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Saudi Arabia and Iran hold breakthrough hajj talks

Iranian pilgrims look set to take part in next year's hajj [Getty]

Date of publication: 30 December, 2016

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After a year of deadlock, regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran appear to be overcoming one major obstacle as Riyadh holds talks with its rival on next year's hajj pilgrimage.

Signs of a detente between Saudi Arabia and Iran are emerging after Riyadh invited its regional rival to discuss the return of Iranian piligrims to next year's hajj.

Saudi Arabia's Pilgrims Minister Mohammed Bentin has held discussions with 80 countries, including Iran, about next year's hajj, al-Hayat daily reported.

"Iran's hajj delegation was invited to come to the kingdom" for preparations, the paper said.

Arab News daily said Riyadh would welcome pilgrims for hajj and the smaller umra rite "irrespective of their nationalities or sectarian affiliations, including Iranian pilgrims".

More than 1.8 million Muslims took part in this year's hajj, but Iranians stayed at home after tensions between Riyadh and Tehran boiled over following a deadly stampede during the 2015 pilgrimage.

Iran says it lost 464 people in the crush outside Mecca.

They were among more than 2,300 people killed in the worst ever disaster to strike the hajj - one of the five pillars of Islam - which capable Muslims must perform at least once

Iran and Saudi Arabia are at odds over a raft of regional issues, notably the conflicts in Syria and Yemen in which they support opposing sides.

Riyadh cut ties with Tehran in January after Iranian demonstrators torched its embassy and a consulate following its execution of leading Saudi Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

Since then, relations have still remained tense with Saudi Arabia accusing Iran of fomenting unrest in the region and inside the kingdom.

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