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Iranian Pilgrims Can Participate in Hajj This Year, Saudi Arabia Says – New York Times

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Muslim pilgrims circled the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca last year. Credit Nariman El-Mofty/Associated Press

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Saudi Arabia said on Friday that Iranians would be able to participate in this year’s hajj pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, a rare bright spot in relations between the two regional rivals.

No Iranian pilgrims attended the hajj last year because of deepening tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iranian participation in the pilgrimage had become yet another flash point in their sectarian and strategic conflict.

The tensions have risen in recent years as they have supported opposite sides in conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere. Saudi Arabia, ruled by a Sunni Muslim monarchy, accuses Iran of weakening Arab states by funding militias. Iran, a revolutionary Shiite state, accuses Saudi Arabia of spreading an intolerant interpretation of Islam that has fed terrorism and endangered minorities.

Relations between the two countries worsened after the 2015 hajj, when a human crush killed more than 2,400 pilgrims, including more than 464 Iranians, according to a count by The Associated Press. Iranian leaders, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused Saudi Arabia of having mismanaged the holy sites and called on the world’s Muslims to reconsider Saudi control of them.

Saudi Arabia said the crush happened because pilgrims went the wrong way down a one-way passage but has never provided a detailed explanation of what went awry.

Last year, Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic relations with Iran after rioters stormed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran while protesting Saudi Arabia’s execution of Nimr al-Nimr, an outspoken Shiite cleric who had criticized the Saudi royal family.

But in recent months, officials from the two countries have met to discuss Iranian participation in this year’s hajj, leading to Friday’s announcement that Iranian pilgrims could return.

The Saudi state news agency said the kingdom had completed all arrangements for the Iranian pilgrims to return, without offering details. Iranian officials did not immediately comment, although Iran’s Tasnim news agency said this month that Iran would send about 80,000 pilgrims this year.

Last year, 1.8 million Muslims from around the world attended the hajj, which is one of the five pillars of Islam and which all capable Muslims must perform at least once in their lives.

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