a complaint with the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of belief and religion over what it called a “stark violation of international laws and agreement that guarantee the right to worship.”
The ATQ — comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain — has previously issued a list of 13 demands for Qatar, which include curtailing its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, shutting down the Al Jazeera channel, closing a Turkish military base and downgrading its relations with Gulf enemy Iran.
On Sunday, the foreign ministers of the four countries said they were ready for dialogue with Qatar if it showed willingness to tackle their demands.
In their joint statement, the ministers denounced the deliberate act of Qatari authorities to obstruct the performance of Hajj rituals by Qatari nationals.
Qatar’s human rights commission also protested that Saudi Arabia has made it extremely difficult for many Qataris to reach Mecca by stipulating that they can only land at two Saudi airports – King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah and Prince Mohammed bin Abdul Aziz Airport in Medina.
The ban specifically targets Qatar Airways, with the Saudi authorities saying that would-be pilgrims must use other airlines for their journey. In addition, the NHRC claimed that Qataris were permitted to depart for Saudi Arabia only from Doha.
This claim, however, has been disputed by the Saudi authorities, who said that all travelers holding valid pilgrimage permits would be allowed into the country from any Qatari airport, including Doha.