Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, left, and Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani address a news conference in Stockholm, Sweden, on August 17 2017. Picture: REUTERS
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, left, and Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani address a news conference in Stockholm, Sweden, on August 17 2017. Picture: REUTERS

Stockholm — On Thursday, the Qatari foreign minister welcomed Saudi Arabia’s decision to re-open the two countries’ border to Muslim pilgrims — while lashing out at Riyadh’s "politicisation" of religious freedoms.

"Regardless of the manner in which pilgrims from Qatar or living in Qatar were banned from the pilgrimage, which was politically motivated, and the manner in which they were subsequently permitted to make the pilgrimage, which was also politicised and which was announced with other goals in mind ... the government of Qatar welcomes the decision and will respond positively," foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told a press conference in Stockholm.

"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 the Hajj be spared politicisation and remain separate from our political issues," he said.

Saudi Arabia has announced it will open the Salwa border crossing to Qatari pilgrims for the annual Hajj pilgrimage to the city of Mecca, the birthplace of the Prophet Mohamed and Islam’s holiest site, in the west of the kingdom. The crossing has been sealed off for more than two months as a diplomatic crisis between the Saudi and Qatari governments has seen severe restrictions on travel imposed on citizens across the region.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt announced a cut in ties with Qatar, recalled ambassadors and sealed off borders and airspace to the emirate over allegations that Doha backed Islamist extremists and was too close to Shiite Iran.

Qatar has denied the allegations. Riyadh’s decision to re-open the border came hours after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met on Wednesday with Qatari envoy Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali bin Abdullah bin Jassim al-Thani, a member of the ruling dynasty in Doha.

The Qatari foreign minister, however, said Sheikh Abdullah acted on his "personal initiative" by meeting the crown prince in the Saudi city of Jeddah and not on behalf of the Doha government. Doha has consistently accused Riyadh of politicising the Hajj and jeopardising the pilgrimage to Mecca.

AFP

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