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Saudi Arabia Welcomes Back Iran Pilgrims for Umrah After 8-Year Hiatus

Iranian pilgrims will undertake the lesser pilgrimage, Umrah, by heading to the holy city of Makkah in Saudi Arabia next week, the first time in eight years.

According to Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency, flights carrying Iranian pilgrims will take off from ten airports across the country, with the first batch of flights taking off on 19 December.

On Tuesday, the head of the Hajj and Pilgrimage Organisation of Iran, Seyyed Abbas Hosseini, told reporters: “Following the necessary coordination with the Saudi Hajj officials and the signing of relevant memorandums and contracts, the first convoy of Umrah pilgrims will be dispatched to Saudi Arabia on December 19.”

The first caravan will consist of 550 Iranian pilgrims who will spend ten days performing the Umrah rituals; five days in Madinah and five days in Makkah.

An agreement has been reached with Saudi officials for 70,000 Iranians to make the Hajj pilgrimage by the end of the calendar year, the official added. Up to 70,000 Iranian pilgrims are expected to travel to Saudi Arabia by the end of February 2024.

Since 2016, Iranian pilgrims have been limited to performing the Hajj pilgrimage, which is compulsory for Muslims who are able to carry it out at least once in their lifetime.

The development comes as both countries are due to hold formal talks next week to resume direct flights between their respective capitals and other cities, according to an Iranian official, quoted by state-affiliated news agency ILNA on Sunday.

“There are no restrictions regarding the launch of direct flights from Tehran to Riyadh, or other cities,” Deputy Minister of Roads and Urban Development, Mohammad Mohammadi Bakhsh, said.

“A bilateral working group will start final negotiations next week to have non-Hajj flights between the two countries,” he added.

Diplomatic relations between Tehran and Riyadh were severed in 2016 following the kingdom’s controversial execution of prominent Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr, and the subsequent storming of Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran in protest. In March, the regional rivals agreed to resume relations under a Chinese-brokered deal.

Source : MEMO